Edinburgh has a long-standing reputation as a centre for fine wine and food. Deservedly so, as William LYONS discovers.
It may surprise you to learn that The Which? Wine Guide 2000 voted Edinburgh the best place in the United Kingdom to buy wine. London and Bristol would almost certainly balk at the suggestion, but the close proximity of a handful of award-winning wine merchants, all within walking distance of each other, has made Edinburgh a wine buyer’s paradise.
Edinburgh has enjoyed a rich history of wine appreciation for centuries, since the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France provided Edinburgh’s port of Leith with a profitable trade in claret smuggling. Indeed, if one were to pay a visit to an Edinburgh tavern 200 years ago, in all probability one would have been served a jug of red Bordeaux.
And how little things have changed! The pubs of Edinburgh may have stopped serving claret by the jug, and the port of Leith may have ceased to be a smuggler’s destination these days, yet the greatest wines of the world still manage to find their way up to this glorious city thanks to the plethora of forward-thinking and imaginative wine merchants based here.
Zubair Mohamed owns Raeburn Fine Wines, situated at the back of New Town in Stockbridge. Sourcing every wine himself, he lists a variety of top Burgundies, good claret, and fantastic German wines. There is also a good New World section that boasts Dry River from New Zealand and Mount Eden from California. Not far away, at the top of Leith Walk, is the Italian specialist Valvona & Crolla. With more than 550 Italian wines, from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo up to 16-year-old Sassicaia, it is not surprising that it regularly wins Italian Wine Specialist of the Year. It also has more than 100 malt whiskies and an amazing worldwide wine list.
A stone’s throw from here is one of Scotland’s most exciting wine merchants, Villeneuve Wines. Its large and high-quality range is particularly strong in Spain, South Africa, Australia and California. Topped off with a stunning Champagne selection, it is well worth a visit.
The south side is served by Peter Green & Co of Marchmont. This eclectic wine shop is a must for any wine lover. Strong in Spain and Germany (it lists more than 52 German wines), it has an enormous selection of real ale and malt whisky to boot.
Raeburn Fine Wines, 21 Comely
Bank Road. Tel: +44 (0)131 332 5166
Valvona & Crolla, 19 Elm Row.
Tel: +44 (0)131 556 6066
Villeneuve Wines, 49a Broughton Street. Tel: +44 (0)131 558 8441
Peter Green & Co, 37a/b Warrender Park Road. Tel: +44 (0)131 229 5925
Eating and Drinking Out
Eating out in Edinburgh is always enjoyable and with so much fresh food (fish, game, beef) on their doorstep, restaurateurs delight in serving traditional Scottish fare.Hunter Square is in the heart of Old Town and here one can stumble into the intimate seafood bistro, Creelers. Food is incredibly fresh and changes according to the season. Specialities are langoustine and wild salmon and it also boasts a fine variety of Scottish cheese and a comprehensive wine list. Lunch is excellent value: two courses for £7.50.Walking up the Royal Mile to the foot of the castle, one is greeted by the gothic haunt known as The Witchery. Again, Scottish dishes, such as whisky-cured salmon (£8.95), are house favourites. The wine list is very impressive with a sizeable Bordeaux section.
For the true wine bar experience look no further than Whighams Wine Cellars, on the corner of Charlotte Square. It offers a range of wines by the glass and has an impressive menu featuring seafood and game.
The Canny Man’s in Morningside is one of Edinburgh’s best-kept secrets. This great pub offers claret vintages from as far back as 1934 and more than 250 malt whiskies. There are 90 main dishes, the service is impeccable and the decor has to be seen to be believed.
Creelers Seafood Bistro & Restaurant, 3 Hunter Square. Tel: +44 (0)131 220 4447
The Witchery, Castlehill, The Royal Mile. Tel: +44 (0)131 225 5613
Whighams Wine Cellars, 13 Hope Street.
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 9717
The Canny Man’s, 237 Morningside Road.
Tel: +44 (0)131 447 1484
Places to Stay
Sitting proudly at the front of Leith’s modern harbour is the stylist hotel/restaurant Malmaison. The impressive building, which was formerly a seaman’s mission, has bedrooms (£115 per night) complete with CD players and other gizmos. Its restaurant and bar are very well served by a varied wine list.The elegant Georgian townhouse, The Bonham, is a wonderful place in which to soak up the atmosphere of Edinburgh’s New Town. The restaurant serves good quality food at low prices and the cellar is generously stocked with wine. Rooms start at £135 per night.
Malmaison, 1 Tower Place, Leith.
Tel: +44 (0)131 468 5000
The Bonham, 35 Drumsheuth Gardens.
Tel: +44 (0)131 226 6050
Written by WILLIAM LYONS