As wine lists go, the one at 10 Greek Street in Soho is right up there. It’s interesting, quirky, classical in parts, constantly changing, fairly-priced and with a few safe names in among a plethora of lesser-known gems.
Oh, and its legendary ‘Black Book’ is home to some of the best-priced fine wines on any restaurant list anywhere in the country. No wonder that the wine trade love it – particularly on Sundays when the latter wines have a 25% reduction.
‘Basically, on those days, we make nothing on them,’ admits Luke Wilson.
Wilson, the restaurant’s founder, is ex Liberty – a ‘wine man’, which, frankly, you’d have to be to run an operation like this. The 10 Greek Street list is compact – a dozen whites, a dozen reds, four sparklers and three rosés. In spite of this, Wilson has ‘probably 15 to 20 accounts,’ but says that he tends to work with ‘five to seven’ at any one time.
Storage space in the narrow Soho venue is tiny, so the wine offering works on a system of small numbers held in stock, and constant rotation. Pricing is impressive – nothing on the printed list is over £60 and there’s a lot of good stuff in the £35 to £45 sweet spot.
Four years ago, it deservedly won Great Value Wine List of the Year in Imbibe’s Wine List of the Year competition. But what about the logistics of running a constantly-changing wine list with a large number of suppliers?
‘We tend to gravitate towards companies where the service is strong,’ says Wilson. ‘Commercially it probably makes more sense to have just a couple of suppliers – that’s when you have better negotiating power as a buyer. But it’s not what we are about.’
And while merchants might not have the holy grail of sole-supply status or a dominant position supplying a big-volume list, they do at least know that whatever does get listed at 10 Greek Street won’t sit in a cellar for years.
‘Because it’s a small list, nothing sits. Everything sells,’ says Wilson. ‘We are lucky to live in London because there are so many amazing suppliers all in one place, but this model could work anywhere. There are enough suppliers nationwide…’
Wilson describes 10 Greek Street as a ‘neighbourhood restaurant that happens to be in the heart of Soho.’ The pricing reflects that wine is very much more than just an accompaniment to the food. It’s absolutely at the heart of all they do – and, Wilson says, a key ingredient in shaping their customers.
‘If you have an interesting wine list, you attract people who are interested in wine,’ he explains. ‘People who want to expand their knowledge and are prepared to pay for it. Fill your list with Pinot Grigio and you don’t get that… It’s why we have lots on by the glass. People like to experiment, to have two or three different glasses.’
Typically over 30 of the wines (and all the sweet and fortified) are available in either glass or half-bottle carafe format. A couple of wines are also available on Coravin – as are a red and a white from the Black Book.
The latter – a black, leather-bound notebook, with monthly fine wines scribbled in pencil, is justifiably renowned across the London on-trade. These are wines picked up from auctions, bin ends from fine-wine lists and cellar sales. There are typically only two or three of each, and, sold on a cash margin, the prices are impressively low.
To pick two wines at random from the day that Imbibe visited, Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc was £50 and Trotanoy 1978 was £150. Wines are stocked on a ‘when they’re gone, they’re gone’ basis, with any unsold bottles rolled into the following month.
Unsurprisingly, France (particularly) and Italy loom large, though the former, particularly, is getting harder and harder to place on the standard list.
‘The Burgundians have had some really bad luck with harvests, and that, combined with the extra costs of getting here, has not helped pricing,’ admits Wilson. ‘Meursault that used to be £20 is now £30.
‘From our point of view if you’re into Burgundy, you can move onto the Black Book. The amount might be high, but because it’s a cash margin the quality is better. It’s difficult to do Burgundy on a list for £60 now. But there are so many new regions making good Pinot Noir – and smaller Burgundy producers too. The quality of winemaking has really risen.’
Wilson points to his Ronsel do Sil Mencia from Ribeira Sacra (Hallgarten) as a ‘great Bourgogne rouge subsitute’; the Alpha Estate Xinomavro from northern Greece (also Hallgarten) is a good baby Barolo alternative.
The ability to find interesting wines from less-usual destinations is key to all they do, he says, citing Spain, Portugal, Greece and Central Europe as especially interesting at the moment – plus the exciting boom in local wines.
‘We can give a glass of Nyetimber to anyone and they are pretty much blown away by it,’ he says of their £7.50 a glass house sparkler. ‘The growth of knowledge within the English wine industry is incredible. New producers have to match the quality of the wines that are already there. As a region it’s even starting to be recognised by non-wine people.’
And it’s clearly this – the ability to find wines at good prices that pleasantly surprise open-minded customers – that provides Wilson with his biggest motivation.
‘The hardest bit of wine buying is not for the Black Book [of fine wines]. It’s those little gems under £10 that can offer something amazing for your customers. It’s not necessarily about one country or region – though you often have to look outside the well-known areas.
‘You’ve seen that move by the big companies like Bibendum and Liberty. They are realising that people also still want the small producers as well as the big names.’
Ten Gems from 10 Greek Street
(As selected by Luke Wilson – all prices from December wine list)
Spy Valley Riesling 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand (Bibendum) £35
Domaine Andre Vatan ‘Les Perriers’ Sancerre 2017, Loire, France (Yapp Bros) £45
Tornatore Etna Bianco 2016, Sicily, Italy (Bibendum) £42
Alter 2017, Ribeiro, Spain (Liberty) £36
Colomba Bianca Zibibbo ‘Vitese’ 2017, Sicily, Italy (Hallgarten) £25
Ronsel do Sil Mencia ‘Vel’ Uveyra’ 2016, Ribeira Sacra, Spain (Hallgarten) £39
Tupari Pinot Noir 2014, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand (Ester Wines) £52
Pascal Freres Crozes Hermitage 2015, Rhone, France (Yapp Bros) £45
Alpha Estate Xinomavro, Reserve Vielles Vignes 2014, Amyndeo, Greece (Hallgarten) £49
Le Paradou Grenache 2016, Languedoc, France (Flint Wines) £29