The Sampler-Trying iconic to everyday wines, all at the push of a button….

'78 Cheval Blanc & the '98 Mouton Rothschild

Don’t you just wish you could try every single wine before you buy it?  I know I do. Sure the back label gives a mighty fine description (if it’s New World or none at all if it’s Old World, esp. France and Italy!) but oftentimes, unless you’ve had the wine before, you might have only a hazy idea of what you’ll be getting. You pop the cork and hope for the best.

shop window

a very smart card

The ‘Sleuth and ’90 were out and about in Islington the other day and we popped into The Sampler to, well, have some samples.The Sampler is a wine shop with a difference, namely you can try the wines and not just 3 or 4 but close to 100 before you buy. The shop has been open since 2006 but I’ve never actually been in to give their wine sampling dispensers a go. Briefly, the machines are temperature controlled, airtight and use a nitrogen mixture to ensure that the wines don’t become oxidized. The Sampler offers 3 different serving sizes, the smallest being 25 mls up to 75mls and priced accordingly. To get the wine you just pop in a smart card which you load with  prepaid credit (min. £10) and then push the button for your sample.

Sarah (wine90) had previously arranged for us to go down and give the wine dispenser a go, so when we walked in, Sebastian Crozatier, the shop manager, had our cards charged up and rarin’ to go.

ready to go

waiting patiently...

Where to start?? The shop carries around 1000 classic, interesting, and off the beaten path wines at any one time and has plenty on tasting, 80 in all! There were some amazing wines available to sample. From New World to Old World and back again. 25 ml samples started at about 45 pence for the everyday wines all the way up to the “Icon Wines”.  I think the most expensive was £79.17 for a 25ml sample of Lafite Rothschild 1982 (£1900 btl). All prices quoted for samples are the 25ml size.

previous "Icons" on tasting

At first we thought we’d go the traditional route and begin as any proper wine tasting does with the whites but after about 3 of those, we were like moths to a flame – the Icon Wines flame. I mean how can you resist? Ch. Mouton Rothschild 1998 (£260 btl, £12.13 sample), Granbussi Barolo Reserva 1997 (£170 blt, £10.40 sample) , Cheval Blanc ’78 (£150 btl, £7.00 sample) ? There was also a 1996 Screaming Eagle but at £70.83 a sample, (£1700 btl), we had to sadly forego it along with the Lafite. Sarah and I both prefer Old World to New World wines so our sampling was heavily skewed towards France and Italy.

still young, '05 red burgundy

There were six machines and we hit all of them! The highlights – a 1976 Gilet Moelleux Vouvrey (£32.99 btl, £1.54), the aforementioned ’98 Mouton Rothschild, ‘00 Macchiola (24.99 btl, £1.17), ’96 Le Bronche from Tenuta Ribaldaccio Le Bronche (£24.99, £1.17), ’98 Chapelle Chambertin (£74.99, £3.50), ’94 Meerlust Rubicon (£54.99 btl, £2.57), ’02 Ch. Lynch Bages (£54.99, £2.57), ’04 Le Flaive Batard Montrachet grand cru (£230 btl, £12.00), and so many more.

Honestly, if I could, I would write up all the wines we tried and we tried over 30! But this post would go on forever so I’m just going to put up a few notes. What you should do is get down to The Sampler and try these wines for yourself. It’s a great way to educate your palate and where else do you have the opportunity to try such a diverse range of wines at a very reasonable price. It’s an entertaining (well, for us wine geeks) way to spend a winter’s afternoon, education and recreation all rolled into one. Thanks, Sampler!

Don't wait, it's ready to drink now

A few tasting notes:

Le Bronche Tenuta Ribaldaccio 1986 (cabernet sauvignon)Aromas of fresh olives, tomato ketchup and then black  fruits and  raisins mingling around the glass, there was a salty seabreeze character as well reminding me of cool summer days on the Central California coast, a very intense nose. Savoury on the palate, meaty ragu and tomato leaf flavours, a soft, voluptuous body, drinking perfectly now. This is a wine to savour and enjoy on a cold winter’s night. Don’t wait, it’s at it’s peak now. (£24.99 btl, £1.17 sample)

Ch. Mouton Rothschild 1998 (cab.sauv.,merlot, cab. franc) – Still a young’un, this wine was extremely expressive and concentrated. Rich tobacco, espresso coffee, the smells of a saddle shop, I wanted to fall into the aromas of this wine and I think Sarah did too, I had to wrestle  it away from her so I could taste it. Ruby in colour, looking quite lively. The first thing I noticed were the still gripping tannins! This wine just grabbed me around the throat to announce it’s presence. An incredible blockbuster of a wine, built to last with loads of fruit and a mouth coating quality that carried on and on. Very intense, so many complex layers of fruit and oak coming through. This wine was still in it’s toddler stage, it will last for years. A wine I could have wallowed in all afternoon but £12.13 a sample doesn’t get you a lot. Have to save my pennies for more of that. (£260.00 btl).

a South African wine I like!

Meerlust Rubicon 1994 -(cab. sauv., merlot, cab franc) I know, a South African wine! Usually I steer clear of these wines but the Rubicon is one I couldn’t resist. I’d had a 2000 before and liked it so I was quite curious to see how it ages. I was not disappointed by the 1994. Dark and broody in colour with a toasty, spicy nose and hints of very ripe banana wafting about before I took the plunge and had a sip. Sweet spices and blackberry notes on the palate, smooth, round tannins and a dark chocolate finish, a very enjoyable wine. If only all S.A. wines were as good as this. (£54.99 btl, £2.57 sample)

more, please

And lastly, a white. We mostly stuck to the reds but this one knocked our socks off. The Dom. Leflaive Grand Cru Batard- Montrachet 2004. Very expressive, toasty oak notes, hazelnuts, followed by an sultry earthiness, aromas of gruyere cheese and then citrus, lemon custard, apricot and more hazelnut on the palate. Great complexity on this full bodied chardonnay. This is what I think of when I think of white Burgundy. If you’re not a fan of chardonnay, try this one. I dare you to not like it. A real beauty. I wanted to have another sample but we had the last of the bottle! (£230.00 btl, £12.00 sample)

The Sampler is located at 266 Upper St, Islington, N1 2UQ

Phone 0207 226 9500

Open Monday – Saturday 11:30am – 9pm, Sunday 11:30am – 7:00pm

Check out their website for more info on Tasting Events held in the shop.

The wines are changed every two to three weeks so even if these wines are not available, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of other exciting and interesting wines to taste.


  1. Ooooooh! I’ve wanted to try the Sampler for ages! Might be nice to try one of their tasting events. All part of my wine education which I am going to take up a notch in the New Year 🙂

    • The Sampler is a great place for a bit of wine education. The staff is very friendly and approachable and if you go when they’re not busy, they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction. Alternatively, I’d be plenty happy to take you on a little guided tour of their wines. Enjoy! 🙂


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