Opening a new wine bar in London is not easy. Between the established greats like Gordon’s and rival new ventures, competition is an unrelenting reality in a bustling city of social drinkers. So when recently I joined the IGT managing editor at a small wine tasting at the Shepherd Market Wine House, I was keen to see how they were hoping to stand out from the crowd.
Tucked away quietly in the storied and vibrant Shepherd Market, the bar nestles in an alleyway right by the southernmost corner of Mayfair. The benefit of Shepherd Market is how small it is, so even if you just happened to be wandering around, your eye would quickly be caught by the bold and elegant yellow adorning the outside of the premises.
Shepherd Market Wine House is the second wine outing for Nathan Lowry, who also owns Pall Mall Wines in the Royal Opera Arcade. He’s joined by his Head Sommelier and Manager, Ben Van de Meutter, who was formerly Head Sommelier at Butlers Wharf Chop House. For this particular tasting, which consisted of a number of robust wines from the Italian islands, each with something unique about it, we were guided by Jon Pepper, a Master of Wine. This should illustrate the quality and service that SMWH is aiming to offer.
Those familiar with Pall Mall Fine Wines will recognise the same cosy atmosphere and friendly staff in the Shepherd Market location. In fact, it would be difficult not to draw comparison between the two shops, especially when you inspect the selection of wine on the racks and shelves through both shops. This is one of the appealing aspects which drew me in at the Wine House. It’s one thing to sit, drink, and appreciate, but the subtle impact of actually drinking next to and surrounded by the wine makes for a more enjoyable experience.
The Wine House has another trick up their sleeve in their bid to set themselves apart from the rest: a Coravin System. This author could probably write an entire dissertation on the Coravin System itself (and I may very well do so) but for the purposes of this article I will stick to the basics. Coravin was invented by an American medical technologist named Greg Lambrecht who, like most of you, our readers, really loved wine. However, he saw a problem – it was impossible to compare vintages, especially of expensive and rare wines, without exposing them to oxygen and being forced to finish them over the course of just a few days. Greg shows far more self-control than your author.
Coravin essentially uses a very thin needle to gently pierce the cork of a bottle, and protects it from oxygen using an inert gas such as argon or nitrogen. After the wine is poured, the needle retracts in such a way that the cork is left undamaged and reseals itself, meaning no oxygen has touched the wine during the process. The result is that establishments such as the Wine House are able to offer their customers unique, interesting, and usually inaccessible wines – by the glass. For example, at SMWH they are currently offering Chateau Lynch-Bages 1995, a 5e Cru Bordeaux, at £25 for a 125ml measure. Expensive, yes, but well worth it for the chance to try a fine wine which in a Mayfair restaurant would easily retail at around three hundred pounds a bottle.
Their “by the glass” selection is even more of a draw for me in some regards, because it offers a unique variety you don’t often see on a wine list. They have, for example, two reds (a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon) from Chateau St Michelle, which is based in Washington State. They also have a dry Furmint Tokaji from Hungary, which is much less well known than the dessert-wine variant of Tokaji. This kind of diversity is a pleasant departure from the typical such list – variations of French or Italian red and white at the upper end, with cheaper Spanish, Chilean or otherwise at the bottom end. This variety is not limited to wines by the glass either. I was pleasantly surprised to discover an elegant Pinot Noir, Adelsheim Vineyard, straight from your author’s homeland in the Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The entire experience left me wanting more, excited to see a new unique entry into the wine world from an already established company. With summer finally on its way and London in full swing, I highly recommend you stop by the Shepherd Market Wine House and tuck into something nice; they even have a private area that can be rented for parties, and I can only imagine it would be ideal for an after work party one Friday.
Shepherd Market Wine House 27 Shepherd Market London W1J 7PR www.shepherdmarketwinehouse.co.uk