I was tipped off a while ago that a new shop devoted to Italian wines had opened on Old Brompton Road. Not being a particularly frequent visitor to SW7 I had only been able to press my nose against the shop front once before a proper visit was arranged.
Opened in November 2011, Vini Italiani is on the north side of Old Brompton Road, opposite Christie’s and on the site of what was once a Starbucks café. I think this was the place where I first met (at very short notice) Gelasio Gaetani d’Aragona Lovatelli. If only we could have met at Vini Italiani.
South Kensington is one of the most affluent places in London and there is no shortage of places at which to buy wine: Handford, Oddbins, Roberson and The Sampler are all nearby. There is a prominent ex-pat French population here: it is not the most obvious place to open a shop devoted entirely to Italian wine.
Vini Italiani was created by “a group of friends”. Bruno Cernecca (formerly General Manager of Carluccio’s), Diuska Luppi (Managing Director at the Chianti Classico Consortium for more than three years), Matteo Berlucchi (of Fratelli Berlucchi in Franciacorta) and two “silent partners” came together “with the idea of creating a space in London dedicated to promoting, discovering, learning and purchasing Italian wines.”
The selection of wines is as comprehensive as it gets, with every region of Italy covered. There are 500+ listings, mostly wine but also grappa, beer, chocolate, books and wine accessories. Prices start at about £10 and go up to about £1,000. Diuska Luppi told me, “It’s about assortment and diversity” – a perfect definition of the greatest strength of Italy’s wine industry.
Arranged according to region, every wine in the 1,500-square feet shop space has a “wine info” label. The website is being developed but there are no online sales yet – everything is sold through the shop.
There are two Enomatic machines (The Sampler has ten!) with 16 wines available to taste, eight each of red and white. The emphasis is on high quality service, which is based – like Oddbins in its heyday and more recently Majestic – on knowledgeable staff, who work long hours: the shop is open Monday to Saturday 10am-9pm and Sunday 11am-7pm. There are two shifts per day to prevent burnout!
Masterclasses are held throughout the year “to help people understand what you can find in Italy.” The “salotto” space downstairs is available to hire for private events and so on. There is the possibility of more shops opening in the future: “Once you have created the format it’s easy to reproduce it”, said Diuska.
The location is snazzy; the staff are charming; the wines are great. I have only one complaint about Vini Italiani: the piped music is terrible.