Smith and Gertrude | Courtesy of Smith and Gertrude
Edinburgh certainly has no shortage of bars, but if you’re a wine lover, where’s the best place to indulge in your favourite tipple?
Scotland’s long-standing relationship with France once ensured that many of Bordeaux’s finest vintages were earmarked for the Port of Leith, keeping the cellars of Edinburgh’s grandees lavishly stocked with claret. Back then, however, wine was a drink reserved for the well-heeled, while the masses had to make do with cheap beer or gin.
Even as recently as the 20th century, the best that Edinburgh could offer your average wine drinker was a selection of dingy, tobacco-stained pubs serving up pints of Heavy in an overwhelmingly male environment. Dare to ask for a glass of wine, and you’d be lucky to be served a warm glass of something highly dubious – along with a distinctly odd look from the barman.
Fast forward to today, however, and Edinburgh’s drinking scene has been transformed into a cosmopolitan arena with some of the country’s very best wine bars and pubs, offering a dizzying range of bottles from around the globe, in some of the city’s most historic and atmospheric venues. Here are some of the best.
Whighams Wine Cellars, Edinburgh
Wine Bar, Wine, $$$
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Whighams | Courtesy of Whighams
Something of an Edinburgh institution, Whighams Wine Cellars has been packing them in for over 35 years, and is still rammed with well-to-do besuited solicitors and accountants letting their hair down over a post-work drink. But it’s deservedly popular, with a fantastic range of wines – over 80 at the last count, and 35 by the glass to encourage you to try something different – all served up in an atmospheric, candlelit space, with live jazz on Sunday evenings. There are plenty of cosy little nooks and crannies for a business lunch – or a romantic encounter.
This family-run wine venue situated at the bottom of Dundas Street in the New Town is a great place to stop for a glass after a long day of shopping. With cool, minimalist decor, Perspex chairs, Murano glass chandeliers and modern art on the walls, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a Milan coffee shop rather than an Edinburgh wine bar, but it’s all the better for it. One-20 offers an interesting range of wines personally sourced from independent producers, many of which you would be hard pushed to find elsewhere. It also boasts a carefully curated menu of cheese, charcuterie and pâtisserie.
Smith and Gertrude | Courtesy of Smith and Gertrude
Smith & Gertrude is one of a new breed of Edinburgh wine bars fast making their mark on the city. Come here for a relaxed lunch, order a glass from the 150-strong list (which focuses heavily on lesser known regions and varietals) and chill out to the vinyl collection. Meanwhile, order some locally sourced cheese and bread to nibble on while you browse the papers and watch the world go by.
Tucked halfway up a coronary-inducing flight of vertiginous stone steps in one of Edinburgh’s many narrow closes lies the Devil’s Advocate: a dark, sexy bar which would make the perfect venue for a romantic rendezvous. Hole up in this former Victorian pump house and bag yourself a table on the mezzanine level, giving you a bird’s-eye view of the bar below. Tuck into cullen skink (a traditional Scottish smoked haddock soup) followed by North Atlantic cod, and wash it down with one of the wines from the list, including a zingy furmint from Hungary or a bone-dry Mosel riesling.
This cosy little bar is tucked just off the main drag in ever-fashionable Stockbridge. With a focus on natural and fine bottles, they champion small and up-and-coming producers from around the world, reflected in their eclectic list. They offer a revolving selection of 20 well-priced wines by the glass, as well as a lengthier list of over 50 bottles, with the English chardonnay a particular highlight. Pair these with delicious sharing plates including venison tartare and smoked haddock beignets.
Venice meets Edinburgh in the small and stylish West Room, where this authentically Italian outfit serves up Venetian cicchetti – small tapas-style plates, traditionally served up with a glass of wine and eaten standing at a bar. The simple dishes are perfect to share (or eat alone) and make the perfect accompaniment to the wine. Kick off with a glass of prosecco, then order a plate of fritto misto or crab risotto and select from the small, but well-considered wine list. Packed with office workers from the west-end for post-work drinks and business lunches, the West Room also makes a civilised pit stop for a nightcap at the end of the evening.
When a wine bar is run by one of Italy’s top producers, you can feel pretty confident that the selection is up to scratch. And so is the case with Edinburgh’s Wine House 1821, owned by renowned Italian winemakers, the Zonin family. The wine bar, on the ground floor of an elegant Georgian townhouse, offers a more contemporary setting within – think red Venetian marble, warm oak panelling and sleek lines. While Zonin is best known for its prosecco, this is the place to try out some of its other wines including vintages from its American estate.
L’Escargot Blanc Bar à Vin | Courtesy of L’Escargot Blanc Bar à Vin
With vintage French posters adorning the walls and old pastis bottles hanging from the ceiling, there’s no escaping the inspiration behind chef Fred Berkmiller’s west-end outpost. Bar à Vin is your classic old-school French wine bar, with an almost exclusively French list of around 40 wines covering every main wine-producing region. There’s a particular fondness for organic, biodynamic and natural bottles. French cuisine is served up with carefully sourced Scottish ingredients, in an unashamedly Gallic ambience.
In this atmospheric Old Town cellar, found in the hulking shadow of George IV Bridge, you can be sure of a fresh glass thanks to an Enomatic wine dispenser. Divino’s exclusively Italian list of 80-plus labels features stand-out bottles such as Antinori’s Tignanello and Gianfranco Soldera’s Brunello di Montalcino, for those with deep pockets. For a more exciting alternative to the ubiquitous prosecco, choose one of the sparkling wines from Franciacorta instead. Some interesting wine flights are also available.
Valvona and Crolla | Courtesy of Valvona and Crolla
Valvona & Crolla is Edinburgh’s oldest delicatessen and wine importer, established back in the 1930s when the average Scot probably thought that pasta – if they had even heard of it – grew on trees. Piled high with a cornucopia of foodie and vinous delights, this deli at the top of Leith Walk offers a little wine bar at the back of the shop. There is a huge array of exclusively Italian wines to drink by the glass or bottle, with more than 50 in the Veneto section alone. A policy of charging only retail prices (plus an additional £4 corkage) encourages you to experiment with more expensive bottles.