Sommelier of the Month - Julien Sahut
- Name: Julien Sahut
- Date of birth: 24th February 1984
- Place of birth: Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne, France
- Eye colour: Brown
- Nationality: French
Born in Auvergne right in the centre of France in a region more well know as a leading region when it come to cheese, my passion for wine didn't start until later. My obsession with food led me to enrol in a cooking school where I undertook a 3-year chef-training curriculum. I extended it for an extra two years to get Brevet de Technicien Superieur (BTS) in Hospitality (an equivalent of a 2 years Technical Degree in Restaurant Management). After working for a few years in Switzerland and France, I moved to Toronto, Canada. The initial plan was to stay for one year but instead I ended staying for six years. In the midst of a developing culinary scene, I dedicated myself to work for the best chefs and restaurateurs there was. There I worked for two the top Canadian restaurants, Susur Lee and Auberge du Pommier. I grabbed the opportunity while working at these restaurants to discover and learn more about Canadian, American and South American wines.
I enrolled in WSET intermediate level to improve my description of wines in English. With free tasting involved in these classes, I simply could not resist.
I fell in love with wine and visits to the Niagara Peninsula and Napa Valley further fuelled my desire to learn more about the wines that I enjoy drinking and recommending to my guests.
I moved to London to expose myself to a more open market than Canada. London is such an amazing place to be with an endless catalogue of wines, non-stop wine events - so much so that it has proven to be a challenge to decide which wine events to go to. And of course there have been times when I showed up to the right event on the wrong day.
I am currently working as Assistant Head Sommelier of Igor Sotric, a boisterous character and well-known sommelier in London working in China Tang.
Having spent over five years working in Chinese restaurants and with Chinese chefs, I decided to study business Mandarin at the London School of Economics. It helps when I am helping our Chinese customer to select the best wine to complement their evening.
To keep myself on the periphery of upcoming wines, I am involved in judging the latest wine and spirits for International Wine and Spirit Competition, Imbibe Sommelier Wines Awards, International Wine Challenge and The Spirits Business to name a few.
As if I am not busy enough, I am currently building an informative website for sommeliers to share their passion. Wine-Culture is due to be launched in September this year and will be opened to members of the public.
China Tang at The Dorchester
China Tang is located inside the Dorchester Hotel open from Noon to 11h45 pm , all year around except Christmas days.
Conceived by Sir David Tang, the founder of China Clubs in Hong Kong, Peking and Singapore, as well as the life-style brand, "Shanghai Tang", China Tang offers some of the best and most authentic Cantonese food outside China.
Menus do not compromise on classical recipes and all dishes, including its signature Peking Duck are prepared with the freshest ingredients and traditional spices and flavouring (no MSG).
The rave reviews won by the food have been matched by the sumptuous interior, which is designed to evoke a romantic sense of the art deco of the Thirties. As well as an abundance of chinoiserie, and quirky objets d'art, the restaurant showcases a collection of both traditional and contemporary Chinese art, all personally chosen by Sir David Tang.
In addition to the restaurant, China Tang features an exquisite bar that offers a list of classic cocktails, made to perfection, which can be ordered to accompany the dim sum menu that is served all day. For special occasions, the restaurant also offers diners 3 private dining rooms - Ping, Pang and Pong!
My role included Assist the Head Sommelier on wines selection and purchases, keep the wine list up to date, just over 700 bins. Lead and supervise a team of sommeliers supporting the Head Sommelier.
Food and wine pairing a mystery of the Chinese cuisine.
Regarding the pairing, in China Tang there is no menu or Tasting Menu and therefore the dishes are served a la carte. At a typical Chinese dinner, all the plates are shared and you have to bear in mind that they are all served at the same time with the exception of dessert.
For a table of two it is sometime manageable to recommend a bottle. But when you get to a table of four or more it gets really tricky. A sample order would involve a mix of seafood an red meats for e.g. steam calamari, Shanghai prawn, lamb with leek, chicken in black bean sauce, steam groupers, and eggplant with garlic. Finding the right wine to complement and bring balance to the dishes can prove to be a challenge especially with customers who have such sophisticated palates.
On a smaller table I usually recommend my guests who are having some Dim Sum and our famous Peking Duck to start with a nice Riesling from Germany.
The dim sum is usually served with soya or sweetened sauce and hot chilli sauce on the table. The sweetness is recommended to leaven out the spiciness of the hot chilli sauce which most of our guests tend to indulge in.
The Peking duck is a rich and fatty with the succulence of the meat is driven by the hoisin sauce delivering a pleasurable juicy combination of sweet and salty. I recommend a white wine that is slightly off-dry with low to moderate alcohol. My favourite for the duck and dim sum is a German Riesling e.g. Heymann-Lowenstein, Riesling Schieferterrassen 2011 or my other favourite Joh.Jos.Prum, Riesling Whelener Sonnenuhr, Auslese 2007.
Another option that I like is a Gewurtraminer from Alsace like 2005 Domaine Schlumberger, Grand Cru Kessler who match well with sweetness and spicy food, especially if you used chilli oil every bite...
After not everyone like off dry white wine so after, listen to your customer
If you prefer reds, choose a fruit-forward wine with very soft tannins like a nice 2009 Pinot Noir, Mount Edward from New Zealand.
Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
My grandfather once ended up with 20 cases of Alsace Riesling when the guy he sold his tractor to couldn't make the payment in cash. Since I was fourteen, we have been drinking the same wine for six years during Easters and Christmas dinners. I realised how the wine was changing after each year and with the different dishes. I have always been intrigued that the same wine from the same vintage could change from year to year, and varying across different dishes. I have never looked back since. And yes, we still have 10 bottles left to finish.
What do you think makes a great sommelier?
First a good sommelier is someone with a good wine knowledge and a great understanding of his wine list but a great sommelier is someone who can help his customer feel comfortable and ask the right questions without being condescending to respond to the customers need.
Describe your typical day at work.
On arrival I check the number of reservation on the floor, check the private dining room running order and make sure the wines ordered are ready. A quick look on the next few days parties in case I need to have a last min order. Check my email, after work with the team to finish the preparation for the evening service, check the stock in the fridge, sommelier station, a quick cleaning in the cellar, and ice bucket polished and filled with ice. I check that the staff has their dinner and is back at 6 o'clock for the staff briefing. After I may spend 30 minutes to place one or two delivery orders and tend to outstanding invoices. At 7pm I'm back to my section to welcome the first guests of the evening.
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
I usually try to sense if there is a special occasion and the range that the customer is looking to spend. There is always great wines to be had through the pricing ladder. It is rather the customer needs than the pricing that affects the advice I give to guests.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Yes and this is great as the more knowledgeable they are, the more adventurous they are about their wine choices. They open up to me and they ask more about the grapes and the styles of the wine that they have selected. This makes it a more interesting interaction for both of us.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
I always identify the guest who is nominated to select the wine. As both the wine list and the restaurant menu can be rather overwhelming, I usually let them be for a few minutes. There is nothing worse than having a server or a sommelier hovering over you while you try to get a bearing on what you want to have for dinner. I return to the table once I see the guest have opened the wine list for a few minutes.
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
We taste our wine on a daily basis to make sure it is in a perfect condition for our customers. And the great thing for us is that we are quite a large volume restaurant so on one evening we may open about forty different wines for the guests which allows plenty of opportunity. New vintages are taste at 6 o'clock with the sommelier team to decide whether the new vintage of the wines make it to the list.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
We are working with over forty suppliers so they always come at once or twice a year to introduce us to new wines added to their catalogue. We also get invited to wine tasting events. I personally go to ProWein every year to see what else is out there.
Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
Most consumers think that the more selection there is by the glass, the better it is for them. I believe the inverse is true as more selection by the glass means lower turnover per bottle. Not a great thing considering how easily most wines can be oxidised.
What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
I am always trying to understand what was it about the wine that they did not like. Next thought is I hope that they will like the next one because there is only so much the staff can drink in an evening.
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
In the current economic climate, guests are more concerned about how much value they are getting for their money. They are also more conscious on the alcohol level although I beg to differ whether a half percent will make much of a difference between a happy buzz or a killer hangover.
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Chardonnay & Cabernet Sauvignon only if there are oak barrels readily available.
What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
It is about giving and sharing your passion with them, if you manage to get them there. If they have this passion they can only success the rest is wine tasting and in the book after it is up to them to see how far they want to get inside the wine industry. Push them to do as much wine tasting and encourage them to do competition or get more wine exam certification.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Impossible to have a favourite. A simple one for me will be a 2001 Domaine de Trevallon with grilled lambs with herbes de provence especially with summer just around the corner.
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
They need to tell me what kind of wine they drink at home and/or what was the best wine that they last had. They should be comfortable in describing the wine to me even though they can't remember the name and ask me which wine on the list. And if something on the list takes their fancy, they can always ask me to help describe it to them before making their decision.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
Louis de Funes, the godfather of French comedy who had passed away in 1983. With his charisma, he could have been a great sommelier and sell ice to Eskimos.
How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Get together with some friends with similar interests and each bring a different wine of the same grape. Perhaps even vary the types of wine from time to time. The most fun you will get out of it is by doing the tasting blind and take notes of each wine you are tasting. Use a tasting wheel to guide you if possible.
What's the one thing you love most about your job?
I get paid to taste great wines.
Where do you see your future career path?
I am working to launch my own social website, Wine-Culture.org.uk, for sommeliers and wine lovers alike. I am certainly looking to make an impact on the wine industry by helping consumers out there to understand what they are eating and drinking.