Saggio di vino

Not the usual winebar but a place where you can enjoy contemporary European cuisine

The entrance to Saggio di Vino in Christchurch, 17

The entrance to Saggio di Vino in Christchurch, 179-181 Victoria street, tel. +64.(0)3.3794006. It was opened in 1991 by Lisa Scholz and Yommi Pawelke and in 2012, after the earthquake in Canterbury, it changed location and moved to the building next-door

I’m not too sure what they meant by Saggio di vino. Right from the beginning, I had the idea it was a slight twist of Italian that happened in the mind of the owners of this place in Christchurch, despite the fact this name is grammatically correct. If for at least two hours you manage to resist the temptation of enquiring after its name, and thus embarrassing them, the result is a pleasant evening, especially if you’ve been away from home for quite some time and anything that resembles the Old Continent even slightly will have a sense of European citizenship arise in you as never before (and make you wonder at all the money the European Union spends on building a certain sense of common identity...).

Now, if the saying “French-Italian cuisine” would ever make sense, then it would suit Saggio perfectly and would explain the bottles displayed on the other side of the counter. To be honest, what acts as an enticing siren, inducing you to come inside, is the very rich and finely assorted list of wines served by the glass, despite its not being very deep; the wine list accompanies the wine library, and here a complacent smile comes naturally when you look at the general way it is conceived. If you spend some time reading it line after line, and you think about how it’s been organised, well, the world changes its face and you can easily find something positive about globalization.

Tuna with venere rice

Tuna with venere rice

Of course, most wines are from New Zealand, but the list mirrors the modus operandi of the place – there’s no necessity to include in it some famous wines or those that typically attract clients (like in those wine lists that seem to be a photocopy of others, even when they try to be different). The fact they’ve been open for over 20 years is a true milestone, over here, even though this is becoming a characteristic that doesn’t appear only in the Anglo-Saxon world, and the beef carpaccio is now impossible to remove from the menu.

Saggio has moved one place down Victoria Street (it is now at number 179) and has started its usual work once again, after a period of forced closure due to the earthquake that hit Christchurch at the beginning of 2011. It’s very likely it’s the sense of familiarity of the two owners that shapes this place; I was sitting by the counter, by myself, waiting for a lobster bisque (it took five minutes altogether, an excellent timing) when Lisa Scholz offered me a glass of wine and a magazine to read having perfectly understood the situation. Given for granted the level of the food and of the service, the detail of the service gave meaning to the way in which their work is organised and experienced; in other words, there’s a continuum that goes from work seen as offering something instead of selling, and returns to work with an altering of roles in which the owner recognises in the guest the same experience she’s already lived on the other – different, yet not antagonist - side.

Lisa Scholz, the owner

Lisa Scholz, the owner

One would think that after all the over-priced and pompous offers of so many restaurants, the moment has come for places in which there’s a sense of measure and in which work is acknowledged for what it is. I don’t want to start ranting on themes linked to the sociology of labour such as de-qualification or, thanks to George Ritzer!, dehumanization. After all, at least in this place, there’s no risk that this may happen; for sure, in a world that goes at full speed transforming in a possible target what is to be found on its journey and making any stir to avoid it impossible, Saggio is such a calm place that one could even roll down the window and freshen the air.


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