Sommelier of the Month - Grace Matterson

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Grace Matterson
  • Date of birth: 01st May 1991
  • Place of birth: Stockton-On-Tees
  • Eye colour: Green
  • Nationality: British

My career started in a small country inn in the Yorkshire Dales where I decided to take a full time trainee manager position after working there part time for three years. Working there I was serving a lot of wine but didn't really know much about it. I wanted to learn more about wine so I decided to do my first level WEST course when I was eighteen. This is when my love of wine started and from here I was hooked.

I then applied for a job at Rockliffe Hall as Commis Sommelier and this was when I really knew I was in the right job. I had the opportunity to fully concentrate on developing my wine knowledge and to progress further through WSET qualifications.

I have been here since March 2010 and now at Rockliffe I now have full control of the wine list and am able to work alongside a great team in a beautiful restaurant, pairing wine with Kenny's fantastic food. It has been great to see the restaurant evolve over the past two years and it is exciting to see where it is going to go from here.

About our restaurant

Kenny Atkinson at the Orangery is the flagship restaurant at Rockliffe Hall, a five star hotel, golf and spa resort set on a magnificent restored 18th century estate on the banks of the River Tees, just minutes from Darlington, it is a destination in itself and a five star home-from-home.

Kenny Atkinson at the Orangery is set in the Hall's original Victorian Orangery, which dates back to the 19th century. The restaurant forms a link Rockliffe's former owners, the Backhouse family. In this very Orangery rare and exotic plants and trees were nurtured which can still be found on the hotel grounds. The triple AA rosette restaurant, headed by celebrated Michelin-starred Chef, Kenny Atkinson, offers the ultimate culinary experience and features regularly-changing tasting menus featuring stunning dish combinations. Set in the lovingly restored in the Old Hall, enjoy spectacular panoramic views over the gardens at Rockliffe Hall as well as the golf course and countryside beyond.

Our tasting menus have been designed to give you contrasting tastes & textures using the very best of our British produce. We strive to produce a relaxed and memorable dining experience, served by our professional, passionate & dedicated team.

Grace's wine and food pairings

The triple AA rosette restaurant, headed by celebrated Michelin-starred Chef, Kenny Atkinson, offers the ultimate culinary experience and features regularly-changing tasting menus featuring stunning dish combinations. The ten, eight and six course tasting menus showcase regional dishes and producers, including North East coast mackerel with Spillman's Yorkshire gooseberries, English mustard and lemon; Cumbrian rose veal tongue 'n' cheek, celeriac, English celery & truffle; Vanilla Arctic roll, Spillman's raspberries, hibiscus & honeycomb.

Kenny Atkinson says: "Being in the North East, we're blessed with some of the most exciting local producers and it is those that I shall be showcasing on my menus which will change depending on what is seasonally available." The Kenny Atkinson at the Orangery wine list has been carefully put together to offer a range of interesting wines to complement Kenny's dishes and enhance the dining experience. With over 400 bins the ever expanding list showcases a large selection of wines from all over the world, covering broad range of styles and grape varieties. The list has a combination of fine wines made by iconic producers and a varied selection of some more unusual wines. Each and every wine on the list has been selected based on its exceptional quality and distinctive expression of terroir.

Grace'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 have always been interested in wine but I decided to translate my interest into a career when I found out how fascinating the subject of wine really was. When I started my WSET qualifications I realised there was so much more to wine than I thought. What I love about wine is that there are always things changing and developing, and there is always something new to find out.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Being knowledgeable, passionate, creative and approachable.

Describe your typical day at work.
My start time varies between 12 and 2pm. We don't serve lunch in the Orangery so I use this time to maintain and update the list, look for new wines, organise the cellars, meet with suppliers, hold tastings and staff training and catch up with admin. I then begin prep for service at 4pm ready for the restaurant opening at 6.30pm.

How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
I usually try to give the guest a few recommendations at various price points, but it is very important to read the guest and make them feel comfortable. The aim of our list is to have quality wines no matter what the guest is willing to pay so it is always possible to recommend an interesting wine the guest will enjoy.

Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Wine knowledge is becoming a lot more easily available whether it be in the supermarket or on a cookery programme people are becoming more aware of what is available and what they do and don't like. It is great that people have an increased knowledge and that people want to discover more and more about wine.

Who has been most influential in your career?
Laura Atkinson, inspirational female Sommelier.

Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
The best introduction is one which makes the guest feel completely comfortable, so this depends on me reading the guest correctly. A good sommelier should come across unpretentious and completely approachable. I usually ask a few questions to find out what style of wine the guest likes to drink and whether they are looking for something similar or would like to try something new. I think it's important to give guests enough time for them to have a look through the list themselves before I offer advice and it is crucial to give guests time to discuss my recommendations in private if they seem unsure.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
First I read the breakdown of the dish to get an idea of the flavours included and pick out a few wines that I think will work also I tend to select a few which aren't such an obvious match. Next we taste the dishes with the wines to find out which flavours and textures work well together.

How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
Every time I open a bottle during service. We try to do as much comparative tasting as possible when adding new wines to ensure we are offering the best wines possible. Also we pick wines we may not have tasted in a while to use for staff training which is a great way of re-tasting the list.

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
I look for wines which will fill gaps in the wine list and also interesting wines from fantastic producers. I ask for some samples then taste. I always chose wines based on quality and value for money.

Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
It can be a great way for guests to try a range of different wines throughout the meal. Also wine by the glass can be a great way for guests to try wine without the need to buy the whole bottle, especially for dessert wine and vintage Port. It is also an opportunity for restaurants to showcase some interesting wines alongside classic grape varieties and regions.

What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
Such a shame.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
Guests are not afraid to try wines from smaller producers and lesser known regions.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Chardonnay and Sangiovese.

What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
Lots of comparative tasting so they can really start to distinguish and remember subtle differences. Also interesting facts help.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
My favourite wine pairing on the menu at the moment is Kenny's scallop and pork dish with Furmint, Royal Tokaji, Hungary 2009. The rich fruit works great with the scallop while the dry acidity cuts the pork and apple.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
Sweet chilli crisps and Riesling Auslese.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
They have to be honest and let me know what they don't like.

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

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Taste, taste and taste again! Also try lots of different food and wine flavour combinations to find out what does and doesn't work for you.

What's the one thing you love most about your job?
I love that my job has lots of different elements such as; training staff, developing the wine list, tasting opportunities. I love discovering new wines and I love that there is so much more for me to learn. The best thing has to be when a guest leaves the restaurant happy and thanks me for introducing them to something new.

Where do you see your future career path?
I'd like to work as a Sommelier in London. My ultimate goal is to become a master of wine and my dream job would to be a wine buyer.


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