Sager & Wilde Champagne evening - or a lesson in how not to run a wine bar

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Gareth Powell, Sep 11, 2018.

  1. A group of us excitedly gathered at Sager & Wilde this evening for what we hoped would be a lovely evening of by-the-glass champagnes, including some quite legendary vintages. The promo email promised by-the-glass pours of Mumm Lalou 79, Veuve Rose 79, Dom Ruinart 93, Bolly 82 and a very good selection of Selosse wines too. All from 6pm.

    Po and I dutifully turned up at just gone six to find none of the above on the wine list, instead we were informed by a waitress that the idea would be to open one of these special bottle at a time at some point in the evening and then see how things went. This was to try and give a good range of people a chance to sample some great wines. Neither of us quite got this as a concept but we thought let's give it a go.

    Cut to nearly 8pm in the evening and nothing had yet been opened. We had enjoyed a very good plate of pasta and a negroni (£10 for both - yum) and had enquired again (to no avail) to the waitress as to when we might see some of the wines we had come to taste. Again no real answer. All through this time the proprietor (Michael Sager) had been posing with the wines, as well as a few experts he had brought in to showcase them, behind the bar, sampling various bottles together and largely oblivious to the unsatiated punters just in front of him, despite several waitresses asking him when he might open some things.

    At this point one of the experts – Peter Liem – came over and chatted to us about the wines and he was generally very interesting and had some good things to say. He asked us what we wanted to taste and we let him know the Lalou and Dom Ruinart and he said sure, let me open those. So we watched as he went off, opened, tasted, shared with Michael Sager and some of the staff and then he disappeared to chat to another table. No wines were forthwith so I basically stopped a waitress and gave two barrel fulls of customer dissatisfaction. By this point the said wines had been stood on a counter for 20-25 minutes warming up and when they did arrive they were just at the temperature point you might want to drink them but quickly became too warm, and as delicious as they were, the main taste I felt was one of sour grapes at the total lack of interest in punters paying between £19-80 a glass.

    We left at around 9.45pm having seen most of the wines opened by then, though some were opened and then drunk without any notice given even after we had asked for a glass or two, and even when we left 3-4 wines were still not opened.

    Aside from the excellent company, the great pasta and a very fine Lalou this was a hugely annoying and disappointing event that merely served to highlight the unprofessional attitude of the staff, especially those in charge, and the indulgent interest in their twitter and instagram accounts over and against people actually there to taste the wines.

    After having a not too dissimilar experience at a recent Roulot event there, and also at a Judgement of Paris recreation, I for one am never going back.
  2. Yes, sorry to hear about this. I enquired of the format with the promoter, and thought it sounded very odd. I’m a
    Fan of S&W for food, and their wine list is excellent... but this is a terrible way to run a ‘wine evening’ and everyone comes off badly - the venue, the domaines, and the merchant.
  3. The concept sounds fantastic. With the opening lines I was thinking I really would have liked to be there and try some of those.
    Very disappointing and sounds just downright rude and very poorly executed.

    I’ve never been to Sager & Wilde and wouldn’t be rushing to attend any events based on your three experiences. Sounds a real shame.
  4. I recall with pleasure Dave Stenton's 2006 burgundy dinner there for the wine and company, but the food was to my mind so fundamentally misconceived, parsimonious in spirit and above all self congratulatory that it would take quite a lot to get me there again.Genuine good taste and savoir vivre seems such a rare commodity in so many modern restaurants which otherwise offer real skill and enthusiasm.
  5. That sounds really poor form Gareth. That said, I have had a couple of pleasant evenings at their Bethnal Green location taking advantage of their no corkage charge on Monday evenings. I have no idea whether that offer still operates.
  6. Hvaing been once I thought it was the emperor's new clothes. Or perhaps the old clothes given an airing
  7. To be fair, I don't think Sager + Wilde is pitched at those on the wine forum. The times I have been, I was probably the oldest person in the room by 15-20 years :(.
    Po-yu Sung and Thom Blach like this.
  8. Interesting point, Richard. One could say that about a lot of places. In fact, one might even go so far as to say that if forumites like somewhere, they're doing something wrong! I wonder what tastes and attributes in particular (other than age) do forumites have that make them unsuitable? ;-)
  9. Classic Tom. ‘This is the cuisine of Nowhere!’
  10. Gareth,
    Whilst I am sure Po and you made the most of it this is really shoddy, and it doesn't reflect well on the characters involved some of whom are well thought of in Champagne circles.
    The S&W website has not events listed since June and nothing coming up... so perhaps they intended it to be a non event.
    From a business perspective it smacks of too much expansion too soon and with feedback like yours it might catch up with them before they realise some fundamentals.
    Byron's hamburger anyone?
    Alino Punzalan likes this.
  11. Perhaps, pace emperors, the clothes of nowear?
    Nicos Neocleous likes this.
  12. Website, Granddad?! ;-)
    Nah, it's on 'gram and 'chat y'know....
    Peter Sidebotham likes this.
  13. I am very right wing indeed when it comes to the pleasures of the table, I fear.
  14. This does sound terrible. I’ve been to S&W Hackney Road several times (to Bethnal Green just once), occasionally post-Oddities, a few times to meet a friend or an overseas winemaker who had heard about it and wanted to go, and most recently for what I will say was a brilliant Abe Schoener event, with the caveat that it was not public.

    It has been, and I think remains, a good venue for a casual evening, though as with so many places like this, a nightmare for those who live outside of London to get home from (when mildly inebriated).

    They do generally have some very good wine on the list. The food is closer to a French (Parisian) bar à manger than a restaurant.

    It should be said that they were a trailblazer, hence their reputation. There are many more places just like it now.

    Richard Z makes a very good point. I would usually expect to be the oldest there by some way. But I do generally go with people who are there more often than I am, or with someone “known” to the staff if with a winemaker. So I don’t feel out of place, and I guess I’m not a truly typical winepager despite my age.

    None of this excuses what seemed a sadly terrible experience in this case. I only thought to contrast it with what has been my own experience. I’ve had plenty of bad ones elsewhere.
  15. Thanks to Gareth for the detailed and accurate report ;)... actually thanks to Gareth to fight for what we should get.

    Brief responses to some comments above:

    Ray, yes, it was not on their website.... actually their 'events' webpage only got the past events, which is kind of funny to say the least. I needed to google to get the event details in a not-related website:
    Champagne in the membrane...

    Richard, you are also correct about the age group S+W mainly targeted on. I have been the Hackney Road wine bar once, and found it full of young white collar people, who wanted to have a bottle of wine instead of beer after work. The wine list was actually fine, but the general atmosphere was more 'trendy' than an actual wine lover would like. The wine glass was very basic, the place was noisy. So not really a place to properly taste the wine.

    For the event yesterday, I agree that the whole arrangement a bit ridiculous. Why they would expect people like us who arrive at 6pm sharp wouldn't be seriously offended when being told to wait til 10pm, is beyond me. I think the photo taking thing quite nicely showed how the business world is running nowadays.... Instagram celebrities ask for free meals, the Internet reviewers request free night stay, fashion bloggers demand private shop tour or seats for fashion show... The most important thing is not how good is the wine and how the wine is properly served, but how many people click 'like' on the wine photo. To be fair, not many people would show nice bottles line up photos on Instagram and comment 'terrible evening, half of those bottles are f-ked!' Not necessarily because people want to dishonestly show off, but because, people who view their profile don't really want to know that.

    So this was where we at. Still I think they misjudged the crowd: there were not that many wine geeks in the event yesterday. Four from the forum, and one or two other champagne fans we know from other events. It's not like 79 Rene Lalou and 93 Dom R were gone within 10 mins. Actually they were not finished until 9pm when I left. I really don't see the point to keep people waiting for opening bottles.

    Anyway, I am satisfied that I got what I want: I tasted the 79 Rene Lalou, which I think was very good, had all what you can ask an old champagne for. Had a sip of Bolly LGA 1982 from Paul's glass, smell nice but a bit tired on palate. Also was shared a nice bit of jacques selosse Le bait du Clos blanc de noir, lovely sandelwood nose, fine and special. Dom Ruinart 1993 was in good shape, quite enjoyable, just not as long and rich as Lalou. The pasta was indeed lovely, just my plate was the more oily one of the group.

    Would I go to S+W again? I don't usually go there anyway. If there will be similar event next time I will make sure I know what time is the best to arrive.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
  16. Sorry to hear it. I’m a fan of the Hackney Road version.
  17. I usually see Zalto Universals used at Hackney Road?
  18. It was a curious evening. I was with another forum member, and we weren’t even deemed worthy of a visit by guest of honour Peter Liem to our table. I think we quite enjoyed a Statler and Waldof type status in this vinous equivalent of the Muppet show. We were told that we couldn’t order the “special” Champagnes as they were being opened by Peter Liem ... with the same intense rate as updates to his website. Obviously, as Gareth says, instagrams are more important to wine bars these days than the serving of wine.

    After a considerable delay, we finally received a rather tired but not dead glass of Bollinger 1982 that our server was gushing about. Fortunately, I had suggested to my dining companion that we opt for two half glasses rather than two full measures. As the “special” bottles didn’t seem that special, we decided to take things into our own hands and just ordered Selosse Le Bout du Clos (disgorged January 2016) off the regular list. I am not the biggest Selosse fan, but this pure PN Ambonnay is my favourite of his six single cru bottlings (3 Chardonnays and 3 PNs). This proved a very good choice on the night, a fascinating and fine wine.

    The food was generally mediocre, my crab, kohlrabi and apple starter dire. The spicy pasta was much better and the powerful Selosse stood up to it. Neal’s Yard cheeses were not as good as they should be. As limited as the choices were, they were more acceptable than the incredibly inept brunch choices served with lunch for the Roulot Meursault event Gareth also mentions.

    I note the place was pretty full inside and out on a Tuesday, so they must be doing something right. The railway above is surpringly noisy although even that gets drowned out with music as the evening goes on. The wine list has some good choices and some reasonable prices by (Central) London standards.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
  19. Really? That was not what I remember 3 years ago (and not in their website photo). Maybe my memory was altered by the basic glass we had yesterday in Bethal Green.
  20. :D:D:D
    Raymond Tilney likes this.
  21. Alex, if you do follow the links on the posting announcing the event via Po's link to their Fishbowl, Insta and Twatter, it confirms they are just not on it in any area.Only Instagram even nearly up to date....but then you have attended to that very well;)
  22. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    "Railway above" "Incredibly noisy" "drowned out by the music". I know I am too old for this place :D
  23. Gareth, you can probably expect something incoming. I remember quoting a friend who visited their (if I remember correctly) 'Judgement of Paris recreation' as he was very disappointed in the quality of the wines wrt to the price paid. I got a twitter flea in my ear from them which roughly equated to 'I wasn't there so what could I know - - - '
  24. Interestingly we did talk about it last eve.
    I was amused by Judgement of Paris decided to serve orange (golden apple) wine, like people had to choose among Venus, Athena and Juno.
  25. Did the proprietors once run a specialist record shop? Their attitude to customers seems very familiar!
    George Marshall likes this.

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