The Sampler Islington is unlike any wine shop on this fair isle. Not because it carries the most exclusive range (though it does), not because it has the most special offers (that too) and not even because the walls are covered with enomatics (as the walls of Heaven).
The Sampler Islington is my favourite wine shop in the world because it allows, nay encourages, wine geeks like myself to stay for hour upon hour sampling great wines, genning up on Parker and Jancis and, most crucially, making new wine buddies. Forget Corkd and Snooth, if you want IRL wine chums then head up (or down) to The Sampler and make your way through the world of wine from as little as 30p a sample.
So it was, on a snowy, Pre-Xmas hike up to Islington, battling train delays and the snow that myself and The Wine Sleuth spent three solid hours working our way excitedly through 25+ wines from all over the world. The enomatics are handily split up into regions and grape varieties allowing you to taste correctly, going from white to light reds and finally onto the serious “fine wine” selections or, you can stand in the middle, dazzled by the variety and just amble over haphazard from Vouvray to Sangiovese to Pinot as I did until Denise kindly set the rules for the tasting! “Rules help control the fun“, cheers Monica!
Eyes Left. This is a standard issue Sampler card. Don’t lose it, don’t leave it on the table and don’t entrust it to your best friend. This is what goes for currency around these parts, no card; no vino. Let the staff know how much paper money you’d like this card to represent, they combobulate their till machines and, as if by magic, you have full access to the enomatics and all the wines within them. Tidy.
There’s a range of 800-1000 wines at the Sampler, at any one times 80 of these will be available for sample, the rest available to buy. As samples start from as little as 30p, even if you just have a crisp £10 note you can still sample several great wines and have a great hours worth of fun.
To get an idea of the current range of wines available for sampling click here.
Look how shiny! Tasting samples are available in three different sizes. However the smallest size is certainly good enough for a sample and as variety is the spice of life, I’d recommend sticking to the 25ml and trying as many wines as possible. As the 1000 strong range are on rotation, you can come back the following month and be faced with a whole new set of wines. So, rule #1, stick to the small samples, more for your money innit.
Rule 2: If somethings worth doing it’s worth doing right. The fine wines!
It’s not often your eyes pass over the 1978 Chateau Cheval Blanc but with the 1998 Chateau Mouton Rothschild by its side you must be careful to give all the “icons” their props. At any one time there are six “Icons” available, and in December those included these two greats plus JL Chave’s Hermitage 1998, Conterno’s Barolo Gran Bussia Riserva 1997, Screaming Eagle 1996 and Penfolds Grange 1978.
During my three-hour visit I managed to taste my way through 27 different wines the most interesting of which have tasting notes to follow.
You can purchase Sampler gift vouchers and these would be perfect for any London-based wine fan for Christmas next year, a Birthday or any other event where the swapping of gifts is customary.
The Sampler is located on 266 Upper Street, Islington and enquiries can be made on 020 7226 9500. However, I wont lie to you, by the end, Christmas or not, we were proper steaming. So, Rule 3 – if you do want to emulate myself and Sleuthy and enjoy yourself at The Sampler you might want to brush up on the art of spitting.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1998
Dense ruby red in colour. This wine is a monster from the first whiff on the nose till the finish, power all the way. Quickly developed aromas of tobacco, leather, blackcurrant and bitter chocolate. The palate is ultra drying with massive tannins but also shows good blackberry fruit. Hugely concentrated wine with a truly long satisfying finish. 95 Points
Chateau Guiraud 1er Cru Sauternes 2001
A beautiful mid golden colour, on the nose the wine was all oranges, creme and even smoke. To me it smelt like an orange pudding of sorts. On the palate this wine is beautifully rounded, thick and heavy with a long showstopper finish. Niiiiiiice. 95 Points
JL Chave Hermitage Rouge 1998
Touch lighter than expected but still a dense ruby red despite the 11 years. On the nose acres of spice, smoke, olives and blackberry. The palate shows exceptional balance with a full rounded mouthfeel, still tannic but smooth and pleasant. Super powerful and thick from start to lingering finish. 94 Points
Gilet Vouvray 1976
Deep golden colour. Aromatically gorgeous and expressive with a honeyed nut profile. On the palate the wine reminded me strongly of Lyons golden syrup drizzled over Kelloggs Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Full bodied with hints of marmalade on the finish. This is desert in a glass but not sickly sweet. 93 Points
Chateau Cheval Blanc 1976
A garnet red tinging brick on the rim. Another blockbuster nose, rich and desert like with notes of glazed cherries, tobacco and marzipan. Wonderfully fresh and lively still today on the attack but the mid-palate does hollow out with the flavours coming back with gusto on the finish. 94 Points
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Christmas is always a chance to try many new wines and find a passion for new varieties. I had a very Tuscan/Umbrian new year with loads of IGT Umbrian wines on show that I’ll report on the next entry. What did you drink over the Xmas/New Year period? Any comments on these wines also appreciated.