20 years of wine tastings


The Napoleon Cellar at No.3 St James’s Street
We’ve long been hosting wine lovers at No.3 St James’s Street. Yet, it was only in 1999 that we started officially hosting wine tastings here. Our Wine Director (and regular host) Mark Pardoe MW has seen a lot of change since then. But, as he explains, he still looks forward to every event

I don’t think there can be a more atmospheric venue in London than our cellars. Deep under No.3 St James’s Street, we share an appreciation of good food, good company and, most importantly, good wine.

I have lost count of the number of wine events I have had the pleasure of hosting. From tutored tastings to plenty of wine dinners for our customers and their friends, each often featured a visiting producer or wine maker.

The birth of our events spaces

My time at these wine tasting events is embedded in the weave of my working life. Yet still, I was surprised to hear that it is now over 20 years since Berry Bros. & Rudd relocated the dusty bottles from under No.3.

This was followed by the refurbishment of what was to become our Napoleon Cellar. The Pickering Cellar, home of our Wine School, followed. I recall the early days being a riot of enthusiasm. Customers had such a good time that often they wouldn’t leave until after midnight and we, dutifully, kept them company.

But sense prevailed. Each year we became more professional, with a more regular programme. Then came a full-time front-of-house brigade and in the kitchen.

And still the customers came, and we opened more dining rooms: first the intimate Nina Campbell-designed Townhouse, then the major construction project to create the Sussex Cellar under 63 Pall Mall, then our General Office Dining and Tasting Room and, most recently, our Kingsman Room. 

Today we host an astonishing 1,300 events a year – including both wine and spirits tastings – and welcome 35,000 customers through our doors.

A wine tasting to remember

Perhaps the event most etched in my memory occurred in 2005 in the Pickering Cellar. During a comparative tutored tasting of Bordeaux First Growths, I was forensically analysing a Château Haut-Brion. While not being derogatory, I was perhaps not singing the praises of that particular wine as much as I had with the Château Lafite tasted before it.

Midway through my analysis someone appeared at the back of the room. When I paused before the next wine, he walked through past me to access the Napoleon Cellar. He seemed familiar and we nodded in acknowledgement.

Only later did the pieces fall into place. That had been Prince Robert of Luxembourg, one of the owners of Château Haut-Brion. What had he been doing at the back of my tasting?

It transpired that he had lost the way to the Pickering Cellar where Prince Charles was hosting a charity dinner. Had I caused any offense? Not at all, he told me, when we next met; he had appreciated the accuracy of my tasting and my honesty!

But in that anecdote is encapsulated much of what makes our Events and Education tastings so special: our tradition, our standards, our expertise and our reputation. And, despite that close call, my buzz of anticipation which precedes every occasion remains undimmed.

Explore our range of events on bbr.com