The Sampler, Islington

A friend whose boyfriend does frequent wine tastings with forms to fill out analysing aroma, mousse, faults, etc (yes, all terribly terribly serious) has been raving about this wine merchant in Islington and South Kensington. Yesterday we finally went together. I can confirm that it is fantastic! I am sad that a lot of wine merchants are going out of business with the internet and supermarkets being partly to blame, and I am especially sad for Oddbins. There are still some left but about a third of the original amount have closed. I shall always have fond memories of going to Oddbins as a child with my mother, loving the Ralph Steadman drawings on the windows and signs, the smell of the wooden floors and the general “wine is fun, not too serious” atmosphere, and thinking “see you in a few years when I’m 18”. So, back to The Sampler. There are two: one at 266 Upper Street in Islington and one at 35 Thurloe Place, South Kensington. The one in South Kensington has a resident dog and the one in Islington has pictures of the dog. Sweet.

The Samplers are stuffed with many many wines. You can buy a sampling card and then sample as many as your card can afford of the roughly 80 wines on tap at the sampling machines. You can opt for a few drips of your chosen wine, a gulp or several gulps. There are wines ranging in affordability and some bottles that are around £400 on tap to try. Very thoughtful for those who can’t drop £400 on a bottle. We tried several from a Roussanne to a Jurançon, made from petit manseng and gros manseng grapes, a Cabernet Sauvignon that smelled smokey and had hints of bacon, a buttery Chardonnay, a very sweet Reisling Auslese, and a red from Douro in Portugal made from Port grapes but not fortified. The French poet Colette compared all great seducers “proud, imperious, treacherous” to Jurançon! It was delicious.

Now I said that the wine tastings were serious, they’re not really. Comments vary from “the aroma has hints of wet pencil sharpenings” to ‘definitely rhubarb and custard boiled sweets”. My favourite off-putting words from the suggested descriptions of aromas on the cheat sheets are “sticking plasters” and “drains”. Needless to say I can wait for the day when I try a wine that has subtle hints of sticking plasters infused with overtones of drains.

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