Dickens inspires wine tour

You don't have to be a connoisseur to enjoy the London attraction that has dedicated a Dickensian part of the British capital to a celebration of wine.

by: Paul Casciato | 17 Apr 2007

Vinopolis houses a world of wines, courses, tours and tastings underneath Victorian railway arches, near the cobbled streets and converted warehouses along the banks of the River Thames that once housed the incoming trade of the empire.

Inside the glass and steel structure enclosing the vaulted brick arches, visitors will find guided and automated wine tours and displays of vinified regions like France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, North and South America.

The tours boast a fair offering of everything from French Champagne to Australian Chardonnay in the Borugh Market neighbourhood which formed one of the backdrops for the life and writing of Charles Dickens.

"We normally aim to have 100 wines available to taste at any one time," Vinopolis tour development manager Tom Forrest told Reuters this week. "Our more exotic wines come from Thailand and China, but we also go to Burgundy."

He said the founding of Vinopolis was a testament to Britain as a large and sophisticated consumer of wine, where tastes run to a variety of grapes and styles rather than as a producer in an area or region dedicated to shifting its own wines.

"We'll drink wines from all over the world," he said. "If you were in Bordeaux we would just be concentrating on Bordeaux wines."

He said Vinopolis attracted about 2 000 visitors a year, not counting the corporate entertaining, bachelor and bachelorette parties, wine tastings, courses and short masterclasses in the wines, cocktails, beers and spirits that are offered here.

Black current
Forrest said that despite the apparent sophistication of Vinopolis, it remains faithful to the founding vision at its opening in 1999 as an entry point for people who want to know a little more about their favorite tipple in a fun atmosphere that won't swiftly become snobbish or too academic.

"It was to be a visitor and educational attraction with a small 'e'," he said.

Although, Vinopolis offers courses for qualifications in wine through the internationally recognized Wine & Spirit Education Trust, its main focus continues to be on the amateur oenophile rather than the expert.

"There are far more people who I think still want to know the difference between a Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon," Forrest said. "We try to talk in simple language."

For the record, Forrest said that basically a Cabernet Sauvignon tastes of black currant and a Shiraz is more like a smoky blackberry with bits of pepper.

London wine professional Christopher Weymouth said that although he works in the wine trade he still likes to pop round to Vinopolis because he enjoys its man-in-the-street approach.

"In addition to learning a little, there is the added benefit of the free samples in your entrance fee," he said.

Besides the tours, Vinopolis houses a Champagne bar, restaurant, pub, has started offering whisky and gin tastings and has begun brewing its own beer.

You can find Vinopolis on the Internet at www.vinopolis.co.uk.

Credit: Reuters
Picture: Food24

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