My wife and I visited The Sampler last week and found the concept very compelling, the service awesome and everything well tuned. We came out of the store with a big smiles on our faces (well, we didn't spit anything...) into a sunny London day.
This store brings a new concept: where besides being a regular wine store, it offers 80 wines for tasting, of which you can taste between 25, 50 or 75 cl samples. I found the 25 cl sample good enough for tasting. The wines are kept in the right drinking temperature, and freshness is achieved by filling the bottles with nitrogen gas (read more about it here). This gives the opportunity to taste some great wines like Palmer 1989, Pavie 2003 without having to go to a very expansive tasting or buy these wines. With the current crazy wine prices I would not be surprised to see more stores that offer this service.
The purchase prices are pretty good and there are a lot of very good but not expansive wines to taste besides the great/expansive names. The good thing about tasting like this is the ability to make 30 Euro decisions for a fraction before discovering that you don't like the wine at home, even though it got raving reviews.
The key component in any business is the people that run it, Jamie and Dawn (I think) know their way in wine and business (well, I might be a bit subjective here as Jamie was a VC in his previous career and to my total surprise had a good understanding of my business - software). Most importantly they are very welcoming. We found one sample slightly corked and although it wasn't a clear cut we were refunded for that sample.
Sample of our samples:
Aldo Conterno Barbera d'Alba Conca Tre Pile 2003
Violets, red berries and blueberries all accompanied by excellent acidity which gives the wine the right punch - all plays in good harmony. Good finish. High end Barbera which is worth its price tag. 90-91
Gaillard Cote Rotie 2004 (not sure which cuvee)
Mostly earth, tar hides the fruit. Not good at this point, doesn't look like its ever going to be. 75-76
Masi Passo Doble 2005
Nice wine, some fruits but very rough right now. I would give it a second chance in 6 months. 82-83
Malescot St. Expurey 1996
Herbal, earth, tobacco and cherry fruit all come together very nicely. It's an outstanding wine. 90-91
Ripe red berries, very fruity and tannic with good acidity. We found the wine pretty balanced. Excellent wine - we liked it very much. 94-95
Maybe the best wine I ever had, definitely the best Bordeaux I've had. Leather, earth, tobacco, Cherry liquor, licorice and herbal. Medium bodied with a long long finish. Great! 100
Franz Haas, Pinot Grigio 2005
Summer fruits, mainly melon. Crispy and refreshing. Great value. 88-89