Sommelier of the Month - Louise Gordon

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Louise Gordon
  • Date of birth: 28th September 1980
  • Place of birth: Poole, Dorset.
  • Eye colour: Grey
  • Nationality: British

I started by working in a wine warehouse in Calais when I was nineteen years old, before moving to a wine shop in London and then onto a job in the civil service for a short time. After that, I went to work in Harvey Nichols where I stayed for nearly six years in total in various roles in the wine shop and restaurant on the 5th floor in Knightsbridge - eventually becoming Head Sommelier at their city restaurant Prism.

I was then offered a job at The Westbury Hotel in Mayfair, where I spent just over the next three years as Head Sommelier for the Artisan restaurant - tasked with tidying-up and expanding their existing wine list - whilst creating and maintaining the lists for the Bar, Room Service and Banqueting.

After a year at Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden, I am now at The Rib Room where I have built a new wine list for the restaurant re-launch last year. I also have the Diploma from the Wine & Sprit Education Trust and in 2010 I won the Louis Jadot and Savoy Educational Trust Sommelier Scholarship through the Academy of Food and Wine Service.

The Rib Room Bar & Restuarant

Famous among Knightsbridge restaurants and located on fashionable Sloane Street, The Rib Room has been open since 1961. Featuring private dining rooms, a destination bar and the iconic artwork by Feliks Topolski, re-launched in October 2011, this culinary institution remains one of the best restaurants in London. The Rib Room was reborn in 2011 following a makeover from interior designer Martin Brudnizki.

Head chef Ian Rudge's menu showcases the best of traditional British cuisine using fresh, seasonal produce. The menu features The Rib Room's renowned roast rib of beef.

The Wine List has around 450 bin lines and is presented to the customer on an interactive ipad. Each wine has a description, tasting note and a picture of the bottle. Other features include a filter by price, country and grape function, and more in depth information on regions and grape varieties as well.

Louise's wine and food pairings

My favourite dish on the menu is the beef tartare, which is a good match for white or red, depending upon how spicy you like it! I don't like it too spicy, and love to have it with the Mara Martin Godello from Spain as it is big enough and peppery enough to handle any spice yet still has good clean acidity to cut through the texture.

The iPad wine list provides a talking point for the guests and can also give them a quick wine lesson if they wish!## Louise'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?
A friend of the family suggested I go and work for a wine company in Calais for which she was the Marketing Manager. It was there that I discovered my love of wine and I found it a fascinating subject to learn about and I decided that it was what I wanted to do. I learned via the WSET (Wines & Spirits Education Trust) and did two of their exams whilst I was over there to give me a grounding knowledge to work with. The rest, as they say, is history.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Passion, enthusiasm, a great work effort and a sense of humour!

Describe your typical day at work.
I start at about 11am collect any deliveries and do the opening procedures for the restaurant. I then go to the office and crack on with any admin work, updating and maintaining the wine lists, meeting suppliers and doing tastings. If lunch is busy I will help on the floor of the restaurant. About 5pm I have dinner and then check that everything is ready for evening service. The briefing is at 6.15 and we open at 6.30. I then work service and finish at about 11pm.

How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
You have to read the customer and talk to them to find out what they are willing to spend and if that is flexible of not. If someone is on a tight budget they won't like it if you try to sell them something more expensive, and after all, it is about giving the customer what they want and making them happy.

Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Certainly over the last 15-20 years with the internet and cable food channels, knowledge is much more readily available, but you often find that people still don't stray too far from the comfort zone of what they know.

Who has been most influential in your career?
Robert Giorgione, Independent Wine Specialist, who gave me my first break into the Sommelier world when he was Head Sommelier at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor restaurant.

Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
Reading the customer is key. Due to my wine list being on an iPad, I go to the table and explain to them how it works and tell them to ask if they need any help. When I go back to the table to take the order, if they want advice, I will ask them a few questions to get a feel for what they like and what they want to spend and help them accordingly. It is extremely important to just be open and friendly so as not to appear arrogant or too pushy. You have about 20 seconds to get the customer to trust you, which makes their experience all the more enjoyable, and it easier for you to up-sell.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Just to match flavours and textures and to find a wine that enhances the dish, not overshadow it.

How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
Not as often as I would like!

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
I will see what is popular with my customers, look for gaps in my wine list, find something interesting to fill or expand it, ask for some samples and then negotiate a good price with the supplier.

Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
You need a mix of unusual wine that your sommeliers and can hand sell, coupled with the traditional and popular wines such as Chablis and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that will sell themselves and make you a good margin.

What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
I couldn't possibly repeat what I think here! Needless to say it revolves around how I am going to re-coup the cost before the wine goes off so you don't have to absorb it as wastage or give it to the chef to cook with!

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
People seem to be more willing to try smaller boutique vineyards and more unusual blends.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Syrah and Chardonnay, because they are both tasty and versatile.

What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
To get them to taste the wines so that they remember them as it is easy for staff to sell wines that they like and have tried. They also need to understand how the wine is made and any interesting facts about it that they can relay to the customer.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
I am a Foie Gras lover, I fully admit. So a Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace with a nice bit of age on it with a piece of pan seared Foie Gras with toasted hazelnuts and apple and pear chutney. Perfection.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
Macerated blood oranges with honeycomb popcorn and nougat sauce from our dessert menu with Andrew Quady's Deviation, a clever and unusual dessert wine that is infused with Damiana and Geranium.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
You need to tell us what you like, and not be afraid to tell us what you don't and if something is out of your price range. Also, please forgive our enthusiasm and do let us know if we are being a tad avant garde with our suggestions.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
Emily Wilding Davison, just to say thank you for her bravery and determination, and that it didn't go un-noticed. If you insist on someone who is alive, then David Beckham, because who wouldn't!

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
If you have a bit of spare cash, the 'le Nez de Vin' system is a good way of training your nose to identify specific aromas, otherwise, practice is what it takes! You can get any bottle of wine, taste it and write down what you can smell and taste and then read the back label, or google it for a reliable tasting note and then see if you were right. You can then re-taste it and see if you find any of the aromas and flavours described that you couldn't before. Also, go to as many tastings as you can.

What's the one thing you love most about your job?
Apart from training enthusiastic young sommeliers, I love discovering new wines and I especially love developing wine lists and seeing them change and adapt.

Where do you see your future career path?
Eventually I would like to own my own business, but my next move will be off the restaurant floor and, hopefully, heading up the wine department for a group of restaurants or hotels. Either that or be a full-time wine buyer.


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