Berry Brothers & Rudd
The old shop front dating from 1698

Patrick Stuart’s hunt for premium English wines

A quick pilgrimage in London

Last week I was in London on a business trip staying in the St. James area and, finding myself with an hour to spare, decided to walk across St. James Park and visit the Berry Brothers & Rudd shop for the first time.

For any wine lover who consumes wine literature, the name Berry Brothers & Rudd is incontournable. If you google “what is the best wine shop in the world”, it will appear in either first or second place and, in my ignorance, I was expecting to find something of an Aladdin’s cave with many thousands of wine bottles on display from all over the word. But I was wrong.

Berry Brothers & Rudd
Inside the modern retail shop

When I did actually find the company’s retail, it was a relatively small space as shown in the photo, holding only around 1,000 or so different wines, which is around half of what can be found in my local Apolónia supermarket here in the Algarve, and pales in comparison to many great wine shops I visited.

But I soon realised that retail is not what Berry Brothers & Rudd is about. However, that said, the shop is well worth a visit if you are looking for something special, especially great wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone. Italy is well represented and there are even a few bottles from Spain, but the only Portuguese wine they have for sale is Quinta de La Rosa Reserva from the Douro. Apart from an excellent collection of Port, of course.

I myself was on a mission to find some of the premium English wines I had read about recently and came away very happy, but with a considerably lighter wallet and a heavy carrier bag for my suitcase to bring back home with me.

Berry Brothers & Rudd

What is fascinating about Berry Brothers & Rudd though is not what meets the eye in the modern shop but what lies beneath and just around the corner. There is a warren of cellars dating back to the 17th century where all the wines used to be stored for the brokerage clients. These today are used mostly as events spaces for private functions and wine dinners.

But just around the corner from the shop is the original old coffee merchant shop dating back to 1698 that looks pretty much as it must have looked hundreds of years ago. They started out importing and selling coffee, becoming one the world’s largest wine merchants with what is today a global family-owned business with offices in six countries.

Berry Brothers & Rudd
The old coffee merchant shop dating back to 1698

The focus of the company is wine investment, storage and tasting, but a visit to the old shop is quite fascinating, if you can get in. My wife and I were lucky to get a quick tour with the receptionist whose job is actually to meet and greet groups as they arrive for events in the cellars.

I think if I had turned up empty-handed, I may have been turned away, but walking with a heavy carrier bag from around the corner and dropping the name of one her colleagues who had implied that if I asked her nicely I may get shown around, we were in.

Sadly for us, there were events going on in the cellars, so they were off limits, but we had a good look around the old shop and she explained how the high and mighty of society, including royals, would visit the shop in the old days to get weighed on the coffee scales that still take pride of place in the shop. And in a safe are the old ledgers recording the weight of customers. We got to see that Lord Byron’s weight oscillated between around 11 and 13 stone. All in all, it was a very well spent hour, and I am looking forward to trying my English wines soon.

By Patrick Stuart
patrick.stuart@open-media.net