Located on the south bank of the River Thames, not far from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Vinopolis is as close as you’ll get to a winery in central London. Touted as a wine tasting experience, Vinopolis offers a glimpse into the world of viticulture and a chance for me to learn how to swirl and spit wine like a pro.
Built into the massive Victorian railway arches between London and Southwark Bridges, Vinopolis is easily accessed from the Thames pathway. The cobbled streets leading to the venue hark back to long before Vinopolis was built. If walkways could talk you’d be sure to hear some sordid tales of Southwark’s past.
History of Drinking in Southwark
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the cobbled streets of Southwark and Bankside were the recognized areas for prostitution. Ale houses and wine bars were commonplace at a time when alcohol was generally safer to drink the cholera-tainted water, making Southwark the capital’s main centre for drunkenness and debauchery. How fitting then that Vinopolis is built on the same grounds.
Wine History Tours
The Wine Odyssey tour starts in the entrance foyer and allows visitors to step back in time on a self-guided pictorial or audio tour of the history and origins of wine, with special reference to London’s involvement in the wine trade. Some of the exhibits are self-explanatory while others are lacking in written explanation, encouraging the purchase headsets. I make a beeline for the tasting room in case I miss the slot for our tour group. There is no time limit to the visit so you are free to roam the exhibits after the tastings.
Wine Tasting Teaching
Near the beginning of the tour, visitors are lead to a mini amphitheatre for a short wine tasting teaching session. The sessions last around half an hour and provide enough information to be able to enjoy the rest of the day tasting, even for those who have never tried their hand at wine tasting before. Everyone is given a small Vinopolis notebook on entry to record all tips and advice. I scribble frantically even though I’ll probably never look at the book again.
Vinopolis Tasting Rooms
Wine tables are spread at intervals throughout the warren-like route, allowing for tasting from start to finish. The large wine tasting rooms are spilt into old world wines, new world wines and premium wines, however there are also a few surprises too – a champagne bar, absinthe bar, whiskey bar and beer tasting bar means that even those who aren’t mad about wine can enjoy their favourite tipple.
Depending on the level of tour purchased, visitors can taste a few wines from each section. Enthusiastic staff are quick to offer ideas and samples along with background information on the wines and their vintners. If you put on your best smile, you may also score a few trays of beer nuts and bar snacks.
It’s impossible to leave Vinopolis without learning something new, even for those who think they already know everything about wine. So, why not pop in for a tipple or two on a day out in the capital?
Top Tip: If you book dinner with the tour, it is advisable to do the tour first then have dinner. People who have opted for the three-course meal with wine prior to the tour are generally too full to enjoy the wine tasting.
Vinopolis is set to close it’s doors in December 2015, so you only have a few months left to enjoy this unique wine tasting experience before it becomes yet another piece of Southwark’s drinking history.
For packages and times, visit Vinopolis’ website.