Features

Rare wines to enjoy by the glass in UK restaurants and bars

As Château d’Yquem’s latest vintage gets listed by the glass at select restaurants, Adam Lechmere explores the trend and seeks out even more rare and wonderful wines by the glass in the UK

Words by Adam Lechmere

Coravin wine by the glass

Château d’Yquem – possibly the most famous sweet wine in the world – has a new marketing strategy which could be boiled down to the simple exhortation: Just Open It. The problem for Yquem, says Mathieu Jullien, sales and marketing director at LVMH, the great Sauternes chateau’s parent company, is that it’s treated with such reverence that bottles seldom get opened. As he puts it, ‘There are always so many reasons not to pull the cork.’

So, from 22 March, diners at some 30 of the world’s poshest restaurants – from Hong Kong’s Caprice to Spago in Beverly Hills via Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire – will be offered a glass of 2019 Yquem out of an imperial (a six-litre bottle). The idea is to show people ‘it’s ok to open a bottle of Yquem,’ Jullien says; and – crucially – that although this is one of the world’s longest-lived wines, it can be drunk early, and young.

chateau d'yquem wine by the glass
Château d'Yquem is partnering with restaurants across the globe to serve its latest vintage by the glass

A small glass (80ml) of the 2019 will cost between €60 and €80, so it’s not cheap. On the other hand, it’s by no means the most expensive wine by the glass you can find. Thanks to wine preservation systems such as Coravin, by-the-glass options have increased exponentially, and digital wine lists that can be changed in moments have added to the flexibility of what a sommelier can offer. ‘It’s revolutionised the way we work,’ says Victor Ruiz, head sommelier at Paul Kitching’s Restaurant 21212 in Edinburgh. ‘We now have the option of selling unique bottles by the glass.’

Ruiz isn’t exaggerating when he says ‘unique’: his oldest wine is the 180-year-old Cantine Florio Marsala Superiore Riserva 1840 from Sicily, on the list for £160 a glass. If your taste is for something less recondite but equally exclusive, you can find such gems as Petrus 2010 on the list at London’s Coravin wine bar for £850 (Le Manoir has the 1980 for a wallet-emptying £1,250); a 2009 Dominus at Adam’s in Birmingham for £228; or Haut-Brion 1999 at Dinner by Heston in London for £340.

Hermitage at Sager + Wilde wine bar in London
‘We’ll open some very allocated stuff': Sager + Wilde in London says it's increasingly pouring by-the-glass wines on request

While Bordeaux first growths are fairly easy to find on ultra-expensive by-the-glass lists, fewer restaurants list top Burgundy: London’s 67 Pall Mall, for example, has the Domaine René Engel, Clos De Vougeot 1999, and Le Manoir has a good selection – as well as some gems from elsewhere: Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006 from Quintarelli Giuseppe at £220, for example. Top California also crops up in select establishments: the Connaught is pouring Harlan 2005, for example, Adam’s has the Dominus, and 67 Pall Mall will Coravin a glass of Sine Qua Non’s Tant Pis! from magnum for the small consideration of £865.

Coravin has massively expanded choice, especially as many restaurants will take requests. ‘We can essentially do everything by the glass,’ says 67 Pall Mall’s Stephanie Barnett. At London’s Sager + Wilde (winner of 2021’s Best By-the-Glass List in World of Fine Wine magazine’s global wine list competition) they are seeing more and more people who ‘want something special’, general manager Orsi Ajvasov says. ‘We’ll open some very allocated stuff.’ In fact, in some instances Coravin’s technology is helping restaurants to sell bottles that may have before been deemed too expensive by the vast majority of customers.

If you baulk at stumping up for a bottle, then a hundred pounds or more for a once-in-a-lifetime glass can seem reasonable

As always, with the finest wines, prices can very quickly become absurd. But if you baulk at stumping up for a bottle, then a hundred pounds or more for a once-in-a-lifetime glass can seem reasonable. Wine lover Douglas Heye, a Washington DC-based political strategist recalls spending a serious sum on a glass of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Cuvée Duvault Blochet Vosne-Romanée 2006. ‘I hesitated, but ultimately succumbed,’ he told cluboenologique.com. ‘I’d never had DRC and thought this would be my only chance. I don’t remember what I ate, but I sure remember the wine.’

16 fine wines by the glass to seek out at UK restaurants and bars

Bordeaux

  • Château d’Yquem, Sauternes 2019
    Prices vary; Portland, London and selected restaurants worldwide
  • Petrus, Pomerol 1980
    £1250, 125ml; Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
  • Petrus, Pomerol 2010
    £850, 125ml; Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar, London
  • Château Margaux, Margaux, Bordeaux 2001
    £135, 125ml; Clairette, London
  • Château Haut Brion, Bordeaux 1999
    £340, £125ml; Dinner by Heston, London

Burgundy

  • Echezeaux Grand Cru, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Burgundy, France 2011
    £650, 125ml; The Red Room at the Connaught, London
  • Domaine René Engel, Clos De Vougeot, Grand Cru, Burgundy 1999
    £226.50, 125ml; 67 Pall Mall, London
  • Puligny-Montrachet Les Enseigneres 2013, Domaine Jean-Francois Coche-Dury
    £360, 125ml; Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire

California

  • Harlan Estate, Napa Valley, California 2005
    £350, 125ml; The Red Room at the Connaught, London
  • Dominus Estate Christian Moueix, 2009 Napa Valley, California, USA
    £228, 175ml; Adam’s, Birmingham
  • Tant Pis! Sine Qua Non Winery (Magnum), California 1995
    £865, 125ml; 67 Pall Mall, London
  • Opus One 1999
    £300, 125ml; Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire

Champagne

  • B de Boërl & Kroff 2012
    £98, 125ml; Oeno House, London

Spain

  • Vega Sicilia ‘Unico’, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2009
    £135, 125ml; Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham

Port and fortified

  • Grahams Ne Oublie Port 1882
    £220, 25ml; 1857 Bar, St James’s Hotel and Club, London
  • Cantine Florio Marsala Superiore Riserva 1840 Sicily, Italy
    £160, 50ml; Restaurant 21212, Edinburgh