THE SENIOR WINE LIST
If you missed Part 1 of this section then well done - as a Hedonist you've forgone the starter and jumped straight to the good stuff. Whilst the below isn't as good as a meal at HIDE hopefully it'll be enough to have you attend a sitting which will be welcome reward if you make it to the end of this 18L Melchior of a piece.
SINE QUA NON
In the deep heart of conservative Mayfair opposite Alfred Dunhill’s Georgian mansion Bourdon House resides Hedonism Wines — arguably the world’s greatest wine shop. The creation of “enfant terrible” and self-described capitalist anarchist, Yevgeny Chichvarkin, to any wine lover Hedonism more than lives up to its name. Chichvarkin, often seen at the venue, from appearances alone lives up to billing too — from his Dali-esque grin right down to the bright colours and sometime bold features of his designer footwear. Occasionally Hedonism will overflow with that same playful flamboyance and humour too. Its seasonal flower displays and props spilling onto the pavement of Davies Street with all the exuberance of a Jeff Koons puppy. Little wonder then that in expanding his creative progeny with the restaurant HIDE on Piccadilly (itself similarly a stone’s throw from the Ritz) that Chichvarkin was drawn to Ollie Dabbous. Dabbous’ cookery is the organic culinary equivalent of Cy Twombly by way of Rene Magritte. The birch-sap croissant, the cured meats served on feathers, the candy floss clouds floating above the plates of high tea — every dish an artistic composition in multiple dimensions of aesthetic, olfactory and culinary sensation. Both in Hedonism and HIDE however, despite their obvious opulent brilliance, the interiors largely have a refined subtlety one might not expect. The walls and furniture aren’t the explosive equivalent of a creative Molotov cocktail but instead hardwood timbers and, in Hedonism at least, art nouveau cast-iron stairs all built to endure and age with a sense of clear legacy. Even the talked about and quite-brilliant Gaudi-esque timber stair in HIDE has a sensibility more akin to an old master. The Rachel Dein flower-embossed decorative walls too, despite containing discretely hidden playful pieces, remain tasteful enough to be exhibited on the long walk at the Chelsea Flower Show. The interiors of both therefore seem perfectly akin to what a Mayfair customer desires rather than the wonderland one might find if you were to follow top-hatted Chichvarkin down a rabbit hole inside his own mind. Even the comparatively Tory-safe seat, and 300 year old wine-institution, Berry Bros & Rudd seemed to echo Hedonism when they opened their new shopfront on Pall Mall. In their deep warmth and solidity then both venues perhaps caste Chichvarkin as a roguish poker star with a genius and stack of chips deep enough to beat the surrounding establishment at its own game. Like all geniuses however perhaps there is a dichotomy and the truth is more multi-dimensional. It’s clear Chichvarkin like any great artist has a desire to please his audience and therefore his patrons. Follow his Instagram and his own love of cooking shows a passion to create whilst simultaneously entertaining and nourishing others; apparently Hedonism was founded after he thought it crazy that anyone should have to wait six weeks for a retailer to source a desired wine — as he had been asked to by the most noted names in London wine retail. Enter either Hedonism or HIDE and it's obvious that the knowledgeable and cheerful staff are instilled to put hospitality and the customer above everything else. Chichvarkin’s politics too seem imbued with kindness and a very genuine concern for the future well-being of his countrymen. Regardless of the question of why both venues are decorated as such, one does not have to dig deep in each venue to find what I consider the core. Appropriately in the vaults of each lie the spaces one would expect and which cause one to smile like a Cheshire Cat. In HIDE beneath Clarges Street, after passing through the dark ambiance of the bar at HIDE BELOW, you’ll find the three smaller private dining rooms. Each Hitchcockian-esque installation piece is uniquely different but part of brilliant greater whole like a Bacon triptych. In Hedonism the contents of the central vault erupt onto the floor outside, enter into the vault itself however and find yourself in Dadaist heaven. Bottles of wines decorate knee level like the floor of Hunter S. Thompson's hotel room. Fantastical hands of every colour, texture and material line the walls, each seemingly awaiting a puppeteer or a hallucinogenic to come to life. Each pair of hands holds a bottle of wine, each bottle of a shape and just as indiosyncratic and uniquely bizarre as the one next to it. Whilst one might expect the Hedonism tag adorning each bottle to state simply “Drink Me”, each instead however features a price that to the uninitiated might make one cry tears large enough to flood the room. Notably every wine in the space comes from the hands and mind of Manfred Krankl — a Californian winemaker who intelligently stated “I’d rather make one $1M bottle of wine than a million $1 bottles of wine”.
Manfred Krankl’s winery Sine Qua Non is the most cultish wine from the country that invented the term. Echoing Chichvarkin who followed the path from wine to restaurant, Krankl did a similar journey in reverse. Krankl was a joint founder of LA restaurant Campanile and associated La Brea Bakery. Both venues clearly benefitted from this anarchist's form of creative perfectionism. It was at Campanile that Krankl as self-appointed wine buyer decided came up with the idea of creating Campanile’s own house wines. Taking up the task by using fruit, and working with, nearby vineyards he eventually got so wrapped up in the process of winemaking that he abandoned the the bakery and restaurant altogether. He and his wife Elaine set up Sine Qua Non in 1993. Krankl took to winemaking like Walter White to narcotics. Unlike Heisenberg however Krankl didn’t seek to make his product as instantly recognisable to its eventual rabid consumers as blue crystal meth. Perhaps it was because he knew that without his own vineyards, and with an urge to make the best possible wine by using the best fruit of different varietals available to him; or perhaps it was because he pre-empted that unique limited editions of each wine are more desirable. In constraints and challenges however genius asserts itself. In a world where every consultant branding expert would talk of establishing clear brand recognition and comfortable familiarity to your customer base, Krankl torches that safe ideal and releases different wines, with different names, labels and bottle shapes every single year. Noble Rot founder Mark Andrew once (as part of a Sine Qua Non tasting no less) told me that a Sine Qua Non delivery to Kensington's Roberson Wine, where he was then head wine-buyer, would be greeted with smiles until one had to put the bottles into racks. Every other bottle being a wax-capped misshapen struggle whilst being careful not to damage the masterpiece of a label. In a detail telling of his innate creativity too Krankl designs these labels himself; linocutting, collaging and type-facing with all the energy, genius and business acumen of a west-coast Warhol. Manfred could indeed only be a west-coast creation. Robert Parker notably described Krankl’s original industrialised steam-punk style winery in a garage in Ventura as resembling a Mad Max set. This oft-quoted description caught on because evocatively it’s so visually correct. It forgets however that Mad Max is an Australian concoction. It works because Australia in some ways resembles California — the nitrous oxide injected hot rods running down the strip off into Death Valley, the surf counter culture. It’s from Hollywood not Australia however that fantastical dreams are disseminated. It’s in California that one finds Venice Beach, with all the bold colours and bizarreness of an acid high in Disneyland. It’s in California where one finds San Francisco, an enclave of Bohemianism and dissent, where the revolution continues and where the hippies ultimately won. It’s from San Francisco that T-shirts and sneakers, or Beats headphones at a minimum, make their way into offices and boardrooms of even the oldest Swiss banks. If counter-culture has a base, California is where it’s found and Sine Qua Non is part of that, beating the civilised seemingly hard business-minded, rest of the west at its own game. Sine Qua Non also produced the world’s most expensive rose ever sold. Appropriately given all the Alice in Wonderland references I’ve dropped throughout this article the wine was called “Queen of Hearts”. Not an official release, only 300 bottles were made, and mainly given to friends. A bottle however found its way onto the market and was sold for in excess of $42,000 with fees. Although not primarily a rosé producer Krankl clearly has an affinity for the undervalued outsider nature of the style. Whilst taking a noted hands-on perfectionist stance in all his wines, he undoubtedly seems to invests his rosé with a especially romantic rebellious wine-making effort raising the result to greatness not associated with typical pink stuff. Talking to the LA Times in 2003 he quipped, with wife present, in pure Krankl fashion “The snobs, the snooties, the geeks and the ignoramuses think that rosé is not worthy. Yes, it does not age well, but neither does fine olive oil, sushi, caviar or our spouses for that matter, yet we still love them”. Hedonism itself, as one would expect did once stock a bottle of Queen of Hearts too. As I understand it the bottle was sold not to a collector to sit in a cellar, but to a drinker — appropriate too. Unlike the many wines on the Senior's list thus far I’ve not tried Queen of Hearts but was lucky enough back in 2012 to taste The Pontiff. Still the best rose I’ve ever experienced. Unlike Krankl and Chichvarkin I’m not a genius and passed up the option to buy the bottle for around £170. I shunned the offer and went for the comparatively conservative choice instead — the more typical but nonetheless amazing Thrill of Stamp Collecting. In Hedonism’s Sine Qua Non vault the Pontiff (of which at time of writing they of course have not one but two bottles) now retails at slightly more than £700. Still perhaps a bargain to the educated convert.
And so we reach the end of this particular bottle of an article. I hope like me however it’s whet your palate for another. One thing that I have come to realize in the act of writing this is that if Chichvarkin or Krankl were pure artists they’d be even more celebrated. They display the same brilliance, the same genius, and have had the same impact in their fields as cultural greats. Chichvarkin has undoubtedly made London a better place for its residents and visitors. Improving wine retail, London restaurant wine lists and the dining experience in the process. Krankl has redefined wine making. The cultural impact of his labelling and wine-making style too preempted, and could be said to have been one of the catalysts for the success of the craft beer craze. Unfortunately however for both artists legacy you can’t hang a restaurant, or indeed a rosé in the Louvre.
Given the choice of any wine, despite all my arguments, I’d opt for conservative choice and happily uncork the Pontiff again. In selecting the meal and venue however I’d go all out. I’d choose pink peppercorn and chilli-laced scallops as ingredients in a meal of Dabbous' own choosing. I’d elect to enjoy this in the private Reading Room at HIDE before seeing Tom Waits perform a live-set in the Bar at HIDE BELOW. Afterwards I’ll sit down at the bar with Tom and we’ll drink Mariages Frere Thé Sur la Nil. This may essentially be a wine blog, and The Senior a hard-drinking poor excuse for a Hemingway impersonator, but today for some reason I’m feeling rebellious.
Serious journalists have published articles on SQN and Hedonism before. For one of the great write-ups of SQN head to this article from Forbes by Richard Nalley. For a serious article about Chichvarkin this piece from the Guardian is recommended.
There is nothing like actually visiting Hedonism or HIDE in person. Instagram accounts however below. If you do visit Hedonism you can find The Senior at the far right end of the enomatic machines two times a week. I'm working up to the title of Taster-in-Residence:
SQN as a dedicated outsider beyond the fringe does not have an instagram. Perhaps the best SQN resource can be found here however.
The particularly apt photo of Chickvarkin used above is by fellow Faversham resident and superior photographer Perou (@mrperou). Unlike Perou the Senior does not have an agent.