One could argue that London’s most prestigious wine store is now Hedonism Wines, standing on sedate Davies Street near Claridge’s in Mayfair. Not only is it owned by a Russian oligarch—the exiled mobile phone entrepreneur Yevgeny Chichvarkin—but it looks as if it is owned by a Russian oligarch.
His two-year-old wineshop is exceptionally sleek. With glass floors, hanging wineglasses and exposed brick walls, and chilled to the exact degree appropriate for fine wines (free pashmina shawls are handed out at the door), it bears little resemblance to most London wine stores. The mood is young and contemporary, while the prices of its 8,000 offerings over two floors range from the perfectly competitive to the quease-inducing blue-chip madness that we associate with the world’s most coveted bottles. Chichvarkin seems to have set out to create a place where the richest oenophile on earth can walk in unannounced and walk out with whatever he wants.
As far as the great Burgundy and Bordeaux and Napa estates go, Hedonism has succeeded. Want that bottle of 1811 Yquem? It’s yours to go. In fact, there’s a wall of Yquems. Jayer’s legendary and impossible-to-find Vosne-Romanée Cros-Parantoux? Not a problem. The (to my mind) overrated and overpriced Californian super-fruit wines? You can have your pick of Screaming Eagles and Harlan Estates. There is also a floor of rare and delectable whiskeys, aged rums, sakes and sojus and, indeed, pretty much everything else.
With its green-friendly electric minivans that speed all over central London ensuring a promised one-hour delivery, Hedonism’s team has reinvented what could be called wine-store service. Moreover, the very conceit of housing such a concentration of imbibable treasures is itself bound to change the game in London. Whenever I am staying in my home city, in fact, I find the wine stores quite mediocre compared with the marvelously specialist and knowledgeable stores in New York. Hedonism, for example, like most London wine stores, seems to be entirely in the dark about Italian wine—apart from the predictably overstocked Piedmont and Tuscan sections, there is virtually nothing from the glorious Italian regions. No Ferrando Carema from Aosta, no Emidio Pepe or Valentini from Abruzzo? No Aglianico del Vulture from Basilicata?
Much of the feverish press that Hedonism has attracted in the UK appears to make favorable mention of the way that a great deal of its portfolio confirms the genius of American critic Robert Parker; but this would strike American oenophiles as naive and dated. Of course, one of the charms of Hedonism is that it reflects unabashedly the tastes of its owner: Mr. Chichvarkin loves big, brassy New World wines. It’s not my taste, but all’s fair in love and alcohol.
By some purely private instinct, I went not to the obvious big names in Bordeaux and Burgundy (which seem to have monopolized the imaginations of all drinkers east of Moscow) but to the Rioja section to see what Hedonism had to offer. First, because I love Rioja, and second, because I can actually afford some of them. Sure enough, their Riojas are dominated by the fashionable, inky-dark, overextracted, massively fruity Roda, a wine that to me is not even Spanish. But just as I was getting hot under the collar, I saw something sublime: the 1957 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, there for a “mere” $1,385, and its little brother, the 1964, for $800. But even better than that, they have the rarer Tondonia whites, not to mention a magnificent 1925 Castillo Ygay for half the price of some of the Roda ($930, if you are curious). I threw up my arms. All was forgiven. If you don’t fancy a $3,000-plus bottle of Parker-sanctioned Screaming Eagle, you can, in the same store, save yourself $2,000 and get yourself an Ygay from almost a hundred years ago. Not bad for Davies Street.
OUR FAVORITE FINDS
López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva, 1957; $1,385.
Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Reserva Especial, 1925; $930.
Domaine Raveneau Chablis Les Clos, 2002; $790.
Krug Clos du Mesnil, 1988; $3,580.
Domaine Armand Rousseau Clos St. Jacques, 2005; $1,090.
At 3-7 Davies St.; hedonism.co.uk.