London with Sager & Wilde et al
A wise man once said "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.". Well, after this weekend I can definitely say I'm tired but I can't blame the city. The culprit is probably copious amounts of great wines and too much fun.
I love living in Bratislava with a deep, slowly burning passion. It is cozy, accessible and yet still has relatively everything a capital city should offer it's inhabitants. I'm not a big city gal - the tall buildings, the constant fever and buzzing atmosphere eventually swallow me whole. However, I'm simultaneously exactly the type of person that needs to get away more often than not to soak in new stimuli, get excited. Thankfully, I have a job that is able to support my wine infatuation and such weekend getaways as they're fashionably called.
It was almost exactly a year since I'd last been to London. Considering some of my best friends live there, residue of college in Surrey and the WSET, it was too long. The whole trip was in all honesty though fueled by a very spontaneous email that I received two weeks ago - a newsletter from restaurant/wine bar Sager & Wilde detailing their upcoming Champagne tasting with wine writer extraordinaire Peter Liem. I signed up to the newsletter after the beautiful Honey Spencer told me in Copenhagen that she'd been in charge of the Hackney S&W for a while back in the day. My head immediately buzzed when looking at the list of the Champagnes in the email - everyone knows this about me by now but it bears repeating - I just fucking love bubbles. So I did what any sane person would do - checked plane tickets, decided they were reasonable, booked the flight and the hotel and then asked my friends if they'd be around to come with me. And thankfully, they were.
Upon landing Saturday evening and arriving in Shoreditch, I went to meet up with old college flatmate Jessie straight away. After my parents, she's the most dedicated and hardest working person that I know. The fact that she's fucking smart and funny as hell doesn't hurt either. Every time I see her I'm reminded of how much I miss her and our footsteps immediately led to the Hackney Sager & Wilde. You see, last time Jessie and I saw each other, I didn't even know what natural wines were. So much can happen in such a short time. It's actually quite surreal to think about it in these terms but it's true - I felt like I was meeting her transformed and that I had to show her what my passion had gravitated towards in the year we hadn't seen each other. How much I was learning and constantly discovering.
The visit was great - packed, as could have been expected, we took seats by the windows and after the obligatory sparkling entree had a beautiful bottle of Gamay that was "left over" from a tasting they'd had there the days prior. It was earthy with lots of structure but still had that Gamay playfulness. Not your typical Bojo and we gulped it up in no time. Afterwards, once the place freed up a little, we sat down behind the bar because advice - that is always the best place to sit. Jessie had never had a skin contact white before so I went straight for the big guns - Sepp & Maria Muster's Erde. It was so fucking fantastic, and Jessie liked it too! The ladies at the bar let us stay until around 2 am while they were cleaning up which was a.) the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a long time and b.) unheard of in London. 10/10.
After brunch at picanteria and pisco bar Andina, Jessie and I wandered for a couple hours around Brick Lane and the area, bemusing ourselves with murals, flea markets and trying to get rid of our hangovers. After a stroll through the Colombia Road Flower Market - which was more like a snail paced walk because it felt like thousands of people were crammed into that street - we decided it was time for lunch and landed at The Laughing Heart which is just around the corner.
I was told to go visit this place by a couple people over the gram and it was definitely a good recommendation. We were greeted by a set lunch menu which was a pleasant surprise - I like to try new things and am the type of person who faced with too many options is overwhelmed. It was Asian themed and four delicious and relatively hefty courses for 35 quid was a great deal. They also have a shop downstairs where you can buy all the wines they have on the list which is awesome. Jessie wasn't feeling like wine (I don't blame her) but I couldn't resist trying the Jolly Ferriol blanc pet nat. It's one of those wines that I've seen and heard about a lot and it did not disappoint. It was tart but juicy and actually paired surprisingly well with dim sum and SiChuan creme brulee. There were families with babies all around and the whole atmosphere was just perfect for lunch. Definitely recommend.
After The Laughing Heart we went back to my place and to regenerate for an evening of bubbles and overwhelming experiences watched Cafe Society in bed. One of those days where everything is essentially perfect. And so the grand finale arrives...! Reminder to self though, although you wear comfortable heels, a 20 something minute walk down Bethnal Green Road is still quite risque.
The Paradise Row location is different to the Hackney S&W - a more full fletched food menu and spacious seating area, it definitely feels more wine&dine. Still has a very similar feel though - the bar design is very synonymous, with bottles staring you down from industrial looking racks. It was a g l o r i o u s evening. Mr. Liem was incredibly forthcoming, sharing his experiences when we tried our first "flight" of Pinot Meunier comparisons side by side. A man of obviously great knowledge but a very heartwarming approach, he didn't make us feel like we were idiots for not knowing anything about the wines. I especially enjoyed the Laherte 2012, very vibrant. Followed by that we had the insane opportunity to try a 1993 magnum Champagne Vilmart, their top cuvee too. Even without considering the fact that this wine was a year younger than me, it was absolutely fascinating. Disgorged in 2007, it felt like a beautiful woman in her late forties - still fresh and vibrant, but mature and knowing at the same time. Like Monica Bellucci in Malena. So so good. A wine that will stick with me for a long time.
After the bubbles, we decided to try some reds. Into the picture comes Michael Sager, co-founder and owner of the place. I'd been following Michael on Instagram for quite some time and other than possessing an obviously insane palate and thirst for wine, he is also a great photographer. Definitely check out his Mezcal series as I'm calling it, where he traveled around Mexico in search of the best and most true exemplars, bringing some over to London. So so good. Anyways - in person, he is a conversational force with an energy that whisks you away. We asked him to recommend us what to try next and he nailed it. Usually, I don't like it when people at wine bars and restaurants tell you they're going to pick out something based on what they like - it always strikes an abrasive chord with me - but Michael pulled it off with a confidence and knowingness that is difficult to match. There's nothing better than when a person really delivers on their wine pick from the few blabbering bits and pieces you tell them about what you're looking for. It's like they're reading your mind and heart.
We had two Spanish reds, a region that for me is completely unexplored really. The first was 'La Bruja de Rozas' 2015 from Comando G, a collective effort of three winemakers. 100% Garnacha, it reminded me of why I am so in love with this grape variety when done right. People conventionally mistake it for juice without a backbone but this was quite the opposite - easily drinkable but with a great body and tannin structure. Yum. It was the second red of the evening that truly blew me away however. Called Taganan, this red was from another winemaking collaboration between 4 Spanish friends who call themselves Envinate. The wine is from Tenerife which in itself is bonkers - I had no idea they even made wine there, let alone wine this good. Still have so much to learn. This cuvee is made from many different red grape varieties native to the Canary Islands, some of them unidentified, but include Listan Negro, Listan Gaucho, Malvasia Negro. Volcanic soils, the parcels are very old and planted in between 75-300 meters elevation right on the Atlantic Ocean, farmed by 15 different families and Envínate. The viticulture in the Taganan area of Tenerife is apparently very old-fashioned: the vines grow untrained, the soil is worked by hand, no chemicals are used. However, at the time of tasting I had no knowledge of this kind - Michael just gave us a brief description and allowed our palates to do the rest. I was blown away - the wine was unlike anything I'd ever tasted before, sea breeze salty with lots of savory green notes but without being overwhelming and just tasted fucking delicious. I definitely need to get my hands on some more of this in the future.
And don't miss out on the food! The small plates to share were all supremely lovely and the lemon cake that I had as my main course smashed it out of the window. I left S&W slightly drunk but elated and filled with sensory and brain overloads that will be difficult to match for weeks to come. Thanks to the whole team for being so kind and welcoming, it was a night to remember.
On Monday, it is safe to say I felt like a shell of a human but still managed to power through and take my last naturale vino stop in London before flying back home - bistro Elliot's at Borough Market. A really good lunch albeit definitely on the more pricey side of things, I had some orange sparkling and an American Chardonnay that was just gorgeous - no oak, very clean and fresh. Just the way I like them. The waiter was also a really great sport whilst I was reading my newly purchased book "I Love Dick" in front of everybody. Definitely visit if you're looking for something more central and 'hip'.
London, you were glorious and I am grateful, but I have to now sleep. Cheerio.