If it’s Austrian natural wine you’re after, you would be hard-pressed to find a place with a greater selection than Newcomer, just across from Dalston Junction station in East London. Now open for a year, owner and importer Peter Honegger (pictured below), from Klosterneuburg in Austria, has opted for the bottle shop–meets–wine bar model that is increasingly popular in London, where you can drink any of their 250 bottles at shop price plus a flat £10 corkage fee. About 60 to 70 percent of the wines available are imported by Honegger and his partner, Daniela Pillhofer, directly, and the rest of the wines they stock are from like-minded importers.
While Austrian chef Lucas Mraz did a “kitchen takeover” here in early September, Honegger is keen to keep the food to an extraordinarily delicious minimum: charcuterie from Mangalitza pigs imported from Austria and cheeses from Androuet in Spitalfields, with excellent Austrian-style rye bread from St. John (£2.50)—and, of course, the house pickles (£4.50). There’s currently karreespeck, lardo marinated with rosemary and thyme, schinkenspeck, and a pork sausage with pumpkin seeds (you can order a selection for £15/$20). The charcuterie is so good, in fact, that half the chefs in East London are clamoring to get their hands on it—but Honegger maintains with a wry smile that he’s “not in the meat business.”
Honegger and Pillhofer launched Newcomer when they moved to London and realized there were hardly any Austrian wines available, and none from the smaller domaines they loved. They started off with a small shop and office in Box Park, originally expecting to sell purely to retail customers, but soon began receiving calls from restaurants keen to stock their wines. It wasn’t long before demand grew sufficiently and they began looking for new, larger premises where they could not only have their offices and retail shop, but also a wine bar.
From the outset, they have focused on importing the new generation of Austrian winemakers returning to ancestral, low-intervention winemaking styles and neglected grapes—such as Furmint: “Many people think it is a grape variety based solely in Tokaji, but it has an equally rich and long tradition in Burgenland and has amazing potential,” he explains (Burgenland is Austria’s easternmost state, historically a part of Hungary). Honegger is particularly excited by the wines of Michael Wenzel and his family, who began replanting Furmint in the late ’80s. But above all, irrespective of the ethos in which it’s made or the grape varietal, Honegger insists that “the wine has to be delicious…we focus on interesting growers that make delicious wines that happen to be made in a very sustainable way.”
Newcomer’s constantly changing by-the-glass offerings are usually around £6 (and don’t miss their excellent beers and ciders). When I visited, they were pouring Sighardt Donabaum’s 2016 Grüner, Ewald Zweytick’s 2013 Weissburgunder, Franz Weninger’s 2014 Sopron, and Claus Preisinger’s Blaufrankisch 2016. But if you ask, there are often other interesting bottles open (costing up to £10 a glass); for example, Erdreich from Bianka and Daniel Schmitt, from the Rheinhessen, an extraordinary blend of Bacchus, Gelber Muskateller, Riesling, and Weissburgunder, with the Weissburgunder aged on the skins for four weeks.
Venetia Thompson (@venetiathompson) is a British freelance journalist based in Mexico City, writing for The Guardian, GQ, Conde Nast Traveller, and VICE. Read more Venetia Thompson for Sprudge Wine.