Friday, 09 November 2012
Yes, I know, I'm a little bit late on the Hedonism bandwagon - after seeing countless blog posts / reviews / tweets from various astounded wine folk, I've finally made the trip to Hedonism to see what the fuss is all about. If you've been reading my blog, you'll know I typically only publish tasting notes, I've never reviewed a wine shop, yet I feel Hedonism is more than just a wine shop. I went in with very high expectations - all the wine folk I know have been singing the same tune, they cant all be wrong, can they?
Tucked in Mayfair, this wine shop is truly a treasure trove; the ground floor holds assortments of Champagne, Burgundies, as well as their entire spirits section. It took all of ten seonds of browsing before I had to politely decline one of the staff member's offers of assistance. The whisky section is comprehensive, with plenty of recognisable names - for a high end retailer, I would have liked to see more single vintage expressions of Scotch, as opposed to just their age-statement bottlings. But thats nit picking really.
For any wine fan, most of the treasure you want to drool over is located downstairs. Where shall we start? Perhaps the d'Yquem display (pictured above) which stands imperiously as you reach the basement, step closer to the display and the lighting kicks in and the whole thing gleams like gold before your very eyes. Dazed, you move on to the shelving holding quite a few vintages of the first growths, accompanied by Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Angelus and even some Le Pin - as far as I can tell, the bottles weren't secured to the shelving, so you could pick any one of them up and hold it in your hands, if thats your thing. By this time, one of the staff had accopanied me around and we were happily chatting away - his previous job was in the two-Michelin starred Midsummer House in Cambridge. Their Rhone collection include multiple vintages of Jaboulet's Hermitage and Chateau Grillet, as well as your more usual Chateauneuf du Pape fare of Janasse, Beaucastel and Vieux Telegraphe. Big names of Spain were represented by Vega Sicilia and Pingus, I moved quickly though to the American section where a display of Sine Qua Non wines greeted me - I was told its the largest selection of SQN wines outside the US. Who am I to argue?
The next stop is the famed Mouton Rothschild vertical collection (pictured above), housed in its own enclave - a complete vertical from 1945 to 2004, including some larger formats. Seeing the bottles laid out and displayed together like this suddenly makes sense of the art labels - I felt as if I was in a strange existential combination of a wine shop, a cellar and an art gallery. Takes you a while to snap yourself back to reality. The children's play area with cushions and iPads is a caring and shrewd move. The enomatic machines near the children's play area is a welcome feature - I would have indulged if I didnt have a cold. Selection was well put together, blending the interesting, the reliable and the eclectic; prices seemed relatively reasonable. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a whole wall of vintage ports - admittedly, most were from the 90s onwards and are far from ready. Again, nit picking.
Finally, the crown jewels of their collection, kept behind bars protected by a huge padlock, is a selection of Romanee-Conti, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. I call it the DRC dungeon. Even with my surname, they let me in to marvel inside and take some pictures. Its not a complete vertical, but theres a fair few in there, alongside other luminaries - I spotted a 63 Quinta do Noval Nacional in there too. As I headed back to the ground floor (it was close to closing time), I got chatting to one of their staff, the resident Sake specialist and fellow IWC Judge - no surprise therefore, that Hedonism stocks a good range of Sakes and Japanese whiskies.
The last thing I must comment on is the staff. Retail outlets live and die by their staff. The staff I met and spoke to at Hedonism struck me as being enthusiastic, knowledgeable, friendly and not the least bit condescending. Its clear I wasnt there to buy the Mouton vertical or the magnum of DRC Romanee-Conti, nor did I tell them I was writing this piece, yet for the forty minutes or so I was there, they treated me with warmth and respect. From their website, its encouraging to see that many have aspirations to complete the WSET Diploma / further wine study - I hope Hedonism supports their studies and I wish them well.
I like browsing wine shops, its my version of retail therapy. But walking around Hedonism does more than that, sure you turn slightly green with envy. Although I have tasted a fair few of the wines they stock (both great and not so great wines), I couldnt possibly afford them. And the sheer value of the wines they have on display makes me shudder at the thought of their insurance premiums. But it still lifts the soul and brings a smile to my face. You leave feeling happier than when you went in. For that reason alone, any wine fan really ought to visit this place at least once. I have a sneaky feeling I'll be back there before long.
Before I left, I challenged one their staff to pick me a bottle around £20 which he could particularly recommend. Normally when I do this to other wine shops, the range is £10-15, but I fear if I imposed that range on Hedonism, I would leave empty handed. When I've tried the wine, I'll post the tasting note below. Even their tills arent really tills, it was a table with plush chairs, like check in desks in posh hotels. I was tempted to pay in cash just to see what happens. I genuinely did not see a till. I guess no one pays for Lafite in cash.
I went with high expectations - did they meet it? Yes, and with room to spare.
3-7 Davies Street, London W1K 3LD
All pictures were taken by kind permission of the staff at Hedonism.