Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
It all started when I was at catering school. I used to hate alcohol believe it or not and it wasn't before my first stage that I was told the importance of wine pairings during a guests meal. So I was given wines to taste to that effect, got hooked on all the varieties and taste notes then subsequently chose an extra study year to understand more and ended up becoming a sommelier at the same catering school.
What do you think makes a great sommelier?
A great sommelier is someone who understands where he works and creates a complimentary wine list that is in accord with the restaurant and where it is situated. It also is someone that understands his guests' needs.
Describe your typical day at work.
Every two weeks, in turns, one or two of us is on lunch. We then set up the bar, check all areas for cleanliness and readiness for service. The sommelier that isn't on lunch, starts later and takes care of bar and restaurant beverages stock up, delivery storage and 'mise en place' for evening service. The lunch sommelier takes care of inputting deliveries, emails and ensuring the wine and bar lists are clean and up to date. During service, we ensure wines are served on time especially for the wine pairings where we give a short explanation for each; this without forgetting other guests who choose just a glass or a specific bottle. We take care of our guests from their aperitif through to their digestives and coffees.
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
As I explained above, it is crucial for a sommelier to understand where the restaurant is situated and what it offers. Here, our guests have to travel to get to us and enjoy an unforgettable dinner - a destination restaurant. Most of them are either foodies, a once ever dinner for a special occasion or a once a year every year celebration. This obviously sets our level of wine sales to be more sensible as they come here to enjoy the food first and wine comes second. The impact of the wine pairing helps them to have a full enjoyment of the whole package we can offer. At the same time 60% of our wine list offers a selection of wine across the board priced at £60 mark and below.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
In some ways,yes. Most guests seem to always drink the same wines as naturally they feel most comfortable with what they know. If they come here for a special occasion for example, they may not have really come across this style of restaurant very often, meaning the variety of wines we offer can be a bit overwhelming at first. But as the wines we offer come at more sensible prices, most guests are willing to try our suggestions and varieties or vineyards they've never experienced before.
Who has been most influential in your career?
There are two main persons. First Virginia Philip MS in America and Gerard Basset OBE here in the UK.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
A good sommelier's introduction should be clear and brief in order for the guests to not be confused. There is always logic in the creation of any wine list by a sommelier and it should be explained in a way that doesn't confuse or patronize.
When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
You cannot pair wine with dishes if you haven't had the chance to try it. Here at Sat Bains we have a great understanding of the importance of our offering regarding wine pairing and Sat and his team are very helpful in helping us in that task - specially with the prevalent flavour notes of each dish.
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
As the majority of our wine sales are based on wine pairings, we try to change every so often the selection giving us the opportunity to re-taste some of them. We also taste every wine before it reaches our guests. That way we can ensure the quality of the wine and assess its evolution on the list, with the season and the dishes on the menus.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
Sourcing new wines either happens through tastings from our suppliers or reading about them in wine magazines, via the internet or other sommeliers experience.
Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
Again this is down to where you are and what you offer. We do not offer a lot of wines by the glass as the demand isn't high for us. Wines by the glass however are sometimes a great opportunity to offer something different where guests can try out a new wine without having to pay for the whole bottle. Also it should somewhat reflect the wine list (style and prices), a small insight of what can be found in it.
What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
Well, first of all I'd have to question our selection. Have we explained to the guest what they were going to get? There are always very specific wines on a wine list that guests want to try trusting the palate of the sommelier, but sometimes just not ready to experience the different styles on offer. We always ensure we explain what they are about to enjoy even if it is just something they've had before like a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The variety we stock is great but the style they are used to enjoying at home or at their local pub might be different to the style we offer. If after all these precautions, guests still decide in having a specific variety but don't appear to enjoy or understand it, then we talk it through a bit more to recommend something more suitable.
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
The comeback of Riesling and the understanding of new countries coming up in the market that people are interested in trying such as Slovenia, Croatia and more.
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Riesling and Pinot Noir.
What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
Knowledge, being genuine, reading, listening and understanding people needs.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
At the moment on our pairing is 2011 Egon Muller Scharzhof Riesling with the Duck Muesli. Great interaction between the food and the wine where the sweetness of each brings different aspect in the whole pairing. Absolutely brilliant.
And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
Haven't encountered one. Maybe a cocktail with a Cote de Boeuf would be a weird one but yet again, it could be amazing. It's all about tasting and understanding the pairing sometimes.
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
The only thing is to tell us what they are looking for in a wine, maybe what they usually drink on a regular basis. That way we could maybe suggest a new wine in a similar style that gives them something new and maybe experience something they wouldn't normally have tried.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
My parents. Sorry, can't choose between the two.
How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
If you are just starting, one of the first things is to taste blind each varietal from different countries and appellations to really find what sets them apart and also what are the similarities.
What's the one thing you love most about your job?
The guest's satisfaction - when they compliment the wine pairings as much as the food. Makes me very happy indeed.
Where do you see your future career path?
As anyone, great opportunities need reflection but for now I am very happy being at Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms. Here I hope to keep improving my own knowledge and support my fellow sommeliers reach their goals too. My short term goal though is to win the UK Sommelier of the Year competition in 2014. With regards to long term goals, they depend on the opportunities that may present themselves but perhaps become a consultant, beverage director for a chain or perhaps one day own my own business.