The Sampler

I love wine. A decentish bottle is the cheapest, most sure-fire way to get completely and utterly wankered before a big night out, right? But apparently there’s this thing where you actually let the stuff slosh around on your tongue for a bit before sending it down to your long-suffering liver for processing. ‘Tasting’, I think they call it. 

The Sampler

Jokes aside, appreciating the grape is definitely becoming fashionable again, although the completely fucking mental somewhat old-fashioned concept of spitting out the goods will probably end up as one of those quirks of generations past, like pressed handkerchiefs and buying things out of The Telegraph Sunday supplement. There’s still a recession on, after all.

For those looking to improve their palate, tasting workshops at some of the city’s more enterprising wine bars start from £40, but for those who prefer self-directed learning there’s the Sampler on Upper Street, which rotates its 1,500-strong stocklist on 80 sampling machines for customers to try. These machines use a ‘nitrogen blanket’ to keep wines fresh for weeks in special cabinets, and work with an Oyster-style smart-card to release their precious, grapey nectar. You top your card up at the till and select the wine you want to try, each available in three different measures and priced proportionately to the total cost of the bottle. This way you can experience some ludicrously expensive wines you’d never normally be able to taste, the kind of top shelf stuff that features heavily in the lyrics of Kanye West and other notoriously flash bastards.

Wine Cabinet
All tucked in under their nitrogen blanket

Of course, it is still the posh bit of Islington so we weren’t surprised to be sipping our wine elbow-to-elbow with a couple who’d brought along a snoozing toddler in a £800 pram the size of a tank. It is, however, a really awesome, casual way to learn a bit more about wine, and the staff are all incredibly knowledgeable and so eager to help it’s almost embarrassing. Each wine also has a little information card with lots of lovely, wine-y adjectives you can later throw around at dinner parties or use to impress your girlfriend’s parents, which means you can bring a bunch of friends, take it easy and learn at your own pace.

Of course, they also sell wine to take away, so if you’re looking for a boozy gift and need suggestions from somebody who actually knows their shit, you can’t go far wrong.

Samples start from 30p for the smallest measure, although the real fancypants ones are more expensive. I tried nine different wines for a tenner.

Address: 266 Upper Street, London, N1 2UQ, close to Highbury & Islington and Angel tube stations. They also have a store at 35 Thurloe Place, SW7 2HW near South Kensington tube. More information on the website.

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.