There is a lot to love about London but trying to find a good bottle of wine at retail is enough to make you throw your hands in the air with despair and yell “bloody hell” to the gloomy skies. Purchasing wine in the UK usually means one of three things: the mass-appeal supermarket, the generic Off License, or an independent merchant that focuses on classic yet generally boring or pricey wines. If you’re trying to find a range of small-production, minimally-messed with vino, good luck. From here you’re better off taking the Chunnel, or you can go to the recently opened 259 Hackney Road.
On a recent drizzly and blustering day I clocked up miles on my Oyster card in search of something good to drink for the occasion of dinner with some of my best and oldest friends in London. Alex White, from Brawn, had tipped me off. I’d met the delightfully enthusiastic Alex when he came into Chambers Street Wines last month to check out our selection. I handed him a bottle of Ducroux 2011 Prologue – a CSW import, and arguably the best bargain natural wine I’ve had. After he raved about Ducroux on Twitter I knew I could trust him to steer me in the right direction.
The natural wine world is shrinking. Florian Tonello, part-owner of 259 Hackney Road, used to work at Terroir in San Francisco, plus he’s mates with Guilhaume Gerard and Jose Pastor. The shop sells a small selection of French wines, enough to make you drool. There were wines I knew from NYC (Laherte Frères, Puffeney, Chamonard, the P.U.R. wines brought in by Selection Massale) and many that I was unfamiliar with. Florian, along with his partner Milena, introduced me to the range of La Franche beers from a miniscule brewery in the village of La Ferte in the Jura, the Raphaël Monnier (Ratapoil) wines also from the Jura, and J. Quastana from the Touraine. I also decided to pick up a bottle of Chammonard 2010 Morgon simply because it is a deeply satisfying and classy wine. The lager from Jura (La Franche makes a range of different beers, read this piece here) delivered a light froth and bright, yet ever so slightly bitter taste, the Ratapoil Poulsard was pure vin de soif, while the J. Quastana L’insurgé (Gamay) was earthy and light, though it’s au naturel spritz would have benefitted from decanting.
259 has a stylish aesthetic that is representative of its owners (Milena studied at art school) but it is the content and Florian and Milena’s bad-ass attitude that gives this wine shop substance. For the intrepid real-wine geek, when in London, journey to 259 Hackney Road and while you’re there please pick up the Lenoir ’89 Chinon for me!