Benoit Allauzen has spent seventeen years working as a Sommelier in Michelin-starred fine dining establishments in America, Europe and Asia. From the likes of Atelier Joel Robuchon (Hong Kong, three Michelin stars) to Manoir au Quat Saisons (Raymond Blanc, two Michelin stars), he's learned from the best and been personally responsible for annual wine sales of over £1.8m. After watching the restaurant experience broaden over the years, he was keen to see the wine experience enjoy the same liberation. In 2017, he founded Free the Sommeliers to change notions that good wine is stuffy, stagnant, or 'for certain people’. Read on for his tips on exploring wine in London...
If you are fine wine curious and you want to taste cult wines such as Petrus, Sine Que Non, Sassicaia but can’t afford a bottle (because they cost upwards of £500 up to £3,000), head to Hedonism on Davies Street in Mayfair. Give yourself a bit of time to soak up the atmosphere in the wine shop, its chock full of the Bentleys of the wine world. When you’re ready to start tasting, ask about the samples of wine from Hedonism’s Enomatic machine. Enomatic machines pierce through the cork of the bottle to pour without opening the bottle, which allows small pours from big bottles. The tasting sizes are smaller than a normal glass of wine and this cuts it down to affordable prices. A tasting of Chateau Yquem is £22, or Chateau Latour is £44.30. It’s a treat, and you can say that you’ve sampled the best on the market. They change the bottles in their Enomatic range often, so always a reason to return. The current tasting offering is always listed on their website.
Hedonism Wines. Image: Now Here This
London’s best food and wine deal (I hope they don’t read this and up the prices) is at Dishoom, one of London’s best Indian restaurants (in Shoreditch, Kings Cross, Carnaby, Kensington). They sell a bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne for £65. This is so unexpensive it’s ridiculous, they’re selling it pretty much at cost price, it’s by far the best deal in town. The Champagne is delicious – light and refreshing and goes really well with Indian food. As a Frenchman I’d vote Ruinart as pure class, one of the best Champagnes on the market. This is a dinner that puts everyone in a good mood – whether you’ve had a tough day or are out celebrating with friends.
For an authentic wine drinking experience, check out Terroirs in East Dulwich (they also have a location in Trafalgar Square). They combine a laid back wine shop with a wine bar serving snacks and small plates. Their approach is honest and accessible. It’s a small place with a neighbourhood feel and knowledgeable staff. Their focus is organic, and small producers, and natural wines. At Terroir you can experiment. Tell them what you like and just let the staff guide you.
Terroirs, East Dulwich
Wine lists in restaurants can be intimidating and giant selections can be overwhelming – this is what experts are for. Not to make you feel powerless, but to act as a friendly guide. Try not to order the house white and red when you go out for meals, try to leave your comfort zone and get recommendations from the staff for new things to try. Take photos of bottles you like and build up a base knowledge. Wine preference is personal and your tastes change throughout your life. Taste, try, combining flavours with wine and food can take things to a whole new level.