Uncorked: Sunny Hodge

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Sunny Hodge founder of London wine bars Diogenes The Dog and Aspen & Meursault on wine

Related tags Sunny Hodge Diogenes The Dog Aspen & Meursault Wine Uncorked Restaurant London

The founder of forward-thinking London wine bars Diogenes The Dog and Aspen & Meursault on wine science, Uruguay’s Pablo Fallabrinos and the joys of Pugliese ‘plonk’.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine
I became most interested in wine when I saw first hand in service how much disparity there was in the consumer and our own technical understanding of the drink, paired against how much we’re all willing to spend on it. In some of the higher-end places I worked, wine went for hundreds and thousands of pounds, guests had little understanding of what it was they wanted outside of familiar terms and brands. This disparity still exists, and wine still interests me because of it. 

Describe your wine list at Diogenes the Dog and Aspen & Meursault
Diogenes the Dog has an eclectic list to say the least, it’s designed for nobody to know, listing wines from newer climates such as Poland, India, Texas, China and Japan, as well as producer’s in classic Old World regions doing something truly unique. By taking away what we think we know of wine, it allows the team to better assist guests in understanding wine technically and scientifically without our egos getting in the way. Aspen & Meursault adds another dimension to Diogenes the Dogs list by listing what most may refer to as ‘natural wines’, here the technical learnings come from wine making techniques and low intervention vineyard practice, assisting our guests in understanding what things like organic, biodynamics and the like actually mean. 

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters? 
More than I’d like to remember. One stand out occasion was around 10 years ago during a trial shift at Gaucho, just after having had one of my shoulders operated on from a skating accident. I was given a tray with about 12 flutes full of Champagne on and told to run it to a larger table of hen do-goers. I was nervous enough just being in such a dimly lit environment, not knowing the space and then sent to a rowdy group of tipsy ladies, it was a recipe for disaster. Anyways, you can guess how the rest went, tray is in the left hand (the operation arm), I pop the glass on the table with the right, and the whole tray follows on the heads of two of the party.

Name your top three restaurant wine lists
Le Chevalier (in Bermondsey, London). An absolute stunner of a low intervention wine bar, neighbourhood vibe setup, Christophe the owner is an absolute legend and has no room for BS. Authentique (in Tufnell Park, London). A Francophiles dream, a stunning list with a massive focus on regional French rotations with well-sourced food to match. Vino Vero (in Lisbon). One of the most memorable impromptu wine bar moments in this cute little local wine bar in Lisbon, wines were unmatched, well-priced and charcuterie game on point. 

Who do you most respect in the wine world?
I love Jamie Goode and all that he’s done to get a better understanding of wine science out there. We need to start following the science, and he’s one that’s certainly getting behind it.

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve come across recently? 
Well in the nature of what our bars do, there’s no shortage of interesting wines. I did taste some exceptional wines from Weightstone Vineyards in Taiwan recently. Vivian, the founder, of the winery came to visit us at Diogenes with a small lineup of what she was doing. Hearing some of the difficulties she had in manoeuvring the climate, biannual harvests, use of hybrids and local factors of growing in such a unique environment was truly awe inspiring. Her tenacity and the quality of what she was producing was just exceptional. We’re looking to start importing these as soon as we have cellar space to do so. 

What are the three most overused tasting notes?
Dry, mineral, funky. Enough said.

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment? 
The one we make. We send our team out annually to Puglia to harvest for our house red and white. They’re grown by Sveva Sernia of Morasinsi winery, she’s all about regenerative farming and biodynamics, her wines are incredible and we take an allocation of her fruit every year to make our house wines. They’re as reasonable a natural wine you’ll ever find in London (£10 a bottle retail if you bring an empty bottle) and they’re, in my humble opinion, too good to be house wines.

What is your ultimate food and drink match? 
One made knowing the intricate likes and dislikes of the person in question. I’m a stickler for getting things right, and due to the subjectivity of individual preferences wouldn’t even start to think food pairings unless I knew the person in front of me and their tastes. 

Old World or New World?
I feel the Old World will soon become a New World of sorts as climate change progresses, why choose when it’ll all change soon. Too bleak?

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants? 
Making things up, or assuming. 

Who is your favourite producer right now? 
I’m loving Pablo Fallabrinos wines from Uruguay, he’s a total badass. A stoner, surfer, anarchist type winemaker who wants to make a change, he’s as sceptical as I am and hasn’t much faith in organics and biodynamics. His stand in winemaking is with no-till and no use of copper in farming. I love everything he stands for, and how anti-marketing he is. His wines reflect this, they drink phenomenally and are pretty rugged and raw representations of what he’s all about. 

As a founder, what question do you most get asked by customers?
“Do you get to travel the world tasting wine?” I wish. There’s a perception about hospitality, from outside of hospitality, that it’s a pretty glamorous thing to own a bar or restaurant. As an independent founder of two bars, soon to be three, I can say wholeheartedly it’s far from glamorous. Most weeks there’s a toilet or sink to fix, imports to chase, stock to move, and a plethora of issues from all aspects of running a business to remedy. 

Which wine producing region or country is underrated at the moment?
Eastern Europe is absolutely smashing it now – Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the likes are all producing insanely expressive, unique and precise wines, especially when it comes to low-intervention styles. Climate change, like in the UK, is working in their favour when it comes to viticulture. Plus, politically they’re all much freer to produce more creative styles of wine, with exporting power to the West, something that wasn’t so easy not so long ago. 

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 
I’d have the wine our friend and bookkeeper Riccardo makes from his shed in Puglia. I’ve lived with Ricky for more than 13 years across many shared households in London, he’s always stockpiled some for the house, and we’ve all come to love it. It’s pretty “bretty”, and very out there, but light and fruit forward with sometimes rip-roaring tannins depending on the batch he’s made. The wine brings fond memories, and now that we no longer live together, I hope will still be enjoyed in time to come and more magnificent memories formed. If there’s a wine to go out on, it’s definitely this plonk. 

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