Even the savviest of wine lovers knows the sinking feeling that can come when perusing a restaurant’s wine list. My own personal bugbears include wines presented – quite literally – as a list, with no attempt to describe their essential characters or why you might like to order it, and prices that zoom up and down like a rollercoaster instead of helpfully ascending from low to high. The wine list lottery is enough to make you reach for a drink to calm the nerves before even selecting a bottle.
Restaurant reviews tend to concentrate on the food; few bother to talk about the wine. And yet what is served in the glass can affect the enjoyment of a meal just as much as what is served on the plate.
Too many wine lists, however, require blind faith in the selection process behind them – or else an encyclopaedic knowledge of grapes and regions, styles and vintages. The cynic in me wonders whether this is merely a ruse for the sommelier to push their most profitable bottles, though few things are as likely to kill repeat custom than upselling wines.
What’s more, all too often the restaurants with the most lauded wine lists are also the most expensive. Nothing wrong with that for those that can afford it, of course. But it tends not to encourage one of the greatest joys of wine: experimentation.
Instead, below we’ve selected the restaurants across the UK where imaginative lists have been assembled, with as much of an eye on affordability as enjoyment and – even if the wine list offers little by way of annotation – staff who have been thoroughly trained to offer knowledgeable and trustworthy advice.
Read on to discover where good value is matched by great choice and, if in doubt, check the wine list on the restaurant’s website beforehand.
Best value restaurant wine lists
The 10 Cases, London
Only ever buying 10 cases of wine for its ever-changing list – all available by the glass – and great food-matching too.
Askham Hall, Penrith, Cumbria
The family seat of the Earls of Lonsdale excels with classic Burgundy and Bordeaux from the family cellar; the Loire and South Africa are also strong.
The Black Bull, Sedbergh, Cumbria
Characterful, quirky and good-value wines from small, sustainable European producers, including regions less-travelled by many lists.
Chez Bruce & La Trompette, London
Both under the same ownership. Exceptional lists with lots by the glass, and some prices cheaper than retail.
The Drapers Arms, London
A fairly-priced list almost exclusively concentrated on artisan European producers all the more surprising for being in a pub.
The Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon, Powys
The Gurnard’s Head, St Ives, Cornwall
The Old Coastguard, Mousehole, Cornwall
This trio of Welsh and West Country inns is united by wines sourced from regionally specialised merchants, also available to take away for almost cost price.
Freemasons, Clitheroe, Lancashire
A list so well written that it could serve as a beginners’ guide to wine, with reds and whites divided into four styles each, playful descriptions throughout and something for all tastes and budgets.
Kitchen W8, London
A classically European list not priced as dearly as might be expected by the Kensington location, Kitchen W8 excels with a weekly changing selection of fine wines offered by the glass at cost price (£10 to £30).
The Newport, Newport, Fife
Masterchef: The Professionals winner Jamie Scott’s bistro boasts a fabulous list from a local merchant.
The Old Bridge, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
Owner and MW John Hoskins offers 15 wines by the glass, 20 more from an Enomatic and wines with between £10-£20 added from retail price; the broad, style-led list is also available to take home from the Wine Shop next door.
Otto Tepasse eschews anything that one might find in the supermarket, instead selecting great vintages from classic French regions, and he’s usually on-hand to offer advice.
Park House, Cardiff
An impressively broad list of 1,500 bins, especially strong on Australia, at scarcely believable prices.
The Terrace Rooms and Wine, Ventnor, Isle of Wight
Some of the lowest wine mark-ups in the country on an accessible 350-bin list with almost nothing over £100 and wines selected to be at peak drinking drink now.
Tyddyn Llan, Corwen, Denbighshire
A 250-strong global list sourced from small wineries run by hands-on owners, offering interesting and affordable options alongside the classics.
Wild Flor, Hove, East Sussex
Not, overall, the cheapest list but wines for every budget and mood, helpfully grouped by grape.
Best restaurant chain wine lists
Now 14 branches, and a short, helpfully annotated list that’s more carefully chosen than at many chains.
Some less-obvious Italian choices, and you can buy from the shop to drink with your meal (£5 corkage applies).
Cote’s all-French wine list might not be the easiest to pronounce but the helpful annotation could not be any easier to understand.
The prices are a little steep, but it has a serious and unrivalled selection of Argentinian wines.
Each site has its own wine list but all favour a mix of small producers and big-name vineyards with a preference for the steak-friendly.
Hotel du Vin Bistros
Local buying decisions are allowed, with sommeliers even buying wine at auction.
Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill
Focused on whites to suit the mainly fishy cuisine; a well-composed list.