While staying at The Stafford London Hotel, with its St. James Place location in trendy Mayfair, and only a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, we had the opportunity to explore a wine celler that was built over a century before George Washington was even a twinkle in his parent’s eyes.
Built in the 17th century by Lord Francis Godolphin, the Cellars are situated below Blue Ball Yard, an 18th-century stable yard which once formed part of the Royal Mews. In the 1880s, they became the property of a private London wine merchant whose shingle still hangs there today.
We descended a centuries-old stone stairway through a non-pubic doorway into the musty smelling 360-year-old vaulted ceilinged wine celler. As we strolled through a narrow walkway with thousands of precious wine bottles on each side of us, our guide entertained us with stories of long ago when evidently British court members would sneak into this very vault, through secret tunnels from nearby buildings, to enjoy their spicy trysts with secret lovers.
We also learned that the vaulted wine celler was used as a bomb shelter during World War II.
Today, Gino Nardella, one of just a handful of Master Sommeliers in the United Kingdom, has sole responsibility for the world famous wine cellar’s constantly changing inventory of between 18,000 and 20,000 bottles of wine.
According to Nardella, the Cellars house approximately 800 labels, although at any one time only about 400 will appear on The Stafford wine list with the rest awaiting maturity.
Nardella prides himself not only on the wide selection of wines from around the world – The Stafford has one of the most complete wine collections in London – but also on the quality and quantity available by the half bottle and imperial. For example, those who’d prefer to drink less, or sample a variety of wines, can enjoy Château Lafite Rothschild 1961 and 1976 or Ducru Beaucaillou 1978 by the half bottle. For those with something to celebrate, the Château Leoville Poyferre 1978 is a favourite among the imperial-sized offerings.
At the end of a meal, Nardella might suggest a vintage cognac or Armagnac, a mature malt, or perhaps a bottle of vintage port, dated 1927 or 1945.
While we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy a $1,000 bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, we most certainly enjoyed our step back in time to enjoy the secret world of this beautiful 360 year-old vaulted wine celler.
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