April 29 2010
The late Anthony Berry was one of the old-school wine merchants. He only gave up wearing a bowler hat into Berry Bros & Rudd’s St James’s Street offices after being snapped by tourists once too often. He also despised the idea of displaying bottles on shelves and fiercely resisted it for as long as was humanly possible. So goodness knows what he’d have made of The Sampler, a wine merchant in fashionable Islington, north London. The place is heaving with bottles and cases for all to see and fondle.
Of course, these days there’s nothing new or particularly exciting in that. But what sets The Sampler apart from much of its competition is the opportunity to try some of these very smart bottles before you buy – thereby avoiding some potentially costly mistakes. At any one time, 80 wines out of its 1,500-strong range are available for tippling thanks to their 10 state-of-the-art gizmo cabinets which dispense tasting-size measures for a relatively small fee.
All you do is buy a tasting card and off you go – until you’ve used up your available credit. Some samples cost as little as 30p, while the most expensive so far has been £79 for the ’82 Lafite, currently retailing for north of £30,000 a case.
The samples vary from week to week. But there’s always an icon range, with a couple of older First Growths. When I was there recently, there were three vintages of Haut-Brion (’62, ’86 and 2000) plus the ’98 Latour, a 1993 Grange, and the 1979 Jaboulet Hermitage. Fabulous.
There are also exciting selections of chardonnays, Rieslings and sundry other whites from around the globe. Reds include old and new world Cabernets, merlots, pinot noirs and shiraz/grenache. And there are two lots of Spanish and Italian varietals just for good measure. In addition, the staff are genuinely knowledgeable, passionate and helpful, which is another reason why the shop has already picked up several well-deserved awards since it opened its doors in 2006.
Finally, if aficionados need any further persuasion to venture in, The Sampler is currently offering around 30 en primeur “barrel samples” from Bordeaux’s freshly-minted and much publicised 2009 vintage, which will also be available for sale by the case. But be warned: the opportunity to taste the likes of Léoville-Barton and La Conseillante only lasts until May 8.