Temple to Fine Wine
London's latest vinous attraction, Hedonism Wines, has opened its doors to much fanfare. With nearly 5,000 wines and spirits from a price range of £15 a bottle up to £120,000 it is a wine shop with unlimited ambition. WSJ's Will Lyons explores.
“Is De Beers vulgar?” asks Alistair Viner, the man who last June was pried away from his position as wine and spirits buyer for Harrods to assemble the “best wine shop in the world.”
“Is a seven-star hotel vulgar?” he adds. “Some would argue it probably is. Others will say it is the pinnacle of luxury. Everyone will have a different view.”
We’re sitting in Hedonism, London’s latest vinous destination and arguably—depending on your view—its greatest. There are two ways to look at Yevgeny Chichvarkin’s shrine to fine wine. One is to sneer, taking offense at its audacity and smirking at its over-the-top selection. The other approach is to walk through its doors, open your mind and let your eyes feast on one of the most visibly impressive displays of fine wine on public display.
Split over two floors in the heart of Mayfair, Hedonism isn’t so much a wine shop as a showroom containing the greatest wines in the world. It has taken Mr. Viner, who is now their head wine buyer, a little over a year to assemble the mind-boggling collection of fine wine, spirits and glassware.
This sits uneasily in a neighborhood where, traditionally, collectors would buy their wines, under consultation, from a list written by a merchant who had visited the château or estate he was recommending. Indeed, it wasn’t so long ago that one would be hard-pressed to find any wine on display in the offices of Hedonism’s neighbors on St James’s Street: Berry Bros. & Rudd and Justerini & Brooks. Their rationale was that their clients bought wines to lay down and mature in their own cellars; they wouldn’t dream of buying from the shops.
But times have changed. If wine merchants like Berry Bros. & Rudd and Justerini & Brooks can boast 300-year histories and sales receipts from Charles Dickens and Napoleon III, Hedonism can boast a wall of Château d’Yquem, beginning with the 1894 vintage and ending with the 2008. Yes, that’s a wall of the most sought-after sweet wine in the marketplace. This is its appeal.
For anyone with a passing interest in collecting fine wine, walking around its immaculate aisles is like being handed the keys to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Only instead of sugary confectionery, there is wine—rows upon rows of the rarest and most precious wines ever produced.
You don’t like d’Yquem? That’s fine, because on the opposite side of the shop, there is a wall of Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds, which is flanked by a wall of one of Spain’s most expensive wines, Pingus. Look, there’s an entire collection of Spain’s other great wine: Vega Sicilia; another wall of cult Californian winery Screaming Eagle.
Just as art-historian undergraduates may flock to Paris’s Musée d’Orsay to walk around its spellbinding Impressionist halls, students of the Masters of Wine qualification may well come and visit Hedonism just to stand and gawk at the collection.
I don’t know of any other room in the world that is open to the public that contains 64 back vintages of Bordeaux first-growth Château Mouton Rothschild and a bottle of 1990 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (that’s £26,540, by the way). It is, quite simply, breathtaking.
“I don’t believe we have any bling products,” says Mr. Viner. Really? What about the Penfolds Ampoule 2004, which retails for £120,000? A signed imperial of Petrus 1982? And a whole room dedicated to California wine Sine Qua Non winery? Of course it’s over-the-top. It’s gloriously over-the-top, but it is also friendly and quirky. I may not be able to afford most of their wines, but I’ll certainly be going back for a look.