In a 2022 summer travel survey, London emerged as the top destination for Americans heading to Europe. Those interested in its wine culture will encounter a very different scene than in years past.
Over the last decade, London’s wine scene has evolved from stuffy snobbery to increased accessibility. Posh spots that tout Coravin lists are alive and well, but the city’s wine culture has also grown more democratic. It’s been fostered in part by natural wine fairs like RAW WINE and The Real Wine Fair, which helped to introduce consumers to organic and biodynamic practices.
Beyond natural wine, London supports Sherry or bubbles-only bars. The city’s venues offer access to the booming wine industry in Southeast England, where producers make Champagne-quality fizz in small quantities that one might only ever drink at the vineyard or, well, in London.
Centuries of British wine history precede this moment. In 1152, King Henry II married France’s Eleanor of Aquitaine. The union with a dowry that transferred possession of the cities and vineyards of Bordeaux and Gascony to England for the next 300 years.
In 1386, Portugal and England signed a treaty to establish a commercial alliance that would intertwine the fortunes of the Douro Valley with British trade. In 1955, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Wine and Spirits Association established the Institute of Masters of Wine, which examination conferring the wine world’s foremost title.
In other words, England and the denizens of London have long trafficked in fine wine.
For those who plan a trip to London or are curious about its wine evolution, here’s a look at the scene through the eyes of the people who helped shape it.
Wine Bars and Restaurants
In 2016, Charlie Mellor founded The Laughing Heart “on the dingiest stretch of Hackney Road,” he says. He wanted to explore design, music, art, lighting and storytelling around wine.
“The Laughing Heart is a cultural, creative practice,” says Mellor. “We see our work as multidisciplinary. It isn’t about simply serving food or wine, but how these ideas come together,” says Mellor.
London’s wine scene is changing, he says. But with that change comes complications.
“It is certainly less uptight, which is great, though sometimes I think that comes at the cost of the quality of the work people do in wine,” says Mellor. “It’s too easy to get a good wine job. I don’t miss the stuffy wine nonsense, but I do miss people working hard to learn about wine. Let’s lose the imposters and keep the groovy, casual narrative.”
A nomadic journey across the hills and valleys of Europe, the Laughing Heart’s wine list focuses on natural producers.