#73 The Sampler
Before we launch into some more Christmassy entries, here’s one we loved that might help with last-minute present-buying for boozers: The Sampler wine merchant in Kensington, not far from South Ken station. No bigger than your average Thresher’s (remember them?), The Sampler boasts a small bar in the basement but is basically a shop dedicated to informed wine buying. This is accomplished by the purchase of a plastic card which you load up with cash and then stick in the temperature-controlled cases around the shop to fill up your glass, choosing whether to have a dribble, a trickle or a whole glass of any one of 80 different wines.
So it’s like The Wonder Bar at Selfridges, then, which we visited all the way back at no. 200; but the emphasis here is on trying before you buy. Given the fact that, at any time, there are going to be several slightly pished, posh punters wandering around, it’s not surprising that the little shop has more of a bar-like atmosphere anyway. The fact that Ivy the Shop Dog lives on a bottom shelf surrounded by bottles helps, too.
The staff were friendly and knowledgeable – actually, we have no idea if they were knowledgeable, since we didn’t have to trust anything but our tongues, but the accompanying text for each bottle was straightforward and accessible. You only need a fiver to sample loads of different bottles, and its also a great way to taste really expensive wines that aren’t usually available by the glass. We’d bet that not many people leave The Sampler without snagging a bottle or three. This is surely the best way forward for congenial, educational booze-buying in London. Maybe if Joe Thresher had thought to install a few card-based Tennants Super sampling machines in his shops, he’d still be in business. Or possibly behind bars as an accessory.