Tipsy in London’s ‘vineyard’
Taste wine from the finest regions of the world... right in the heart of the English capital
There’s a tipping point with wine-tasting. For a while, there you are, savouring the flavour, nodding sagely at the hints of raspberry and undertones of cardamom, swirling the wine round the glass and inhaling knowingly.
The next thing you know, you’re lunging for the largest glass, talking too loudly and organising the rest of your group into a pub crawl. That’s pretty much how it went at my Vinopolis tour... and it was absolutely brilliant.
I hadn’t expected quite so exuberant an afternoon. Vinopolis describes itself on its rather dull, corporate website as London’s Wine and Spirit Tasting Destination.
I only went because I had four hours in London with an old friend, we’d both done all the classic sights and we felt like something new.
Also, it was handily central, just a few minutes’ walk from the London Eye and the Tate Modern. This was to prove useful a few glasses of wine later, since even a drunk can’t miss the London Eye when trying to navigate home. So Vinopolis it was.
Having got the hefty entrance fee out of the way (prices range from €28.10 to €49.95 depending on which tour you take; in the interests of research, I went for the one that offered the most tastings), we sat politely through the demonstration on how to taste wine before they let us loose on the viticultural regions of the world.
One minute we were tasting Rioja at a faux tapas bar, the next we were both perched on a Vespa against a cheesy painted backdrop of Italianate buildings watching a video of Italy slide by on the windshield. The silliness of this made it quite possibly the best part.
I soldiered my way heroically through the whiskey and absinthe tastings, not being a big fan. The rums were excellent though and we glimpsed briefly how the other half live in the Nicolas Feuillatte champagne room.
It was the Bombay Sapphire cocktail that tipped me over the edge though. My gregarious friend rapidly engaged the barman in flirtatious conversation and before we knew it, one rather excellent cocktail had turned to three.
It turns out that this is a most excellent marketing strategy. The tour exits via the shop, where it’s perfectly possible to blow the month’s grocery budget on buying the wines you’ve just sampled.
If you can leave without finding yourself clutching at least one bottle of lovely but expensive wine, you’re a better woman than I am. At least we didn’t throw caution to the wind and hit the restaurant too.
Furthermore, having put the alcoholic wind into your sails, Vinopolis disgorges you a mere stone’s throw from the next pub. And by that point we could think of nothing better than honing our hard-won wine-tasting skills on the selection behind the local boozer’s bar.
Never mind that they get their wine from the wholesaler based entirely on price rather than quality, we would have a glass of their finest. Or two.
Fortunately, we both had to depart for an evening engagement, or things might have got somewhat out of hand. But Vinopolis was the perfect place to spend a quality afternoon with an old friend.
It lifted our spirits, the staff were friendly and fun and the whole experience was much more entertaining than their dire website would have you believe.
It’s also reasonable value considering the amount of alcohol that you can put away there, although the food on offer was pricey so it’s probably best to eat beforehand.
Also try to avoid the more expensive and busy peak periods, such as Saturdays. You’ll pay more and are likely to be bowled over by a hen party and forced to wear a pair of those fluffy bunny ears.
When they tell you it’s a good look, you’ll know it’s the wine talking.
Vinopolis is located at Bank End, SE1 9BU. London Bridge is the nearest tube and rail station. You can also take a boat to Bankside, opposite Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, just five minutes’ walk away. The Borough Food Market is next door, if you want to go all out on a foodie afternoon.
There are four different drinking experiences to choose from, ranging from £22.50 to £40 (€28.10 to €49.95). The number of tastings increases with the price.