Sager + Wilde
193 Hackney Road, E2 8JL
WLC Rank : 23
Cuisine: Wine bar
Glass from : £ 5 (125 ml)
BEST FORProvocative, meaningful wines
Sharp, resourceful design
An authored approach to genuine hospitality
Michael Sager praises the UK for bringing the movement of what he terms “nature” wines to an English-speaking demographic. “Something real in plastic city,” he says, although he notes London has always been an interesting wine city. “Unlike Paris, you can get all wine here.”
When asked if he is still excited by wine, Michael Sager responds, “F*** yeah!” He opened the first, slightly Edward Hopper-esque, Sager + Wilde wine bar on Hackney Road in 2013. “The quintessential wine bar, exuding warmth and genuine hospitality,” says Sager. “The list is diverse, non-dogmatic, inclusive and affordable, and it is still my favourite wine bar,” he adds. From the vantage of the rugged counter constructed from salvaged, backlit pavement tiles, it is possible to drink the world via immaculate glassware. Drawing from 60 suppliers, the everchanging list is an ode to Sager’s incessant curiosity. Of one producer, Antonio Quari, winemaker at Domaine Prieuré Roch, Sager notes, “he just released the second vintage of his own wine, Non Progredi est Regredi (life or rather time never waits for you) which is also my mantra. The wine is a banger, made naturally from whole clusters of Pinot Noir from the underrated region of Ladoix.” This can be savoured with comforting Cheddar toasties or charcuterie. Looking back to 2013, Sager notes, “when we opened, the natural wine narrative wasn’t as prevalent. I couldn’t think of a better person to be GM than Dominik Ginzinger to help redefine exactly where we want to be. He was running Austria’s best natural wine bar (O boufés). And time has proven us right.”
Mission opened a year later beneath a railway viaduct on Paradise Row, later also taking the Sager + Wilde moniker. “A full-blown restaurant with a Tales of the Cocktail and 50 Best Bars-winning bar programme overseen by beverage director, Marcis Dzelzainis,” notes Sager. “The vibe is warm in the colder months, and from spring to late summer, people love our big garden terrace. We make pasta with our own hands, with plenty of dishes coming from the grill.” Here, Silvia Pedrotti is in charge, “whom I recruited in Switzerland where I met her running the wine programme for my friend, Patrick Schindler.” Meanwhile, Lorenzo Franzoia (formerly of Polpo) oversees both sites. “He ensures the DNA of Sager + Wilde is never lost.”
The Sager + Wilde duet has fostered much wine trade talent, although Sager says, “they aren’t schools because our way of teaching is autodidactic. Saying that, I am incredibly proud to see Sager + Wilde alumni not only becoming incredible sommeliers but also growing into very skilled managers realising their dreams of owning their own businesses.”
Sager is always encountering new inspirations vinously, including the wines of Georgia, Tenerife and Baja California. “All three have blown me away with their culture so strongly rooted and their eyes firmly set on preserving the incredible own-rooted vineyards they farm.” During lockdown, as well as offering some of his enviable cellar via retail, Sager began to import wine direct, including “electric, playful” Tuscan Syrah/Viognier by Filippo Calabresi, “an extraordinary, inspiring, experimental young winemaker. Notably, sales at Sager + Wilde through the summer have proved comparable to last year.
Sager mentions his mentor is Rajat Parr. “His ability to taste is unmatched and he travels the world with such joy and never-ending curiosity. It’s an honour to call him my friend.”
When not working, you may find Sager enjoying a considered pour at Noble Rot, P. Franco, The Laughing Heart, Brawn and Leroy.
By Douglas Blyde.
Michael Sager praises England for bringing the movement of what he terms “nature” wines to an English-speaking demographic. “Something real in plastic city,” he says, although he notes London has always been an interesting wine city. “Unlike Paris, you can get all wine here.”
From the vantage of the rugged counter constructed from illuminated pavement lights which it took Sager seven visits to salvage firms to source, it is possible to drink the world via immaculate glassware. Drawing from nearly 60 suppliers, here is an everchanging list, an ode to an incessant sense of curiosity. Ranging from Moravian skin-on Sekt (Peter Korab) to 1976 Volnay (Michel Lafarge) to Stellenbosch Tinta Barocca (Tim Martin) to two and a half decade young d’Yquem, there is pleasure for all palates.
“Any bar/restaurant is a community of people,” says Sager, whose aim is to operate “meaningfully and cooperatively, rather than sink money into the sand.”
Low mark-ups have helped further Sager’s desire to make this exceptional venue, which genuinely is one of the world’s very best wine bars, as desirable to the winemakers and suppliers who may consider Sager a friend, as it is to civilians with grape expectations, and the wine novice whose fledgling interest will be nurtured by the outstanding staff.
“There is only wine, no cocktails nor much food,” advises Sager. “The focus here is wine to drink by itself or with charcuterie and cheese.” Fodder may, therefore, include lomo and finocchiona, vintage Gouda, as well as the signature cheese toasties with spring onions or jalapenos. For more substantial fare, head to the new project, Fare in Old Street, or the sequel, Sager + Wilde on Paradise Row.
By Douglas Blyde.
Clear of focus, ambitious and a genuine wine lover despite an air of hipster, Michael Sager aims for ‘all-encompassing diversity’ at this Edward Hopper-esque Hackney enclave, in which it is possible to lose days and nights as a fulfilled customer, plundering the exceptional, ever-changing list which, ‘changes daily depending on what new and crazy stuff we are into and what old cellars we raid’.
Perch at the rugged counter constructed from illuminated pavement lights, and admire, nose and slurp authored ferments from immaculate glassware, be they top vintage Bordeaux and its ilk, 30 year-old Grand Cru Chablis and Montlouis, a thrilling collection of Beaujolais as well as a ‘Burgenland Beaujolais’, swanky Spanish, fiercely regional Italians, sweetly-priced Barbarescos and Barolos, and, handpicked in every sense, field blend South Africans, not forgetting some of the most worthwhile New Zealanders, the odd, bold wine from the Balkans, UK picks, and unsurprisingly given Sager spent several years on the West Coast of the USA, accessible vinous messages in a bottle from this agriculturally blessed shore. And that is barely scratching the surface of the stock. Look out, too, for the apricot liqueur from the Rhône, and come summer, begin your booking with a quenching white Port and tonic. Don’t forget to follow Sager’s Instagram, too, for updates on what curio may about to be opened.
Low mark-ups have helped further Sager’s desire to make this exceptional venue, which genuinely is one of the world’s very best wine bars, as desirable to the winemakers and suppliers who may consider Sager a friend, as it is to civilians with grape expectations, and the wine novice whose fledgling interest will be nurtured by the outstanding staff. ‘We have been becoming even more affordable to allow everyone in East London to come and drink at ours,’ Sager told WLC.
‘There is only wine, no cocktails nor much food,’ advises Sager. ‘The focus here is wine to drink by itself or with charcuterie and cheese.’ Fodder may therefore include Bayonne ham, Picos blue cow and goat’s milk cheese, truffle and pecorino nuts, as well as the signature toasties, of which the japapeno and three-cheese mix is a favourite. For more substantial dishes, head over to Sager + Wilde’s restaurant and cutting-edge, influential cocktail bar sequel on Paradise Row.
By Douglas Blyde.
A big love for California and Burgundy is evident throughout, with many wines that you simply won’t be able to find in many other places. With virtuous small plates including roasted brussel sprouts, hazelnuts and soft cheese on toast, alongside muhammara with pomegranate molasses, or toasties such as hot jalapeno and Cheddar, the food offer shows curiosity and is generally wine-friendly.
Although taking one’s wine is possible, it would be somewhat like hanging one’s A-Level art project in the Louvre, given the careful curation of this list, laid out, entirely in capital letters, by region, hemisphere and colour (including ‘ORANGE’).
By Zeren Wilson