Hedonism Wines emporium in Mayfair, London is considered something of an anomaly…it’s seriously big (two spacious floors…hence the ‘emporium’ title), it is owned by a rebellious Russian millionaire Yevgeny Chichvarkin, and it stocks bottles worth up to £130,000/ $200,000. Every visitor can touch all bottles without special permission – the store is allegedly insured against “clumsy” customers (I didn’t dare holding any expensive bottles myself…just in case!).
I am not a big wine expert myself, so I will not bore you with pretentious reviews of wines we purchased, but instead I’ll tell you more about a pretty unique service they offer – Enomatic wine tasting. Why unique, you asking? Unlike the rest of the popular wine places in London (think Vinopolis and the likes), Hedonism allows customers to taste exclusive, hard-to-find wines which we, normal mortals, would never be able to purchase (we are talking £1,000/$1,500 here).
Wines are grouped by five categories: premium reds, premium whites, seasonal, team selection and new discoveries. Customers can either choose to browse on their own or ask Hedonism team to help out. The staff deserves a special mention – extremely knowledgeable without being snobby, they responded to all our questions (and there were many!). They are required to taste all wines from the tasting machines (no swallowing allowed… so they don’t get wasted, would be my guess), therefore they can tell you exactly what to expect from every bottle. Once you choose which wine to taste, you insert a pre-loaded card into the machine, press a button and wait for 25cl of wine to pour into your glass. The machines will tell you the name of the wine, the optimal temperature it should be stored at and its year.
As tasters are quite small, you can easily try 5-7 wines in one session (I personally would not recommend going above 4 or 5, after that everything starts tasting the same).
The only negative aspect is that they don’t serve food, unless you book in advance for a party of 10+ people, but they won’t object if you bring small snacks like olives and crackers. As a self-proclaimed book nerd, I could not ignore a vast range of wine books which were conveniently placed near the tasting machines. Here are some useful pages that you may find helpful. Do you ever wonder what wine descriptions really mean? All these ‘complex fruity tones of peaches and green apples on a breezy Mediterranean morning ’ on the majority of labels drive me nuts, so here’s a simplified take on different taste nuances you could come across: I’m into Italian wines at the moment, but as you may have noticed, their labelling system is much more confusing compared to the French, which makes it very hard to guess what’s inside (unless you are a firm believer that a price tag above £20/$30 is a good enough indication). So, don’t thank me, just print it out or save it on your smartphone – this will likely save you a lot of time and money. This trip was a gift to my boyfriend (who is beginning to seriously appreciate wine), so I thoroughly recommend it as a Valentine’s or anniversary gift experience. Some pro tips we have learnt from our trip to Hedonism:
- Wines below £30/$45 are made from machine-picked grapes. Wine purists argue that this significantly affects quality, as machines damage grape vines. Elegant wines tend to always be made from hand-picked grapes.
- Always ask for de-classified (aka ‘No label’) bottles – wines from famous châteaux in France, which are legally required to produce no more than an X amount of bottles per year. Any leftovers are then sold at much lower prices to savvy retailers. We got a beautiful Sauternes 2009 (from an unidentified but very famous château…it’s a hush-hush secret), which was a delightfully complex wine for just £20.
- Wine shelves tend to be organised by region, so you will see very expensive bottles from well-established vineyards next to attractively-priced wines from unknown producers just a few kilometers away. Most of the times the quality of grapes will be the same, so you will bag a nice bargain.