An insiders peek of the wine cellar at Royal Horseguards Hotel
There can be no doubt that the Royal Horseguards Hotel is a stunning representation of Victorian architecture. Built in 1884 in the style of a French Chateau what is even more fascinating is the history that has taken place within it’s grand walls on the banks of the Thames. Original home to MI6 and the National Liberal Club it was a favoured hangout of history makers including Winston Churchill. The hotel also boasts Europe’s largest freestanding marble staircase. An amazing structural feat which needed to be rebuilt after it took a hit from a faulty bomb during the Blitz. I have previously written about the afternoon teas that can be had on the terrace overlooking Whitehall Gardens and the London Eye (which can be found here). My latest visit sees me go deep into the bowels of the hotel for a wine education class held in the cellar.
The foundation stone for the building was laid by William Gladstone, then Prime Minister, in 1884 and can be found in the cellar walls as you enter. To the right are the barrel rooms and a rather out of place set of steps leading into a wall. Behind this wall is allegedly a secret tunnel used by Winston Churchill to gain access from the NLC to the buildings next door. Housed down here is also the buildings original fuse box. The building was one of the first in London to have electricity, considering the size of the structure the fuse box is pretty small!
An Education In Wine
I have been to many wine masterclasses but usually the purpose is to showcase one particular winery or style. Tonight’s class was a lot different. Presented by Wine Educator of the Year, Kelly Bayliffe in conjunction with Royal Horseguards, this was the class I have been waiting for. Tasting a variety of wines and bubbly from different countries we were to learn how to pick a great wine. This is about quality over quantity. Kelly is a very entertaining, affable teacher and her knowledge is second-to-none. Some of the tips she taught us I have already passed on to my fellow wine lovers. Things like, how far from the nose can you smell the wine? The further away the more expensive it is. Or, do you know why you swirl a glass before tasting? Yes it can be to see if the wine has ‘legs’ but it is also to release the molecules from the surface of the wine thereby enabling you to get a fuller smell of the wine which in turn aids the taste. I learnt more in one of Kelly’s masterclasses than I have in the others combined.
The Wines We Tasted
(these are a small representation of the hotel’s wine list)
Tattinger Brut Reserve Champagne -France
Chapel Down Brut Blanc de Blancs – England
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand
Gamay-Pinot Noir Coteaux Bourguignons Rouge – France
Bethany g6 Riesling – Australia
Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon – Chile
My favourite wines from the above selection were the Cloudy Bay (for obvious reasons, I was brought up in NZ after all) and the Veramonte. The Veramonte was rich in flavour, helped by the aging in oak barrels and the extended maceration which softens the tannins to give an immediately more pleasurable drink when opened. The fully-ripened grapes give a good depth of flavour that lasts without being overly heavy.
Wining and Dining
The Equus Bar is situated off the main lobby. Furnished with sumptuous red velvet curtains and chairs, accented with red and gold tapestry cushions and overlooked by period paintings, this is a real step back to a period when everything was glamorous and decadent. Here a variety of in-house cocktails are served up by the all-knowing mixologists with some named after it’s former historical patrons including George Bernard Shaw and Lord Kitchener.
The Lounge is also off the main lobby serving up delicious brunches, snacks and afternoon teas. The wine list is extensive and features everything from well known wineries around the world to a few lesser known but nonetheless worthy contenders. I for one am glad to see some English sparkling wines representing which were very popular amongst my fellow Oenophiles at our wine event.
The Terrace is another lovely space. Overlooking Whitehall Gardens and with views of the skyline on the opposite side of the Thames it can be enjoyed no matter what the weather. With comfortable wicker chairs (with blankets if it’s nippy), sofas and a plethora of colourful flowers it is a haven away from the hustle and bustle that London can be. Afternoon tea can be enjoyed here (see 1st paragraph) as well as the menus from the 1212 Restaurant and Equus Bar.
It is clear that I have a real soft spot for this hotel. Indeed it was one of the first 5* hotels I visited when I came to London. To be able to see ‘below stairs’ was a great thrill and the history associated with it just makes it all that much more interesting. The cellar is available for private hire along with other equally impressive event spaces within the hotel. Until next time…..