I’m in a bar, and my neighbour is eyeing me up. Her blonde highlights, perfectly shaped coiffure and red collar are distracting me. No, this is not an old-time Hoxton strip joint, it’s a wine bar, and my new pal is a pug on a lead. Her owner looks equally well groomed. Looking around, any of the customers could win Best In Show: I spot a well-dressed wine entrepreneur across the room and an ex-model at the bar. They all seem very pleased to be here. And very pleased that Sager + Wilde has chosen to open on this barren stretch of the Hackney Road, where a parched account executive once had to crawl to Islington to find a decent glass of prosecco.
A new wine bar is one of the surest signs of gentrification of any neighbourhood. Sager + Wilde makes a clear statement of intent with its metropolitan good looks, its reclaimed German station lights, its cast-iron grating bar and Pantone-matched walls. If it had cheekbones, they would be high and sculpted.
Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde ran a pop-up wine bar in Shoreditch last year and, encouraged by that success, this couple have opened their own place. It’s unapologetically wine-led, with good bar snacks (cheese from Androuet, good salami) an afterthought. A score of excellent wines are sold by the glass or bottle, at a flat rate mark up of £20 per bottle (which, paradoxically, makes the more expensive wines better value). A Basque txakoli – edgy, slightly spritzy and bone-dry – vies for your attention with a fruitier, more voluptuous riesling from Mosel. (I had both.) All tastes are catered for, from a toasty sparkler from Kent (from Sugrue Pierre), to loud and proud American (Paul Draper’s Ridge Santa Cruz).
There are big-name established wines and producers from Burgundy, Rioja and beyond, but also newer classics and styles, for example from California; you don’t often see wines of this top calibre sold by the glass. There’s even a foursome of vermouths to consider fortifying yourself with. If you really can’t face wine, there are also bottles of Five Points’s excellent beers, all the way from Hackney Downs, behind the counter. But if the Judgement of Paris brings to mind grapes rather than a Greek myth, or Parkerisation means more than to you than upgrading your ballpoint pen, then you’ll find this daily-changing wine list even more of a thrill. So pop in for a glass or two. You’d be barking not to.
Reviewed by Guy Dimond