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Sommelier of the Month - Alexis Meszoly

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Alexis Meszoly
  • Date of birth: 24th May 1986
  • Place of birth: Paris, Franc
  • Eye colour: Blue
  • Nationality: French

Originally from Paris, Alexis first discovered his passion for the industry 6 years ago whilst working as a Commis Waiter in Le Pont de la Tour.

He proved to be a fast learner. As a result of this Alexis was the only Commis Sommelier of 10 to be nominated to take the WSET Level 1 and 2 Course. On achieving these diplomas Alexis was promptly promoted to Assistant Sommelier. Here Alexis spearheaded a new project designed to increase wine sales and attract business to the venue resulted on an increase of revenue of 6% on beverage profits.

Alexis returned to Paris Assistant Head Sommelier at Les Ombres (Elior Group), where he was the only fluent English speaking member of staff. Due to the prestigious location of this restaurant, (directly beneath the Eiffel Tower) this role was of course of major importance to the business.

Headhunted, he then accepted a position of Assistant Head Sommelier at Bluebird, London. Enrolled in the RISE Development Programme for Supervisors, a course normally only attended by those in Managerial positions, he was also fully trained in 'FnB Shop' and 'My Micros' systems and was made acting Beverage Manager of BlueBird Cafe. Here he was called upon to resolve all issues relating to profit margins and transfers.

At the age of just 24, Alexis was put in charge of assembling the first ever, fully fledged, Sommelier Team at Quaglino's, another of D&D's flagship restaurants which turn 6.8 millions net per year. In little over a year, Alexis not only recruited and comprehensively trained a first class Sommelier Team but also created a department that continues to contribute towards and be of growing importance to the overall success of Quaglino's.

It was at this time that he was both headhunted and recruited for Skylon from Mr Fasoli, Acorn winner 2008 & GM. His prime target here was not just to boost the average spend at the Restaurant and Grill but also to re-design and recreate a more lively and modern wine menu for both.

He is involved in all aspects of the business: operational and managerial support, creating business, creativity and design (of two new Wine List- one of which has been nominated to win various competitions in its own right due to its unusual 'wine profiles') and of course financial.

Situated on the third floor of the Southbank Centre, London's cultural epicentre, Skylon boasts outstanding views over the River Thames from its huge floor-to-ceiling windows.

The main Restaurant features modern, Northern European-influenced cuisine from Executive Chef, Helena Puolakka; the Grill offers informal dining in a relaxed atmosphere while the centrepiece, raised bar is renowned across London for its fabulous cocktails.

Skylon takes its name from the original iconic structure that was built for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The restaurant's design echoes the style of the Royal Festival Hall during the same period with some contemporary touches, such as the uniquely designed chandeliers and surfaces of bronze, walnut and slate.

Alexis's wine and food pairings

The Wine and the Food are extremely connected at Skylon. Every menu changes on the starter and mains are carefully tried and match by myself and the Head Chef Helena. Giving the best experience to our guest is our priority.

We have a fantastic 6 courses tasting menu with wine pairing which are selected to showcase the overall selection of the wine list. But also to give our guest an experience like never before.

Every single wines are poured just before the course arrived at the table. The sommelier brings the bottle to the table, introducing the food and then the wine (history, wine maker, wine making) to finally describe the pairing. This process takes around 2 minutes and gives the guests an experience of a mini master class.

For the dessert menu, the system is slightly different. Every menu changes I'm sitting down with the Head Pastry Chef Olivier and with the help of my assistant, we try every single dessert with different sweet, port, wine or sometimes liqueur to make sure to found the perfect match.

For example we match one of Olivier last dessert which is a tarragon panacotta with a glass of yellow chartreuse with 2 rocks.

The pairing will then be present on the dessert menu underneath every single dessert. The wine is then poured at the table following the same step than the tasting menu.

Alexis'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?
History have always been my passion, when I arrived in London I discover that behind every single wine they were a story, why, how and how come.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
A great sommelier is the one who can share his knowledge with anybody and be understood by everybody. But also to understand the entire process of food and wine pairing. At the end guests are going to restaurant to eat great food and have a great time.

Describe your typical day at work.
Checking the stock, the enomatic, the winelist, the sommelier station. Insure that the floor is ready for the service. Working on the list and new project. Checking the wine side of every single department. Little quiz of my staff just after the briefing.

How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
The wine advice will always be there on any pricing. Few tips will always put you on the right direction. But I'll keep it for myself.

Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Definitely, since I've started six years ago, we see more and more knowledgeable customers. And it's a great thing.

Who has been most influential in your career?
My ex Head Sommelier, Olivier Gasselin that I followed for 3 year, starting as his commis and ending up being his Assistant. Full of knowledge and good sense, He is now working in Dubai for Hakkasan.

Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
First able introducing yourself, and make sure that you are going to be their exclusive sommelier that night. To present the winelist with the cover and the sommelier selection. Finally explain them that if they are any questions to don't hesitate.

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.

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
First it's going to be an interest in a region to expand on my list. Then there is a all work on searching. Or sometimes it's just a 'coup de coeur'.

Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
It became very important, my wines by the glass list almost double. Light lunches and general target to look for quality without the quantity.

What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
My politic is, I'm not going to make one of my guest drink a wine if he's not going to fully enjoy it.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
The new style of winelist that we see everywhere at the moment, all very interesting with their own touch. In Skylon we redesigned the all Grill winelist which is going to come out soon.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Whahh. Depending of the terroir over there...

What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
Games and Incentive both makes the learning easier.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Champagne with Sorbet never disappoints.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
I did a trip to Sauterne. We tried oysters with chilli sauce to match the Sauterne.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
It's easy. I arrived at the table knowing what they are having already. So - What would you recommend?.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
My close friend's, sommeliers.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Classic blind tasting with colleagues or friend are the best way.

What's the one thing you love most about your job?
The have the possibility to bring the curiosity to a guest table. Where do you see your future career path?
I have few project at the moment, the main one is to create winelist for different restaurant of the company. I really like to continue in that path.

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?
Frank Sinatra.

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.

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