“Kid in a Candy Store,” A visit to London’s Noble Rot Wine Bar

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Central London is a curious juxtaposition of nuances and arguments, of history and eccentricity, of old and new. It is a place where the Prets outnumber the Starbucks two-to-one, to say nothing of the Costas, Cafe Neros, and independent shops, a place where the homeless lay bedded in makeshift sleeping bags beneath unmistakable symbols of imperial splendor and unparalleled wealth, where friendly people hurry off to work, a place where the bike lanes have no cars parked in them, where the standard is to walk on the left (and yet), where streets narrow and widen seemingly without intelligent design and, most striking perhaps, where war memorials rest quietly amidst ancient buildings whose faces are stained with smoke that may only have come from one source, where St. Paul’s cathedral gongs out morose melodies and in the background rises the great Shart…er…Shard, reminding the world that this ancient city has indeed arrived in the twenty-first century in a very gaudy way. And nestled in amidst all of it is one of the best wine bars in the entire world.

Good morning from London, where I’ve just gotten back from a quick jog in time to shower, eat breakfast, re-pack my bags, and head to a meeting at 10 Downing Street before we strike out north to put on two days of workshops for educators and students. Yet before my busy day begins, I wanted to be sure to share with you the truly terrific and equally fortuitous thing that happened yesterday. For my casual followers, this may be a bit of an eye roll, but for those of you who are a bit more geeky about wine, well, prepare to be really, really jealous.

After a morning of sort of half-working in London yesterday, I headed off to the new offices of the University I worked with when I was living in the UK five years ago.  As they’re new and I’d never seen them, I had a bit of looking about to do to find them, got lost a few times, got helped by a friendly Londoner a few times, and eventually found the little side street called “Emerald” where they are located. As I was approaching Emerald street, however, I glanced off to my right on a cute little alleyway and there I saw it: Noble Rot Wine Bar. This may not mean anything to you, but in the wine geek community, it’s a big deal. I subscribe to Noble Rot’s magazine.  It’s like being a Harry Potter fanatic, arriving at King’s Cross without thinking, and just happening to walk past Platform 9 3/4 (incidentally, that also happened to me once). I guess we make our own luck sometimes. So later, after France squeaked by Belgium and I had sent my sympathy texts out to my Belgian friends, I talked my friend Ian into paying Noble Rot a visit. It wasn’t hard to convince him. Yet to be honest, I arrived not knowing what to expect.

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I think my fear was that such a well-known wine establishment might take themselves too seriously. If you read my post yesterday, containing that excerpt of the interview that the founder of Vivino mentioned me in, you might recall that this spotlight had not to do with my prowess as a sommelier nor my gifted silver pen, but rather, that in my profile pictures I’m wearing a trucker hat and drinking Dom through a straw. I never want wine to be too high-brow, and I admittedly feared that this might be what I ran into. It’s amazing how thankful one can be to be wrong.

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The environment at Noble Rot was super-chill. I mean, really relaxed. It was the perfect combination of incredible wine list and extraordinary staff juxtaposed against a quiet little English establishment, not entirely un-pub-like if I may, with a cozy little fireplace off to one side, a long bar, and cartoons on the walls of the bathrooms. On the wall behind me were old copies of Noble Rot magazine.

The young lady who helped Ian and I out is named Bronte, and she was as knowledgeable as she was amiable. In conversation, I learned that she passed her WSET III (no intimidating pins born by the staff here), and that she had come to London via Australia largely out of an appreciation for wine. Later, I watched in fascination as she hung the latest cover of Noble Rot upon the wall, an occasion for which I’d have anticipated a bit more pomp and circumstance. If you’re ever in London, look for Noble Rot, and if you’re ever in Noble Rot — and I highly suggest that you make it a point to be, look for Bronte. She’s excellent.

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Now, as you’d surely expect, the wine list was really exciting to me. It was a lot like eating at V Mertz in Omaha or Spruce in San Francisco and getting to comb over their selections; I read the list with the same rapt focus with which I read F. Scott Fitzgerald.  There were some incredible options, and I wished I had more time (and cash), but in the end Bronte helped us select a few real itch-scratchers that I think made Ian appreciate why I wanted to visit this place, and made me want to return again soon.

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I’ll spare you my lengthy descriptions about the wine (see the cartoon below) but I will tell you a couple of quick stories to help you understand perhaps what made the entire experience so much fun. Largely, as ever, it had to do with the company I was in, wine being but a compliment to greater experiences, as usual.

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Briefly, I’ll say that the 19-year-old Macedonian wine was the best Greek wine I’ve ever had, has held up superbly over time, and was a real treat. I told Bronte that blind I’d have called it Bordeaux, and Ian told Bronte that blind he’d have called it red wine. We laughed, and I pointed out that of the two of us, Ian, who isn’t a cork dork like me, would have been correct and I would not.

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The Hambledon Brut NV was my first English sparkler, ever, and I loved it. Reminiscent of… wait… I promised not to do that. Just know that I now have a budding interest in English sparkling wines, and hope to bring this sucker into Nebraska soon!

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Lastly, of course, we had to have a Sauternes. I man-splained to Ian (can a man man-splain to another man?) the name of the bar and why we had to have one. I then explained to him that I often sing to my son, “Titus-Titus-botrytis-Havana-nana-bo-bitus…” you get it, and we shared a chuckle. At two and a half, Titus can say “botrytis” — not bad!  I’ve had a lot of Chateau Suduiraut from the 80’s, but never 1985, so this was a fun find. Ian then tasted the wine, and spontaneously ejaculated the best impromptu tasting note I’ve ever heard. It was so great in fact that I wrote it down. It went like this:

“Oh wow! Shit! Yea, mate, that’s lovely! 1985? I was still at school! Shit! I was 14! Now that is lovely. Fucking yow! Whoo-hoo, that’s good!” It was at this point that I encouraged Ian to consider writing a wine blog of his own. He’ll think about it, he says. In the very least, I’m hoping he’ll start doing cameo’s for me. I’ll keep you posted.

Departing, I snapped a few pictures of the art work in the bathroom (above), and took a mental note to try to acquire it to hang at home. I hope Sonja will approve (how could she not?) and in the meantime they let me keep a by-the-glass the menu as a souvenir. Before yesterday I could have told you that Noble Rot is easily one of the best-known wine bars in the world, and this morning I can tell you that it is also easily one of the best. They don’t take themselves, or wine, too seriously, yet they absolutely know their stuff and deliver a list to rival most that I have seen. Their terrifically knowledgeable yet completely unpretentious staff, use of Coravins to open fun stuff, relaxed environs, lovely location, and undeniable sense of humo(u)r all combine to make Noble Rot a wine mecca to rival the best I’ve visited anywhere. If you’re in London, consider it a must-visit, and if you’re planning a vacation and debating where to go, add them to the “pros” list when considering the UK. Thanks, Noble Rot, for a wonderful time last night. I hope to see you again soon.

Cheers to wine, people, and wine people who do it right,

Mark

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2 responses to ““Kid in a Candy Store,” A visit to London’s Noble Rot Wine Bar

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