As the sporting world gathers in London to play, it is time to pay tribute to London. As well as soccer and the queen, it is a city that is known for being the center of the wine trade and has been so for more than 200 years. It was there that port, sherry, champagne and Bordeaux were first brought to the world’s attention.
Most of the world’s best wine writers, apart from Robert Parker, are based in or close to London. Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke are icons, and others like Tim Atkin, Tom Stevenson and Stephen Brook are read and respected the world over.
Arguably the world’s top wine education bodies are based in London. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust, The Institute of Masters of Wine and Court of Master Sommeliers are based in the United Kingdom.
Three of the world’s most important wine-tasting competitions are held in London.
Awards at the Decanter Fine Wine Awards, International Wines & Spirits Competition and International Wine Challenge carry special weight. The leading wine auction houses of Christie’s and Sotheby’s are also based in London.
New trends in wine often begin in London. The first sighting of Australian, Chilean and South African wines was in London, long before they succeeded elsewhere. The reason is that London is the most cosmopolitan of all wine markets, in a country without a significant wine industry of its own. In France, the wines available are mainly French; in California, they are mainly from California; in Israel, mainly from Israel. However, in England everyone is there.
It is not the most successful wine market for Israeli wines. The mecca for Israeli wines is the United States. Surely, the size of the Jewish community has something to do with this, but also the knee-jerk reaction about Israel is more positive in the US than it is in England. Still, England is the third-largest export market for Israeli wines. Israeli wine has been in England since 1898, when the Palestine Wine Company was founded in London and began selling Palwin wines. Carmel wines have been in London during three centuries.
London is a wine paradise. You can visit a specialist wine shop like Berry Brothers & Rudd on St. James Street, which does not appear to have changed since Dickensian times, but scratch below the surface and you will find a retailer as up-to-date and savvy as any.
The retail wine market is very much in the hands of the large supermarkets. These are great places to purchase wine. They have a comprehensive range of wines, and prices are attractive. Look for Tesco, the largest, or Waitrose, arguably the best of the chains. Dalton, Teperberg, Barkan and Segal all have wines listed at Tesco. Barkan is listed at Waitrose.
Marks & Spencer, the iconic retail chain specializing in clothing and food, has a very good wine section. It is now running an innovative promotion of Eastern Mediterranean wines. Israeli wines are listed alongside Greek, Lebanese and Turkish wines. This is focusing on the region that gave wine culture to the world, made terrible wine for 2,000 years and is now one of the most exciting, dynamic new wine regions that exist. The Israeli wines at M&S are Barkan Sauvignon Blanc and Binyamina Merlot.
If you don’t want to buy wine in the large supermarkets, the best venue is Majestic, a chain of warehouse stores where purchases are made in case lots. If you prefer to shop in London’s most exclusive store, a visit to Harrods in Knightsbridge is a must. It has a very prestigious wine shop. Carmel, Clos de Gat and Yatir wines represent Israel there, among the world’s finest.
A more traditional stopping point for the Jewish community is Selfridges on Oxford Street. It has a kosher section in the magnificent food hall, with a range of kosher wines. However, Israel is also featured in its main wine shop, which is small but very exclusive. There you will find a Castel and Carmel Kayoumi wine alongside Chateau Musar.
The English have long been derided for their cuisine.
Those who want the traditional fare will be looking for fish and chips as a take-away meal, steak and kidney pie in the local pub or roast beef in the local carvery. However, many foodies are convinced that London is now the most dynamic, varied and high-quality gastronomic capital on the planet. So there is much to enjoy, ranging from fish and chips at the Golden Hind to a classical Michelin-star dinner at Le Gavroche.
Many of the world’s finest restaurants are in London, and some of the best are close to the outskirts of London. Visit the three-star Fat Duck at Bray in Berkshire, arguably the finest restaurant in Britain, and you will find two Israeli wines on the wine list.
The Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz and the Yatir Merlot Shiraz Cabernet blend fly the flag.
While in London, don’t forget the beer. Visit the local pub and enjoy some Real Ale Bitter pulled by hand pump. This is a beer style not truly replicated anywhere else. Just don’t expect the traditional draft beers to be gassy like the ales sold here. If you want to visit a brewery, I recommend a visit to Fuller’s in Chiswick. Taste its London Pride Bitter on draft with a ploughman’s lunch. This is the essence of England. Not beer in a keg or bottle. If beer is not your bag, London is home to some of the best wine bars, such as the Kensington Wine Rooms or Wonder Bar at Selfridges.
If you are looking for the Israeli connection, you may seek out one of the innovative Yotam Ottolenghi’s four restaurants. This Israeli-born chef brings the flavors of Israel to London.
Apart from Selfridges, kosher wines may be found at shops called Sussers and The Grapevine in North London. The best kosher restaurant is Bevis Marks, next to the beautiful 300-year-old Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City.
Finally, though England has a very small wine trade, it is now producing sparkling wines which, believe it or not, challenge champagne on quality.
Look for Ridgeview or Camel Valley to toast the Olympians. Even though the fine wine emphasis has switched to the Far East, as far as wine is concerned, London still rules the waves.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. email@example.com