Lea & Sandeman: Classic but up-to-date

Charles Lea and Patrick Sandeman set up their first shop 23 years ago, and now they have four, all dotted around the posher parts of London (Chelsea, Notting Hill, Barnes and Chiswick). If you have one around the corner from where you live, you can consider yourself lucky. Not just because you are probably quite rich, but also because these are excellent shops that stock some thrilling bottles of wine.

They are essentially a small chain of classic independent wine shops. On the surface there is little to mark them out as particularly innovative, but they have nailed the most important thing – their range. It is interesting, authentic, drinkable and much of it relatively affordable. By Patrick’s own admission, it reflects what he and Charles like to drink. And what they like to drink is the wine of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont and Tuscany. Over half of their reds, and just under half of their whites, are made up of these four areas. All the other main winemaking regions are in evidence to some extent as well, and they aren’t afraid to experiment with little-known sub-regions and obscure grape varieties. If the New World is your thing, however, there is less to choose from.

Another reason for the Old World focus is that 90% of the wines they sell (not including Bordeaux or big name Champagne) are sourced directly by them, and not bought from UK agents or shippers. This makes for a very interesting selection, much of which you won’t find available elsewhere. It also means that many of the producers might be unfamiliar, but in my experience the staff tend to be more than willing to help describe the wines and offer guidance.

With high street rents so high there are no immediate plans to open any more stores. This is a pity, as they are great examples of classic but up-to-date wine shops.



Some highlights:




Benedick Grand Reserve Brut Non Vintage
A blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes from Champagne, France
£19.95 available at Lea & Sandeman

Spicy green apple and some red apple on the nose. Soft, pleasant sparkle. Balanced and fresh with crisp acidity and a bit of toastiness on the medium to long finish. 88 points, very good value.




Dombeya ‘Boulder Road’ Shiraz 2007
100% Shiraz grape from Stellenbosch, South Africa
£12.50 available at Lea & Sandeman

Meaty, smoky, peppery, gamey. Quite developed, and not one to hold on to for much longer, but at the moment this is very tasty. Lots of sweet fruit, good acidity and soft ripe tannins. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from Dombeya are also worth a go. 89 points, fair value.

Acústic Vinyes Velles Nobles, Bodegas Acústic 2009
A blend of Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan) grapes from Montsant, Spain
£14.75 available at Lea & Sandeman

Juicy strawberry and blackberry fruit overlaid with smoke, meat and tar. Bright and juicy cranberry, strawberry and blackberry on the palate with firm tannins and acidity. Long finish. Their white was brilliant, too. 90 points, good value.

Barolo, Andrea Oberto, 2007
100% Nebbiolo grape from Barolo, Northern Italy
£28.95 available at Lea & Sandeman

Very aromatic nose with violets and dried orange peel. Tannic, with high acidity. Powerful and young still, but like so many of the 2007 Barolos this is lush and approachable now thanks to lots of sweet ripe fruit. 90 points, good value.

Brunello di Montalcino, Collemattoni, 2006
100% Sangiovese grape from Tuscany, Italy
£31.50 available at Lea & Sandeman

Wonderful inviting aromas of cherries, dried herbs and tar. Very dry, with mouthcoating tannins and intense, sweet fruit. Lovely balance, pure and delicious. 92 points, fair value.




Touraine Les Sauterelles, Domaine de Pierre 2009
100% Sauvignon Blanc grape from Loire Valley, France
£9.95 available at Lea & Sandeman

Very fruity for a Touraine Sauvignon, with lots of gooseberry, kiwi and passion fruit. Dry, with long pure flavours. 89 points, good value.

Fié Gris, Domaine de l’Aujardière 2010
100% Fié Gris grape from Loire Valley, France
£15.50 available at Lea & Sandeman

This unusual grape variety (aka Sauvignon Gris) is rarely seen, but going by this example you wonder why. Gooseberry fruit with hints of pine, oyster shell and smoke. Medium bodied and ever so slightly musky on the palate. Well balanced with a fresh finish. This has lots of interest and complexity, worth a try. 91 points, fair value.

Galea, I Clivi, Colli Orientali del Friuli 2008
100% Friulano grape from Friuli, Northern Italy
£17.95 available at Lea & Sandeman

Fascinating wine by I Clivi from a great but lesser-known white wine making region. Pale gold in colour, with hay, honey, baked apple and spice on the nose. Also a slight oxidative hint that lends it complexity. Full-bodied and quite viscous in the mouth but without sacrificing freshness. Dry, with more apple and melon flavours on the palate. Creamy, grippy texture that seems to take precedence over the actual flavours. No oak though. Rich, intense and very long. Not one for everyone, but this is unusual and rather wonderful. 93 points, good value.

St Aubin 1er Cru ‘Les Frionnes’, Domaine Hubert Lamy 2008
100% Chardonnay grape from Burgundy, France
£27.50 available at Lea & Sandeman

Less well-known than Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet, St. Aubin can often be overlooked as an appellation for white Burgundy, but can be the source of some great wines. Close to a Puligny in style, this has lots of lime, honeycomb and flowers on the nose along with a whiff of smoke. Medium bodied and toasty, with lots of citrussy acidity and a lick of gingerbread. A classic St. Aubin from one its best estates. 91 points, fair value.


Anything to avoid?


Having tried around 100 of their wines, very few didn’t make the grade, but if I was going to avoid anything it would probably be:

Rey don Garcia, Crianza, Bodegas Ruconia 2008
A blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) from Rioja, Spain
£10.95 available at Lea & Sandeman

Smoky red and black fruits. High, slightly unbalanced acidity, and a bit lacking in body and concentration. 84 points, not great value.