The Hunger | The Thirst: 259 Hackney Road
— October 24, 2012 —
In this column, Ananda Pellerin and Neil Wissink uncover the secret pleasures of the gastronome
Two bottles at 259 Photography by Neil WissinkNear Columbia Road Market on Hackney Road sits a small, unadorned wine shop named after its street number. Rather than racks or shelves of wine, inside you’ll find a long table featuring a curated selection of bottles, each from a French producer working to natural, organic, traditionally made, or biodynamic principles.
259 Hackney Road was opened earlier this year by a young couple, Florian Tonello and Milena Bucholz. Although they’re both from the Paris suburbs, they met in San Francisco several years back while working at Terroir, a wine bar at which they discovered and fell in love with natural wines. After moving to London two years ago, they were surprised to find that with a few exceptions, they couldn’t get the wines they wanted – and the idea for 259 was born.
Working closely with small producers in France, the couple rely on their own palates when choosing stock. “We are particular when we choose,” Bucholz tells us. “We like to make sure every wine is something interesting or special. We also try to find excellent producers who may not be as well known, to give people a chance to discover different wines.” Nearly all of the wines at 259, which start at £8 a bottle (they’re determined to keep prices comparable to what you would pay in France), will be impossible to find elsewhere in London.
The selection may be small, but each wine has been hand-picked by Tonello and Bucholz, whose criteria is straightforward: they have to enjoy the wine themselves; they want to know the details of how it is made (they visit every producer they work with); and they want it to be as “clean as possible,” Tonello says. They tell us that while they don’t only select natural wines (which is a vague category anyway), they believe that some natural processes make for better, more characterful wines. It is this careful consideration that has nurtured a dedicated clientele at 259, and they also supply restaurants including Brawn and Duck Soup – which we wrote about recently and found notable for its excellent wine selection.
"While they don’t only select natural wines (which is a vague category anyway), they believe that some natural processes make for better, more characterful wines."
On our last visit to 259 we took home a 2005 red from Les Roches winery in the Chinon region. This is one of Tonello and Bucholz’s favourite producers of Cabernet Franc (red), and Chinon blanc (white). Delicate yet flavoursome, it is an excellent all-rounder, while another selection of ours, the “BBQ” (featuring an irresistible label of a cartoon sausage being chased by a knife and fork) was terrifically floral, but still luscious, and ideal for early evening sipping. As with many of the wines 259 stock that have few artificial stabilisers, we found that once opened, both took on variable qualities from start to bottle finish, creating a more interesting imbibing experience.
As part of fostering a relaxed, approachable environment, 259 also sell wine by the glass. “We want people to stay and chat,” says Tonello. “We also want to encourage people to ask questions and be comfortable in the shop,” Bucholz adds. “We are self-taught about wine so understand where many people are coming from. They often don’t think about what they feel when they drink wine, so it’s really difficult for them to know what to buy. But no question is wrong.”
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and editor, and Neil Wissink is a visual artist also based in London. More from The Hunger here, and contact The Hunger here.