Sommelier of the Month - Richard Masterson
- Name: Richard Masterson
- Date of birth: 31st March 1981.
- Place of birth: Belfast.
- Eye colour: Green
- Nationality: British
Having learned the bar trade working in a variety of Glasgow's watering holes, Richard joined the Ubiquitous Chip in 2004 whilst studying for a degree in microbiology and quickly caught the wine bug. Appointed head sommelier in 2011, he leads a team in trying to compile a wine list which is the most innovative and diverse in Scotland, presented in an informal but knowledgeable way. Richard works with over 50 suppliers and regularly travels around the UK to attend tastings.
He judged at this year's Sommelier Wine Awards, and has just returned from a tasting trip to the South of France where he blended two new house wines for the Chip. The team's work has led to a commendation from the AA, and this year they have made it to the finals for both the Harpers wine award and Scottish Licensed Trade News wine award.
About our restaurant
The Ubiquitous Chip is a Glasgow institution housed in an expansive Victorian warehouse in the bohemian West end. Serving the finest food in the city for over 40 years, The Chip has always made full use of the best ingredients Scotland has to offer.
The more formal Restaurant boasts a spectacularly green and vinous courtyard, with a trickling pool and a more traditional dining room. Whereas upstairs at the Chip is our Brasserie which offers more relaxed dining.
When the Chip opened in '71, people thought the notions of seasonal, local and Scottish produce insane. Forty years on they are the national norm. Although the style of cooking has evolved as the business was passed down through the family, the food has remained unchanged. Dishes such as 'Duck egg and buttermilk custard, maltaise sauce and asparagus brioche' or 'Torchon of foie gras, pain d'epice, Gewurztraminer jelly and apple' sit perfectly with the delicious eponymous Venison Haggis made in house to our own original recipe. We have always thought it vital to state the provenance of our food and treat it in a simple, wholesome and imaginative way but never losing sight of the tradition.
Throughout the seasons, the menu delves deep into all ingredients fresh, local and delicious. High altitude, urban foraging is at its best in the Chip, with a herb and edible flower garden on the roof! The Chip however is not just about the food, secreted away in various corners of the building are some of the best bars in town. The upstairs pub has always been a place for good conversation, good drink and conviviality. The wine lists have been winning awards for years. With over 350 bins from old world classics to new world quality and quirk, and our whisky list is equally impressive.
After nearly half a century, the 'Good Food Guide' has yet again voted The Chip as Scottish restaurant of the year. We offer Scotland's Cornucopia in a relaxed ambience with informed staff!
From its inception, the Chip has been known for having a great wine list, and in four decades this has changed in style as much as the wine world. Adding to a solid base in classic regions, the list has grown to encompass emerging regions within the old world, re-emerging countries and places where wine production is in its infancy.
With visitors from across the world, Richard has tried to make the list as global as possible, and on his mission has sourced quality wines from Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Armenia, Croatia, Canada, India and Mexico.
This eclectic mix of wines are matched by the sommelier team to dishes such as 'Monkfish and smoked pork belly, parsley quinoa, peanut milk, pork crackling' in the main restaurant, or 'Pan fried hake, borlotti beans, spinach puree, pickled and crispy dulse, anchovy sand' in the more informal brasserie.
Some of Richard's current favourites are Domaine Patrick Vauvy Touraine Malbec 2011 - "This is not what people expect from malbec, violets on the nose lead to a burst of red fruit with a barky wood note on the finish and fresh acidity", Amayna sauvignon blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile, 2008 - "Great concentration of tropicality and body from well-integrated oak combined with the freshness of sauvignon. Fantastic complexity for the money", and Mitolo, Serpico, Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, 2009 - "Amarone-style production produces a monumentally powerful Cabernet which still manages balance and finesse. Will stand up to any cheese!"
Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
Like a lot of people, I distinctly remember my first wine 'moment'. I was in the first class of my WSET Intermediate course and the second wine we tasted was an Alsatian Gewurtztraminer. It blew me away! Until that point I hadn't appreciated the vast array of different flavours which could be conveyed through a glass of wine. I'd always assumed that Jilly Goolden was insane. From that point on, I went to every tasting and wine event I could, and when I started my diploma I became a sommelier in the restaurant at the Chip.
What do you think makes a great sommelier?
You just have to be fanatical about all wine. If you have an appreciation for wine from any country, at any price point, this will shine through when you're engaging with any customer. Honesty, insight and knowledge are important, but enthusiasm is king.
Describe your typical day at work.
No two days are the same but obviously we have to do the basics every day to get set up. I'm a duty manager, so in a building with two restaurants and three pubs there's plenty to keep me busy!
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
You have to do some detective work without making too many assumptions, so you let the customer guide you towards what they like and what they normally drink. If you're not down to the nitty gritty pretty soon, I would normally offer a range of different selections based on a particular style or food match, but at a rising price/quality scale. You find a common ground pretty soon.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Of course, we all have! It wasn't that long ago that Europe was the wine world, whether you were studying to be a Master of Wine or buying it in the supermarket. With the plethora of wines now available, everyone has had to do a little more work!
Who has been most influential in your career?
Willie Robertson, our now retired former head sommelier, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine. He has probably forgotten more than I will ever know! He also has an amazing flamboyancy in the way he talks about wine, or anything for that matter.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
The list is only a point of reference for pricing etc., most of the conversation should be done before the list is even picked up. If you're flicking through a wine list you're not concentrating on listening.
When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
Quite often, I make a point of arranging my days off so I can go to every trade tasting possible, it's really good to catch up with the suppliers and taste current wines and new vintages. We also open bottles quite regularly at sommelier tasting sessions in work, and our wine flights change monthly so that's a good opportunity to familiarise ourselves with list wines.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
It's nice to stumble across new wines at tastings which take you by surprise, but generally you go with a plan in mind for what you're looking for. Sometimes gaps appear in your list, and other times you want to expand. I go to all the tastings in Scotland and also go down for LIWF, SITT and the Emerging Regions tastings, as well as occasionally going to France or Spain ourselves. When we see something interesting on a trade list, we'll quite often ask for a sample, and some of our smaller suppliers go away looking for things we're interested in. We'll usually taste as a panel to get a consensus, and at our monthly wine club we always present at least a couple of new wines to see what the public think.
Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
It's good for the customer and us to have as many wines by the glass as possible, and we have over 40 in the building. As well as house wines, we have interesting and exotic wines on our flights in the restaurant which are available by the glass, and offer the opportunity to try something interesting like Eastern European wines, or more lavish wines like decent Bordeaux or grand reserve Rioja which you might not find on a house list, without committing to a bottle.
What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
It shouldn't happen, and very rarely does. If you've interacted with the customer and set the scene for what they should expect then they shouldn't be surprised or disappointed, and it happens so rarely that I'm happy to exchange a wine. The wine is only one aspect of their visit, falling out with people is a worthless cause!
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
The rebirth of Eastern Europe in the production of quality wine, men drinking rose, Chile becoming bloody expensive.
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Chardonnay and Merlot. Anyone can grow them, right?
What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
Make sure they are as passionate about wine as you are so that selling wine is never a chore. Involve them in the compilation of the wine list, get them tasting and discussing, and involve them in your wine events.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Last week at our wine club we served the Vauvy Malbec (above) with a canape of 'Galloway venison carpaccio with roasted beetroot dressing and beetroot crisp'. They worked so well together that my colleague Craig and I just nodded at each other and smiled.
And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
I was surprised to see how much red wine is drunk with fish in the Rhone Valley, something not too heavy in style like a Rasteau works very well with herbed fish.
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
Customers who are enthusiastic about wine are the ones who get the best from you, if they are willing to go outside their comfort zone and experiment then you'll quite often let them compare tasters and spend more time telling stories. They should ask what wines we're excited about in the restaurant, and obviously they should tell me anything I ask! It's for their own good.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
Willie Robertson. I know for a fact it would never just be one bottle.
How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
It's important to compare wines as well as taste them, so try similar wines (e.g. same grape but different region, or different vintage or aging length) beside eachother so you can figure out what exactly makes them different and why.
What's the one thing you love most about your job?
Seeing the looks on their wee faces. It really is a joy when people are open to new suggestions and try something they haven't before. And like it!
Where do you see your future career path?
I love travelling, meeting new people and tasting wine, so my ideal job would be as a buyer for a wine merchant.