Fleet Street. Wine bar. A couple of decades ago, the words would have conjured up images of navy-blue-suited, signet-ring-wearing, beaujolais-nouveau-quaffing, shouting-into-oversize-Motorola-mobile-phones-housed-in-briefcases, one-failed-trade-away-from-an-aneurism city boys.
And sure, today the late 80s/early 90s yuppie has arguably been replaced by a far more sinister breed – the corporate hipster – but at least we can now all enjoy a decent drop before rushing to catch trains bound for our £400,000 studio flats in an up-and-coming (ignore the queues waiting for their methadone fix each morning) pocket of zone 3.
Tucked down St Brides Passage – a cork-pop-distance from St Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge – this (appropriately) subterranean wine bar and cellar is less clocking off rowdy boozer and more sophisticated dining space – a refreshing change for city workers tired of ploughing through the all-vaping, all-shouting crowds that swarm outside of every All Bar One situated within a couple of square miles of The Gherkin come 4pm.
Yes, this attractive venue (hopefully soon to branch out into a little outside terrace) is dedicated to all things vinous – and we not talking any old plonk here – the bottles are biodynamic or organic, or hail from sustainable vineyards. Pick up one to take home, or enjoy them in situ over dinner, at the bar, in the 16-seater private dining room or perhaps at one of the most romantic dinner a deux locations I have ever come across – a cellar with space for a couple to sip their favourite tipple (they will take special requests) while gazing into each eyes. That is if they can tear themselves away from the design flourishes that abound – the ultra-sustainable cork walls, the one colourful piece of modern art that brightens the stones wall, the old arches that I am assured were designed by none other than Mr Christopher Wren…
On the evening I visit, winemaker Andreas Huetwöhl of Von Winning and Dr Deinhard is over from Germany – the previous night was one of The Humble Grapes’ regional tasting dinners – on 31 August 2016 the team will be serving up wines from Chilean outfit Millaman – and having impressed guests with a Dr Deinhard Grauer Burgunder 2014 (this German pinot gris is flavour-packed compared to its often average Italian counterpart – think juicy notes of citrus peach) and a mind-blowingly complex and delicious Weingut Von Winning Forster Ungeheuer Reisling 2013 – Andreas joins us over a table strewn with share plates of roasted vegetables, seafood (hello Galician-style octopus) and beef cecina from northern Spain, and huge wooden platters stacked with steak entrecôte (the dry-aged Hertfordshire beef is perfectly succulent) and wheels of gooey baked camembert topped with crumbled pistachios. I am in wine tasting heaven.
For me, the tipple of the night had to be Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2013 from the Russian River Valley region of California. It’s buttery, just the right level of oaky and elegantly and obligingly ready to coat your mouth in supremely delicate yet robust honey smoothness.
The guys are big advocates of ‘vinotyping’ – head to the website and a little survey will inform you as to which of four personas you fit into: tolerant, sensitive, hypersensitive or sweet – but I found everything I tried delighted me – no matter how many tastebuds I might have or what my palate might prefer. The reds were no different – a drinkable Von Winning Pinot Noir II 2013 and a ballsy, experimental Rioja made with a blend of tempranillo, syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
And as if they read my wine-soaked mind, we finish with sweet dessert wine and biscotti. If you like wine, want to learn more about wine, want to broaden your wine horizons, want to discover a world beyond box wine – whatever the reason – this vinous venue quenches the city’s thirst for an unpretentious, civilised drinking den. With not a yuppie or wine wanker in sight.
UPDATE \\ July 16, 2016
Humble Grape, the wine bar and shop that directly imports handcrafted wine from small, sustainable, independent vineyards have launched a personalised dining experience at both their Fleet Street and Battersea locations. Designed with mates and dates in mind, Humble Grape can create a bespoke dinner for each and every customer.
Guests are able to create a truly unique experience, by pre-selecting wines, flowers and their meal. Whilst seated at a romantic table for two in the arched wine cellar at Fleet Street, they can choose from the dozens of wines that surround them, or are invited to opt for an intimate party (up to six guests) in the brand new outdoor atrium at Battersea.
For those who want to go one step further, the Humble Grape wine team will be able to organise a personalised wine tasting and vinotyping experience. By answering a few questions they will be able to accurately advise on the wines that guests will love. The personalised way to enjoy hidden-gem wine.
Contact: Humble Grape – 1 St Bride’s Passage,City of London, London EC4Y 8EJ. Ph. 020 75830688. Website.