Noble Rot vs 67 Pall Mall, Part Two

How does the exclusive new members' club compare to its hip wine bar counterpoint?

In Part One, Wine Chap hailed Noble Rot as the hot ticket for London's new breed of hip oenophiles. How does fellow new opening 67 Pall Mall compare?

Across town, a rather different operation has finally opened its doors. Exclusively profiled by How To Spend It last March, 67 Pall Mall welcomed members last month over a week-long series of launch parties. Although several events had taken place beforehand in the St James’s Room (including the relaunch of top English winery Gusbourne and a champagne evening hosted by the FT's Jancis Robinson), the club itself was only unveiled a fortnight before Christmas.

In his welcome speech, MD Grant Ashton shared his vision for the club to become the epicentre for fine wineappreciation in the UK for foreseeable generations. Not a small ambition, but nevertheless, nearly a month in, one that’s perhaps not so unrealistic, having already hosted a tasting of eight (appropriately) 1967 Barolos; a 15-vintage masterclass of Spain's iconic Unico back to 1980 – with Vega Sicilia's new winemaker Gonzalo Iturriaga; and then 10 vintages of Opus One with CEO David Pearson. For £1,400 a ticket, members can look forward to a 37-vintage Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Clos Saint masterclass and dinner, with wines dating back to 1923, hosted by one of the UK's foremost burgundy authorities, Jasper Morris MW.

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Apart from such unique but regular one-off opportunities for the 1,450 founder members, the club itself is buzzing, with even tables for afternoon drinks in the mezzanine library in as high demand as a Friday dinner slot at Chiltern Firehouse. Marcus Verberne, former head chef at Roast, is shuffling the pans at 67 and has designed a menu that echoes a traditional St James’s club – full of wildlife that the protagonists of Buchan’s John Macnab would relish poaching from furious Scotsmen, but executed in a considerably more sophisticated fashion.  Of course the main draw is the wine list (although Marcus’ haggis Scotch egg is worth a visit), and it doesn’t disappoint. Five hundred wines by the glass is a punchy start, including Screaming Eagle 2008 (£496) and 1961 Latour (£425) but also more modest pours such as Domaine de Courcel Premier Cru Close des Epenots 2006 for £13.

The full list – a comprehensive 3,000-plus bins, priced at a 20-40 per cent retail mark-up, which will be presented on iPads for easy sorting by preference – is still being compiled by the elite team of sommeliers, most of whom are regional or national award winners. When I arrived for lunch, wine buyer and master sommelier Ronan Sayburn, himself a UK champion (albeit, he admits ruefully, not in this millennium), told me the team had begun filling the cellar at 9am the previous day and finished at 6am, gone home, showered and headed back in for the club’s very first service. I toasted such industry with a glass of Taupenot Merme for a very acceptable £11, while a chap opposite ordered glasses of 2009 Leroy Puligny Montrachet (£23) for his party before calling up three bottles of his own Cheval Blanc from the bank vault beneath, where members can store their own wine to enjoy for a small corkage charge. With the tasting room sporting a fridge of 1950s and 1960s barolo and another of madeiras from between 1830 and 1870, there is no shortage of options if you are feeling indulgent. Service is impeccable and with 9,000 Zalto glasses (at an average of £30 a stem) and a vast array of decanters, there is nowhere in town where wine is treated more respectfully.

On another occasion, general manager Niels Sherry, when asked how things were going, said he’d been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the members. However, with the club at capacity, until the initial hype dies down and regular usage patterns are established, there seems to be no hurry to open the doors to the growing waiting list. The current membership is reasonably eclectic for St James’s (30 per cent female for starters) with wine merchants and writers perched on stools at the bar next to wealthy collectors, like plovers and crocodiles. Winemakers swell the ranks too and you could well see Mosel maestro Ernst Loosen enjoying a pot of tea while trail-blazing New Zealand winemaker Nigel Greening of Felton Road reads the papers two tables away from Saint Emilion garagiste pioneer Jonathan Maltus, trying to make the WiFi work on his new laptop. Despite a top-tier crowd, the ambience isn’t stuffy, summed up nicely by the dress code, which states ‘The Club doesn’t love jeans, but if you do and wish to wear them, that is fine by us.”  

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With its exceptional wine list and an enviable series of winemaker events, 67 so far seems to be living up to expectation, rapidly becoming, as Grant hoped, the most significant nexus for London's fine-wine lovers, a popular watering hole for aficionados and the professionally interested alike. In fact, during the recent spate of burgundy en primeur tastings in SW1, writer Richard Hemming MW suggested wryly that the club felt like the wine trade’s sixth-form common room. An amusing notion, although I'd hate the smell of burnt toast to interfere with the nose of my glass of 1964 Monfortino…

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