London has never had such an abundance of dedicated wine bars - places whose first focus is on their cellar and not their kitchen. It's a recent growth in our city's bar scene, one which is making extraordinary wine accessible to everyday drinkers. And standing behind these bars? The sommelier bartender. The person who, just as a good cocktail bartender does, assess your mood, your comfort zone, your palate and then combs through their intimate knowledge of vintages and varities to give you the very glass of wine you never knew you needed.
On a recent trip to our favourite Sager+Wilde we stumbled across the engaging Jasmin Natterer. She's the consumate host who comes out with tasting notes such as 'opulent, big bootyed, beyonce-like', and she's part of this new generation, trained under the likes of Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde who first set out to show London better wines. Jasmin and her colleagues all have a personal opinion on every bottle they serve, to be passionate about the liquid they're pouring and to do it all with a smile. We've come along way from the sterotypical snotty waiter explaining the wines in an incomprensible vocabularly of foreign tasting notes.
"My favourite days are all about the service. When all the admin and bookings are out of the way and we can focus on the wines and the people," says Jasmin.
It all starts off with the daily list, which at Sager+Wilde is expansive, to say the least. "Creating it is the fun, artistic part of the job, walking into the cellar and getting to showcase part of that incredible library - and making sure you have a Dickens, a Plath and a Trainspotting. You need a balance between zippy, lean, fresh wines and opulent, big booty, beyonce wines. Whites which are fresh aperitif-style and then bone relaxing reds, pre-dinners and post-dinners."
Working with the bar's cellar would be a dream for most sommerliers with its perfect conditions - the temperature controlled space is dark, and silent, completely absent of vibrations.
Each day Jasmin and the team try all the wines they'll be serving by the glass that evening and she aims to know three keys facts about each one, on the producer, the terroir and to have a personal opinion on its taste.
"One of the great things about Sager+Wilde is that the majority of customers who walk through the door are already prepared to try something new."
The wine career, as with most bartenders, was something she fell into. "Wine happened accidentally for me, with European parents the household didn't drink much else and even as a kid I remember being offered a sip. I started working in a restaurant when school ended and stayed on to supliment an income at university. After showing interest and the sommelier took me under his wing and I was absorbent."
Moving from her home in Australia, Jasmin has landed on her feet at Sager+Wilde, after joining the company at Mission in Bethnal Green. "I wanted to work in a wine bar and this is the best one. Both Charlotte and Michael are passionate and knowledgable, it's very exilerating to come to work each day."
Using her talent for words and literature Jasmin says wines have personalities as they connect each drinker to a mood. "It's magical, and this is the part I like."
As for the academic side, well it's is never done, with an endless pool of expertise passing through the doors of the bar, stopping for a guest shift, a book signing or to sample off the latest list.
"I tend to gravitate towards Riesling when I'm out trying wines. My favourite discoveries have been Eva Fricke and Peter Lauer, and I always adore Weingut Keller who is like the Granddaddy, or the Al Pacino of Reisling. I love the Loire Valley and have a soft spot for bio-dynamic wines. There's a Frenchman named Jean-Pierre Robinot who is huge in Copenhagen and Paris with his all natural wines, and there's a number of them I adore but his wines will divide the room.
"In Burgendy I tend to gravitate towards female winemakers such as Cecile Tremblay, but equally I'm a fan of Benjamin Leroux. I suppose I drink and sell wines as I dress myself, it's how I feel. Some days it's skinny jeans other days it's a hippy dress."