A stone’s throw from the Royal Opera House, Grays & Feather, a bar specialising in sparkling wine, has just opened on Wellington Street. The space immediately intrigues with its engagingly eccentric aesthetic: downstairs, with its various hidden nooks, is a fusion of vibrant colour and plush pastel fabrics paired with dark hardwood surfaces and antique ironwork – think Gordon’s Wine Bar reimagined as a well-travelled dilettante’s boudoir. Dickens ran his newspaper from this cellar, warmed perhaps by the original fireplaces that still feature, and one could imagine his contemporary, the explorer Richard Burton, sprawled on a banquette enjoying a restorative glass of fizz and regaling the company with his latest Asiatic adventures.
While hosting tours at Borough Market’s Vinopolis and running the PR for the London Wine Fair, Grays & Feather founder Andrew Gray realised that sparkling wine conversations largely centred around champagne and prosecco. An official ambassador for crémant (the French sparkling appellations outside Champagne), he has been educating the public about fizzy alternatives for seven years. This, his first bricks-and-mortar site, with a regularly shifting selection of 65 wines (50 or more of which are sparkling), is “a safe place to explore the unusual”, says Gray, who readily admits he “gets excited by the weird stuff”.
Gray is driven by a desire to simplify the esoteric world of sparkling wines, and his list highlights each bottle’s key characters and background. Pirie NV (£69 a bottle), one of Tasmania’s excellent cool-climate Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blends, appears in the “Classical” section (“when in pursuit of that classic northern-French style”). With its citrus, brioche and ginger-biscuit notes, this is an award-winning alternative for even resolute champagne devotees.
More unusual bottles can be found under the heading “The Road Less Travelled” – the intriguing Japanese Lumière Koshu Brut (£79 a bottle) pairs well with miso-cured aubergine, anise, peanuts and habanero salsa (£8).
Gray is also determined to have the largest selection of English sparkling wines anywhere in the country. He is currently at 10 listings, covering all sub-regions, such as Hampshire’s Jenkyn Place Classic (£13 a glass), a fine plum-skin nosed aperitif, loaded with greengages and whiffs of woodsmoke and chalk dust. Meanwhile, the more robust, red-fruited Furleigh Estate Blanc de Noirs (£59 a bottle) from Dorset cuts through a rich duck and sausage cassoulet with classic Pinot-style precision and purity. With the listings organised laterally – more akin to a cocktail-bar menu – Gray is moving away from the traditional wine-bar obligation to order further down the list to guarantee quality. “You don’t have to behave normally here,” he says, sipping on a well-balanced organic house prosecco from Anna Spinato (£6.90 a glass) and chewing on a curry-spiced gordal olive. This quirky but cohesive combination of lesser known but inviting wines, a confident food offering and a novel setting proves the unfamiliar can be reassuringly accessible.
Tom Harrow is a fine-wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter: @winechapUK.