Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
I started work in my parents Italian restaurant in the Cotswolds. Started doing the washing up when I was 11 and started on the floor at 15. I was always fascinated in the array of bottles in the wine rack and behind the bar, and would always ask questions and sneak a taste when I could! From there I worked in various places around the world (France, Italy, Austria, Canada and Australia) to gain experience and see the different approaches to the hospitality industry. I've just always loved the environment in a restaurant, meeting new people, working with wonderful characters and learning something new every day.
What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Understanding people. That way you can recommend wines they will enjoy and therefore enhance their experience at your establishment.
Describe your typical day at work.
Check emails first thing. Then check deliveries and invoices etc., I'll be on the floor during lunch service, and afterwards possibly meet suppliers and try some new wines. Hopefully get the chance to do some paperwork in the afternoon, before dinner service. Afterwards check stock, place orders if need be.
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
I think people have become slightly more price conscious in recent years. That said it is still possible to give excellent value for money, it has increased opportunity to sell wines from lesser known regions like the south of Italy.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
People are more exposed to wine now. A lot of people are very keen to try new things they may have heard of, but not had the opportunity to taste before. A lot of customers have their region of expertise. Some of them are happy to accept guidance based on that, others like to stick to what they know.
Who has been most influential in your career?
So many people have helped and continue to teach me. However my Mum and Dad however are the living embodiment of hospitality. Nothing was ever too much trouble and they know how to treat every customer with warmth and importance.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
It's very specific to the person. On the whole I like to let the guest know we are there if they would like some guidance or just a chat about wine.
When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Changes on a daily basis. Of course there are some dishes where we match a dish with a specific wine for a extended period of time. But if I'm doing wine pairing on a Kitchen Table for example, I take into account is it Lunch or Dinner, What the weather is like outside and where possible I try to speak to the customer first to make choices I think they will enjoy the most.
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
I try a least a few of the wines on a daily basis. If there is something in particular I felt I haven't tried for a while, I'll go out of my way to sell it. I still have a competitive streak when it comes to selling.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
I try to maintain good relationships with suppliers, so if they have something interesting they'll bring it in for me to taste. Otherwise I go to a lot of tastings so if any gaps in the wine list appear I can get something new in. Sometimes you just try something while on holiday etc, and decide it has to go on the list.
Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
Big fan. Like to encourage people to try a couple of different glasses. Gives opportunity for people to try something a little left field without having to commit to the bottle. Find if you can sell a couple of different glasses to a table, it is a great conversation starter.
What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
My first thought is to get them something they like. I would never cause a scene with the guest or make them feel small or guilty about it. It's disappointing for sure, but there are much worse things in life.
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
A lot of people getting into Pinot Noir, not just from burgundy but new world as well. Some of the big Italians sold well over winter, Barolo's, Amarone's etc
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Nebbiolo & Riesling. Whether I could make a decent wine from them would be another matter!
What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
They have to be passionate about it. Wine is such an expansive, exciting topic that you need people who understand the level of thought and work that has gone from getting it from the vine to the bottle. It's also romantic, people take a great deal of enjoyment from drinking a great glass/bottle of wine. And anyone who serves wine needs to understand that and feel it as well.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
So many to choose from! We have a Roast Venison on the menu which goes fantastic with a Grenache from Priorat in Spain.
And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
Fish stew with a Nero d'Avola/Frappato blend for COS.
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
I like to find out what customers normally like to drink, let me know if you have an aversion to anything in particular (it's amusing what some people won't drink and why...) A budget always helps.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Do as many side by side tastings as possible. Try a New World and Old world interpretation of the same variety. Also the tri pod test is good with friends - Take two wines and pour one glass of one and two of the other. Taste it blind, a lot of people fail to spot the odd one out.
What's the one thing you love most about your job?
Learning everyday, trying new wines nearly everyday and always encountering new characters along the way.
Where do you see your future career path?
Move forward with the Marcus Wareing Group, eventually set up my own place where people can eat, drink and be happy.