7 St John Street, Farringdon, EC1M 4AA
WLC Rank : 69
Cuisine: British and European cuisine
Glass from : £ 4.30 (125 ml)
BEST FORFar-reaching list of wines, spirits and amaros
Wine matching with ingredient-led dishes
In-house wine course
Wines on tap
The original Vinoteca brings charm, diversity and very good taste to the reinvigorated area of London's ornate meat market.
Brett Woonton and Charlie Young met at Liberty Wines, opening their first Vinoteca wine bar and shop diagonally opposite to St. John restaurant five years later, brim-full of wines “with personality.” It took a further five years for the second site to materialise in Marylebone. “Having such a long hiatus gives you a chance to build resources and skills at your own speed, including quality staff, business knowledge and funds,” says Woonton. Each of today’s five branches has its distinct personality, with “breakfast wine” doing well at the Kings Cross site, for example. “People love a little glass of breakfast Champagne to start their holidays before getting onto Eurostar,” says Woonton. Featuring foilage and curvy of frontage Vinoteca City at the Bloomberg Arcade was one of 10 operators selected by Bloomberg’s food writer, Richard Vines and consultant, Nick Lander.
Although guests still request “the classics,” particularly in the Square Mile, Woonton and Young introduced a monthly “wine paddle” foregrounding three 50ml tasters which, says Woonton, “convert nicely into a glass or even a bottle to take away of a wine which would have never have been on their wine radar, like Mestizaje Blanco, a wild yeast blend of Merseguera, Viognier and Malvasia from Valencia (Bodega Mustiguillo).” Of natural wines, Woonton specifies, “as long as all the fault funk is in check and the characteristics of the grape varieties are on show, then, Christ can join us.”
Particular consideration is given to the playlists within the micro-empire of Woonton and Young. “There’s nothing worse than having a glass of nervy Riesling with a shrieking bit of jazz in the background which brings out the acidity even more, making you drink swiftly and leave,” says Woonton.
Wine-focused dinners often unravel in the private rooms, including City’s mezzanine, such as the series with The River Café’s Avinash Shashidhara, “who does a regular Indian supper club,” says Woonton. “We matched Averekal Rasam braised octopus and fried curry leaves with young Rueda Verdejo (Duquesa de Valladolid, Castilla y Leon),” he recalls. “Surprisingly, the minerality and salinity of the wine with a hint of residual sugar held up well to the light heat of the dish.”
Woonton describes another event he worked at, albeit not at a Vinoteca. “We were at the end of the show when some very drunk and obnoxious wine know-it-alls were hassling us for left-over wines. We had magnum bottles on the counter for spittoons – you guess it, they took them…”
Alongside the wine bar/brasserie, Vinoteca’s retail list has been constantly building over the past 14 years, “and we still have people discovering that they can take their wine home,” says Woonton. The monthly Vinoteca Wine Club also proved a popular initiative, “where punters have six wines delivered to their door with loads of restaurant perks as part of the club.”
When not at a Vinoteca, you might Woonton aboard the London Shell Co’s Price Regent barge, depleting its “small but perfectly formed wine and spirit list.”
By Douglas Blyde.
Co-creator of Vinoteca, Charlie Young has spent ‘a lifetime’ working in bars, restaurants and hotels, he says, ‘starting as a glass collector in a cocktail bar in Sheffield.’ Bitten by the wine bug in his early twenties, Young studied through the WSET, spending seven years in France and Australia before meeting business partner, Brett Woonton in 2000 while working at Liberty Wines. ‘Five years later, we opened Vinoteca, Farringdon.’ With the format honed, the restaurant, bar and retail concept subsequently mushroomed in Marylebone, Soho, Chiswick and King’s Cross, with Vinoteca at the Bloomberg Arcade, complete with prominent bar and private mezzanine, being the latest chapter.
‘Rather than having particular regional specialities, we tend to champion wines from lesser-known corners of their respective countries,’ says Young. These may include, from the Loire, Fiefs Vendeens and Cour-Cheverny, Rousillon (Collioure) and Burgundy (Ladoix); in Italy’s Piedmont (Ruche and Colli Tortonesi), Lombardy (Oltropo Pavese) and Tuscany (Suvereto). ‘But anything can earn its place if it truly well made, great value, and simply delicious.’
Following an importer hosted trip to South Africa ‘and in particular a brilliant tasting at BLANKbottle,’ Young and Woonton tasted an un-bottled Semillon-based blend which blew their minds ‘but divided opinions as to whether it was the ultimate finished article.’ With the separate components of that blend still in barrel, Young and Woonton tweaked, slurped, discussed and finally agreed on the final blend. ‘We’ve now just taken delivery of a pallet of wine which will only be found at the Tate and Vinoteca, the brilliantly named 2017 Young Dander The Sea Shark in recognition of the ‘master blenders’ behind it: Charlie Young (me!), Hamish Anderson from The Tate and Seamus Sharkey from The Ledbury. Damon Quinlan, like the 5th Beatle, receives no credit for his involvement.’
Young particularly enjoys the wine ledger. ‘It’s not a fine wine list, but rather an opportunity to list rare and/or unusual wines with a bit of age but which are in limited supply. The quantities are updated every day, and once something’s gone it’s gone. Current favourite is Huet’s 1989 Vouvray Sec ‘Haut-Lieu’ in half bottles.’
Vinoteca proudly runs a WSET course in-house, ‘hosted by the brilliant Tom Forrest. And everyone that we recruit sits level one as part of their induction, including chefs.’
Dishes at Vinoteca City may include home-cured Loch Duart Salmon with Riesling essence and soda bread, possibly accompanied with a glass from ‘bag in box’ Beret Blanc (Plaimont), then marinated Scottish bavette with Adelaide Hills Montepulciano (Catlin Wines), culminating with Yorkshire rhubarb and white chocolate cheesecake with, from keg, Pink Moscato (Innocent Bystander).
Of the pricing at Vinoteca, Young has always believed in transparency. ‘We make sure we can source our wines at the keenest prices (including shipping direct from France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Australia – and storing in a Bermondsey warehouse – so we can sell them from our shops and online at proper retail prices and then apply a sensible mark-up for the drink-in price, which decreases as the price of the wine increases.’
The various Vinoteca sites have held ‘countless’ winemaker dinners over the years, ‘most of which were truly memorable, such as Paulo de Marchi from Isole e Olena and Eben Sadie – but actually a recent dinner with Alex and John from Birichino, California was genuinely hard to beat.’
Regarding corkage, Young will always consider it, ‘just make a good case for the wine you’re bringing. But the wines on our list are great value!’
By Douglas Blyde.