What does a typical day as sommelier at one of London's leading restaurants entail?
My first, and most important, task is to check the wine deliveries and ensure that what should have arrived today has been correctly delivered. I check that they have sent the correct quantity and vintage and stack the bottles in the cellar, with the help of my team. Sadly, there are times when the deliveries are incorrect. In that case I have to contact the supplier and get it re-delivered depending on how urgent it is. The stacking of the wines has to be done carefully to ensure that the older stock is at the top and can be used first. On the days when we don't get a wine delivery, I spend that time co-ordinating with suppliers, compiling new orders, reading up about new wine trends, or just helping the team clean and organise the cellar.
By lunch we’ve prepared the wine-chillers and polished all the glasses. Like all the world’s best restaurants, we decant our wines on trolleys besides the guests’ tables so I have to ensure that the trolley is prepared with candles, glasses, decanters, and bottle stands. Before we’re briefed about the lunch service, I check that the wines listed on the menu are available. If not, I modify the list and print new pages. In the team briefing, we discuss the lunch service: which regular guests are coming, which wines are running low, etc.
What challenges does pairing wine with Indian cusine pose?
Because most of the faces are familiar, we usually know their wine preferences. When the regulars bring new guests, I have to suggest a bottle of wine depending on the liking of their guests. For most of our lunch clients, the meal is a corporate affair so the price of the wine is rarely an issue; they just want the best pairing with the food. Indian food is complex when it comes to wine pairings because of the delicate spices. It really puts our skills and knowledge to the test. We frequently hold our own pairing and tasting sessions to practice and polish our skills. We aim to suggest wines which serve to enhance the flavours of a perfectly spiced dish, rather than risk the wine getting masked by dominant spices in the food. It can be an arduous task to get right because of the varieties of Indian food. However, I love this aspect of my job. With the ever evolving wine industry, my work just gets more and more interesting.
Describe a typical procedure that goes into pairing a wine with a dish?
After lunch service, it will be time to meet a new wine supplier. He will arrive with samples and price lists. We then do a tasting session with the head chef, who is planning to introduce a new fish dish onto the menu for example. We try some pairings with wines from our current stock but I am not convinced. Luckily, a new supplier left some chardonnays last week for us to taste. I try the fish with one of them and it combines exceptionally well. I get the opinions of the bar manager, restaurant manager, and the head chef, and they are all happy. Done. I note the wine and the supplier on my Ipad as a reminder to contact him when next ordering.
What do you think is the most important part of your role?
Training staff is an integral part of my role and something I consider very important. I frequently liaise with the managers to ensure that the staff are well versed in the wine lists and the type of wines we are serving. The best way for the junior staff to increase their knowledge is through attending continuous tastings, reading up on their notes and being tested (by me!) at random. I have to ensure that the staff remain knowledgeable enough to recommend a wine in my absence. As a team, we plan the wines for upcoming menus and for special events and festive periods. The menus change and alter almost every week so together we constantly reassess in order to ensure that the food and wine combination we provide is the best possible. Because of this constant evolution, it is even more important that the junior staff are well trained so they can keep up and be continuously learning.
What do you try to bring to your role whilst at work?
We get quite the eclectic selection of dinner guests so it’s a challenging job ensuring that everyone is happy with my suggestions. They say you cannot please everyone, but that's precisely what I try to achieve. I try to be conversational and charismatic with the guests to work out what they like and dislike. Then I take into consideration their budget and the dishes they choose. This allows me to recommend a wine which I think will best suit their palate. There are various options for pairing a particular wine with a particular food. The traditional approach of 'white wine with fish, red with lamb' doesn't hold true for the majority of customers. Ideally I’d recommend a burgundy red or a new world wine with soft tannins and gentle acidity to a guest who is having lamb cooked with Indian spices. I base this on the expressive and persistent quality of the wine. However I also have to respect the individual's preferences. It can sometimes be difficult o work with certain demands, but in my opinion, this is the beauty of being a sommelier: I am learning new solutions each day.
What's your favourite tipple?
My personal preferences can’t come into my work too much but in general I prefer easy drinking wines such as a creamy, buttery chardonnay, or a dry Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, or Pinot Noir. I am fortunate in my job that I have tasted some of the most expensive wines of the world.
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