Sommelier of the Month - Raphael Rodriguez

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Raphael Rodriguez
  • Date of birth: 27th October 1979
  • Place of birth: Orange (France)
  • Eye colour: Blue
  • Nationality: French

Growing up amongst the vineyards in the Southern Rhone valley, wine and food was very much a part of the culture. We had loads of big family meals so I have always had a real interest in wine and gastronomy. I spent 5 years as an engineer in the French Air Force before moving into wine professionally.

My sister used to live in London so I would visit her often and I fell in love with the city. There is so much opportunity to try wines from around the world here whereas in France the focus is very much on French wine.

I started as Commis Sommelier at Isola Restaurant in London then I went back to France to study the "Sommelier-Conseil" diploma at the wine university of Suze-La-Rousse in France. After a Sommelier job in France I returned to London and worked at The Square, Sketch and The Corinthia before starting my current role as Head Sommelier at Tom Aikens Restaurant.

Tom Aikens Restaurant

Tom Aikens Restaurant is based on Elystan Street in Chelsea, London. The restaurant first opened in 2003, and it soon gained a superb reputation for its imaginative, intricate take on French cuisine.

The restaurant re-opened in 2012 after a complete refurbishment, with interior design by Istanbul-based Hakan Ezer. The new look transforms the space, from sharp, almost austere black and white to a warmer, richer, more natural feel.

The change is more than skin-deep. It reflects the same celebrated standard of gastronomic excellence, but in an environment that moves on from the formal traditions associated with this level of restaurant.

Simple bespoke wooden furniture, and a beautifully crafted collection of unmatched plates and china, speak volumes about this new spirit. Reflecting a focus on natural, organic materials and ingredients, they set the stage for a selection of dishes as arresting to look at as they are fascinating to taste.

The innovative menus - including six- and eight-course tasting menus - become the focus of a relaxed, gregarious experience. Meanwhile, the restaurant's wine list runs to around 300 international bins, managed by head sommelier Raphael Rodriguez.

Our Wines And Pairings

We have been opened for a bit more than two months so our wine list is still a work in process.

Our focus turns on small growers respectful of their environment and 'terroir', producing artisanal wines with sense of place, using native grape varieties.

Also our lists are presented into collection books such as Sotheby's wine catalogue, Hugh Johnson' first edition of the Wine Atlas, Le Vin famous comics...

It allows a relaxed, entertaining and engaging approach to the guests; who enjoy looking for information and quizzing us!

Raphael's Q&A

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 grew up in the middle of vineyards (southern Rhone valley) and my father is a wine amateur and connoisseur.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Humility and acknowledging that everybody has got his own palate and taste.

Describe your typical day at work.
The day starts with checking that morning's deliveries, monitoring cost control and pricing and then I start preparing for lunch service - making sure the wines are in order, glasses set etc. In the afternoon I spend time tasting samples of wines, buying new wines and catching up on admin.

How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
It does not, it all depends about the questions I am asked.

Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Customers are becoming more and more interested in wine and therefore the level of knowledge has certainly increased.

Who has been most influential in your career?
Fred Brugue, Head Sommelier at Sketch London and Andrew Jefford the Wine & Spirit writer.

Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
You need to read your guests and not talk too much. I tend to give customers the time to read the list before going back to them and advising if necessary. If they have chosen something unusual I like to talk describe it to them. It is important to create a relaxed atmosphere and not appear arrogant.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Food and wine complement each other in term of texture and flavours.

How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
Any time I open a bottle for a guest...

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
Determine the needs, get samples from suppliers and pick best quality for value. Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
Eclectic regions, grape varieties and style of wine with few discoveries.

What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
Maybe I did not understand what they really like...

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
There is more interest and focus on small wineries who make wine with passion using native grape varieties, traditional methods and who respect the environment and terroir.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
It depends which kind of terroir the island is... but if I had to pick 2 grapes it would be Chenin Blanc and Nebbiolo...

What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
Make them taste wine...

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Comte cheese with Vin Jaune (Jura).

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
We have a dish on our list that is piglet with pineapple and sage and we pair this with an 'orange wine' - The Observatory Chenin and Chardonnay, Swartland, South Africa 2006 - which has had plenty of skin contact and no fining. The piglet needs a white wine like this which is full flavoured and has high acidity to complement the sweetness of the pineapple.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
Simply show interest and ask any kind of question.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
Andrew Jefford.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Blind tasting is great.

What's the one thing you love most about your job?
I love surprising people and helping them open their minds to different types of wine.

Where do you see your future career path?
Making wine in the beautiful terroir of the Southern Rhone.


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