The Sampler Wine Shop at 266 Upper Street is a place that’s both romantic and practical. Romantic because it’s owned by partners who decided to turn their passion – wine buying and wine tasting – into their livelihood, and practical because as a customer, you can taste up to 80 bottles of wines before you commit to buying a bottle (or twelve).
Think about the last time you walked into a wine shop and had the chance to try so many bottles at once. Or the last time a wine shop opened a $600 bottle for tasting? These things happen, like, never, because wine shops can’t afford it. Or can they?
At the Sampler, you ask for a plastic card, throw some money on it, and browse the 80 bottles available for tasting. When you spot a wine you want to try, you pop the card into the Enomatic machine (those Italians – so genius with their inventions) and select the wine that’s caught your eye. The machine debits your card an amount anywhere from 41p for a recent primitivo to £13 for a 1988 Cheval Blanc, and out comes a tasting portion into your waiting glass. It’s a fab idea once you get past any hangups about drinking wine from a dispenser, and I hope the concept spreads.
The Enomatic machines are supposed to keep the wines “good” for up to four weeks, which is kind of a stretch (occasionally the wines taste like they’re turning vinegary), but overall, the system works.
Not only do I drop by when I’m looking for an interesting, small-producer wine as a gift, but I also drop by when I’m not looking for any bottles of wine at all. I go just to taste. And in doing so, I discover affordable, delicious wines to pair with my cooking; I learn which wines (I think) taste like ass; and occasionally I try crazy-expensive “wine icons” that I can’t imagine I’ll ever get to taste again.
Sound like fun? It is. So forget the Odd Bins and get thee to the Sampler.