Q: What happens when you get a bored wine blogger with five hours to spare at Heathrow Terminal Five?
A: She walks past the retail temptation of Harrods, Burberry and more, and instead decides to set herself the challenging task of deciding which restaurant/bar has the most interesting wine list.
As you may have guessed, that bored wine blogger is me!
Now, it doesn’t take much to convince me to undertake ‘research’ for new blog posts, and, when I recently found myself with a rather long layover in Heathrow en route to Sydney, I figured the best use of my time was an exploration of the wine selection airside.
After all, most British Airways flights now use this sparkling ‘new’ terminal, including those to and from Nice, so you, lovely reader, may well find yourself in a similar predicament one day!
So, here is my wine guide to Heathrow Terminal 5:
The ‘blow your money before you arrive at your destination’ award:
Winner: Fortnum & Mason
A 175ml glass of Domaines Ott Rosé for £16? You’d pay the equivalent for a bottle at Carrefour in Nice! Now I get it, treating yourself at the airport is a great way to kick off your holiday, but I wonder how many travellers order a glass of Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru (Domaines Jacques Carillon 2011, £37.50) to match their pre-flight lobster?
Their T5 island bar offers a high quality, if not somewhat conservative wine list, with a play it safe selection dominated by classic grape varieties.
They are onto a winner with their house selection of wines, however, made from collaboration with some of the world’s leading producers. I’m especially excited about their Fortnum’s Rosé Champagne NV Billecart-Salmon, who happen to be one of my favourite Champagne houses. Now, I’d probably fork out £13.50 for a glass of that!
The ‘entertain me during a flight delay’ award:
Winner: Gordon Ramsay Plane Food
The wine list at Gordon Ramsay’s acclaimed airport venture reads like veritable ABC of grape varieties. With an extensive wine list, many available by the glass, those who find themselves with more time than they bargained on in T5 could do worse than settling in here for a game of alphabet soup. A is for Albariño, B is for Bacchus, C is for Côtes du Rhône … you get where I’m going (although you’d get stuck at X, as there’s no Spanish Xarel-lo on the list).
Prices are reasonable, with 175ml serves all under £10 and half bottles under £20.
Don’t get too carried away, however. We’ve all watched those reality airport shows where they delight in profiling those types too drunk to fly. Don’t get so lost in the game that you’re stopped from boarding your flight. Or, at least, don’t blame me!
The ‘gin makes me sleep better on a flight’ award:
Winner: The Crown Rivers
If you’re more of a spirit type before a flight, head straight for the Crown Rivers. Taking up almost half the lower concourse, this Weatherspoon pub is a veritable Gin Palace, offering eight different brands of the juniper berry spirit. Chose from the traditional (Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray No Ten), to cult (Hendrick’s, Sipsmith), to the more obscure (Portobello Road, direct from Notting Hill, and Scotland’s Caorunn).
That 5ml Gordon’s that they’ll no doubt serve on the plane will seem positively bland after that selection!
If gin’s not your thing, then it’s worth checking out their range of world beer and ciders. Now, it’s not a category that I’m very familiar with, but surely any drink named the Orchard Pig Truffler is worth snuffling out!
The ‘Team GB’ award:
Winners: Gordon Ramsay Plane Food and The Crown Rivers
Now, I know that sounds like a paradox, but English winemakers are producing some exciting wines from unusual grape varieties such as Madeleine Angevine and Dunkelfelder. Not to forget their sparkling wine, which has been winning awards around the globe. Often at the expense of more prestigious names in Champagne (let’s just not say that too loud in France).
Both the Crown Rivers and Gordon Ramsey Plane Food offer wines from the Chapel Down vineyard in Kent. I’ve had their Bacchus before and it’s a wonderfully crisp and aromatic white wine. Both also list their appropriately named English Rose (Pinot Noir, Regent, Rondo, Pinot Meunier) and Sparkling Blanc de Blancs and Sparkling Rosé respectively.
The ‘not too bad for a chain’ award:
Winner: Giraffe Restaurant
I didn’t fancy (nor could I afford if I did) a spot of pre-flight caviar, which ruled out Caviar House & Prunier (a fairly bland wine list in any case), nor the fussiness of Gordon Ramsay’s spinach & ricotta pancake, with a Burford brown egg (whatever that is). Instead, I craved what I always crave when I set foot in the UK: fish and chips (if you know who does a decent fish and chips on the French Riviera, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!)
So, after all that careful ‘research’, I sat down to let all my wine thoughts settle and enjoy my last meal in the Northern Hemisphere for 2014.
I was pleasantly surprised by the wine list at Giraffe. I’m going through a serious white wine drinking phase, so, in addition to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio-Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay trio, I could take my pick from Airén, Chenin Blanc and Picpoul de Pinet, all for less than £6 for a 175ml glass. It’s nice to see a little imagination, even if there’s probably good reason that Airén doesn’t appear too often on wine lists!
NB: I did not drink my way through all this, otherwise I definitely wouldn’t have been allowed on my flight! As it was, I nearly missed it anyway, but that’s another story for another time!