Sommelier sessions with Davy Zyw

25 Jul 2015
6 min read
Sommelier at the legendary Le Gavroche and wine buyer for Laithwaite’s wine, Davy Zyw’s in depth knowledge for high end wine makes him a true expert on the subject. Constantly travelling the world to discover new wines, Davy samples over 40,000 wines a year in the hope to innovate and introduce new wines.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and bred in Edinburgh, which has a great gastronomic culture. However I was lucky enough to have family living all over Europe, in France and in Tuscany in Italy. These places established a real European connection in my life, and my family introduced me to this whole world of fresh, good quality food and wine.

What did you aspire to be when you grew up?

Being from a family of creatives – most prominently my grandfather, Aleksander Zyw who moved to Tuscany to further his art – I knew I had to do something expressive with my life, but I wasn’t really sure what this would be. My other great passion in life alongside wine is snowboarding. When I was younger I was snowboarding competitively, living for months in the mountains when school was out, and I did think for a while that I could have followed that as a career path. I still keep it up though, my work for Laithwaite’s luckily involves travelling for wine tastings and sourcing new wines, and in some places I can bring my snowboard, so I’m fortunate to have experienced the snow all over the world, from the Cairngorms, the Rockies to Japan.

How did you find your way to wine and spirits?

Flavour has always been important to me since I was a kid. After leaving school at 16, I trained as a chef and moved to France. During that course, I had a presentation about the Art of the Grape and left more passionate about wine than the food. Wine, and food and wine matching became my entire focus, and after a few years training, I was lucky enough to find a job as a sommelier at Le Gavroche to develop this passion into a solid career foundation.

Tell us a bit about being sommelier at Le Gavroche and the work your currently do at Laithwaite’s wine?

My time at Le Gavroche was incredible. The work I was doing was so focused on exceptional quality, taste and service that I was continuously exposed to the best quality sensory and gastronomic experiences. Working closely with Michel Roux Jr and Rachel Humphries and working directly under David Galetti not only influenced my professional palate, but also exposed me to the detail and the love that represents the very highest standards in the industry. The wine included some of the very best of France, with extensive Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy collections. If someone had a bucket list of wines, chances are that I tried most of them with Le Gavroche. With its 2,500 bottle strong working wine list and customers looking to spend thousands of pounds on a lunch, you’re expected to not only be able to give them the very best wine, but also the best service and advice to accompany that.

The work I do with Laithwaite’s is very different, yet employs a lot of the experience and skills I developed with the two Michelin star restaurant. Shifting from being the face of the wine – the showman if you’d have it – I now no longer work facing the customer but instead can go back to the source and work with the producers who make it. Whilst my interest is still ultimately customer focused, I’m now able to be involved in the actual blending process of wine, finally getting a chance to fulfil my childhood dream of creating something I care about. Being the buyer for a leading British Wine merchant such as Laithwaite’s, gives me the chance to discover as well as create. As one of Laithwaite’s team of expert buyers, I get to taste thousands of wines a year to be able to personally select around a 1,000 bottles for our customers, to match wines to their personal tastes and occasions, and this allows me to be able to travel to find new grapes, new producers, and new wine regions all the time.

What interesting trends/themes are going on in the wine world?

There’s been a definite shift from the easy wine drinker to the more discerning customer, especially as the new generation becomes more eagerly involved in the gastronomic world. This has led to a move away from the generic, purely fruity wines, to a clamouring for more expressive wine in the accessible market. As customers start to want more from their wines, their tastes extend to different vineyard/vinification expressions and they want more personality from wine.

I’ve recently returned from South Africa, which was enlightening for the potential of multi-varietal wines, using >5 different grapes to create the best possible wine the area can, agreed blending is not new found trait, but the white blends this year are off the chart. 2015 is definitely the year for South African wine, the styles of wine are forward, generous and super enticing, and they are the kind of wines I want to drink. I’m seeing lots of new wine makers immerging, with more energy, enthusiasm, ideas than anywhere else, and they aren’t afraid to throw out the rule book.

What’s on your radar at the moment?

You can’t ignore the Sparkling Wine boom of the last year. Prosecco – for the first time ever, beat Champagne in Christmas sales. It’s fruity, foaming, fun time sparkle, as well as its price tag, means that Brits are using Prosecco and other sparkling wines as an everyday drink, rather than serving it only for special occasions. English Sparkling wine in particular has really come into its own at just the right time. It’s a fantastic national asset that really challenges Champagne, with 2014 vintage the best on the books, it will only continue to rival the best Champagne being produced. Take the award winning sparkling British wine from Laithwaite’s, the Wyfold Vineyard, it’s been a huge success for us and continues to impress. All in all, it’s wonderful to be part of this young and exciting industry, I just hope the British drinkers support their own home grown treasures, as it has the legs to be a long term equal to Champagne.

What are your FOUR indispensable wine collections favourites?

Champagne |This goes without saying, as it’s the ultimate aspirational product, with such strong cultural and social connotations of theatre and celebration – so it would have to be my number one. I’d recommend the Ravissement des Vignes 1996, available only at Laithwaites. If I told who makes it…I’d have to kill you.

Bolgheri reds |Spending so much of my youth in Tuscany, this really holds a soft spot in my heart. The Bolgheri wines were the first wines I was ever introduced to and evoke such strong feelings of family. They are serious and generous wines, and their quality can be tasted from supermarket options, right the way through to high prices auctions across the World. I’d recommend trying the Grattamacco Bolgheri Superiore 2011.

Burgundy |This is such a vast and diverse wine region that showcases the very best of the expressive chardonnay and pinot noir and capitalises on their versatility. The whole mystique and intrigue surrounding Burgundy wines, plus my experience with the very finest at Le Gavroche, has ensured I have a love affair with them for the rest of my life. I’d recommend trying the wines of Fixin or Rully.

Lambrusco |This is a more obscure choice, as its drag queen sister, Lambrini has such a negative stigma for the original, even though it was only introduced to counteract the previous popularity of Lambrusco. I love it, the true examples have fruit, acid, structure, effervescence – it’s got everything, and is the most versatile food pairing. It’s from the Emilia-Romagna region area, which is arguably the gastronomic centre for Italian cuisine – the holy trinity Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Lambrusco. I’d recommend trying the Monte della Vigne Lambrusco Selezione.

What is another of your favourite tipples?

I’m a great lover of beer, as well. I love an in-your-face, super hedonistic, American India Pale Ale, or our home grown examples like a William Brothers Joker IPA. Obviously with my Scottish roots, I’m also a huge whisky fan, the style depends on my moods.

Do you cook at all? What kinds of things do you like cooking at home on your days off?

I’m very fortunate to be able to say I live with a chef – a very talented chef, of Chihauhua Street Food – so a lot of the time I don’t have to cook much myself, as he’s constantly creating and experimenting. I’m lucky enough to taste the results of those experiments. But when I do cook, I love creating Korean, Mexican or Malay flavours – I just adore how Asian flavours manage to hit every part of the palate. My guilty pleasure is pasta though, I can eat a scary amount – I’m definitely an Italian boy at heart. My grandparents bought an olive grove when they moved to Tuscany, and began making the ultimate olive oil, Poggio Lamentano, adored by Elizabeth David, among many other true food critics, it is the best in the business, and I’m not just saying that from family connections. Poggio Oil, with fresh pasta and good seasoning is all I really need.

Find out more about Davy and Laithwaites wine here |