Sommelier of the Month - Sara Bachiorri
- Name: Sara Bachiorri.
- Place of birth: Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
- Eye colour: Brown
- Nationality: Italian
I studied and worked as an accountant for a while, then grew bored of the office job and decided to move to hospitality. I got my Professional Sommelier Diploma in 2007 and worked with AIS (Associazione Italian Sommelier) for about 1 and a half years then decided to push my career forward. Therefore the place to be was London, where I moved in December 2008.
In February 2009 I started working at Maze Restaurant with a wine list of 1200 labels worldwide: exactly what I was looking for. It was a tough but very exciting year, long working hours, lots of wine to taste and learn about and great people to work with, with the added challenge of the language.
After being awarded employee of the month in October 2009, I moved to Maze Grill where the wine list was centred on organic wines, with a strong focus on Languedoc.
I then moved to the Glasshouse as Assistant Head Sommelier where I was promoted to Head Sommelier in April 2012. I look after a 450-odd bins, strong on classics with some interesting and quirky additions. In August 2014 I moved to Chez Bruce.
In the meantime I passed my WSET Advanced with distinction and won the Champagne Academy Award. I keep on studying and learning every day, as you do in the wine world.
About our restaurant
Chez Bruce opened on the same site as what was known as Harveys (where Marco Pierre White made his name). It was redesigned and reopened as Chez Bruce in February 1995. In 1999 it was awarded the highly coveted "Best Modern British" award at the televised Carlton London Restaurant Awards and we also received a Michelin star. It has since won many highly coveted awards including London's Favourite Restaurant in the Harden's Guide for the last nine years running. Bruce received the Catey award for Chef of the Year in 2006.
Our intention at Chez Bruce is to serve the very best food and drink but within a relaxed, informal yet thoroughly professionally orchestrated environment. We aim to produce top-notch modern food which is based loosely on classical and regional French/ Mediterranean cuisine.
We are not particularly into gadgets and tricks in the kitchen and there are doubtless some who view our food as slightly old fashioned in this regard. Home-made charcuterie, slow cooked braises, offal, warm and cold salads, classical desserts and bread-making could be listed as specialities. We also take the cheese board very seriously indeed and it forms an integral part of the restaurant's day-to-day life.
The Directors of the restaurant are fanatical wine-lovers and are very proud of the restaurant's wine list. We have invested in our cellar greatly over the years and this on-going investment enables us to list many great and rare wines during their perfect drinking windows at very reasonable prices. We welcome all guests wherever their trajectory on the wine learning curve.
Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
Being Italian I grew up in a Country where wine is made to be enjoyed with food, so pairing food and wine comes somehow naturally. I was already involved in hospitality to some extent and decided to attend the first level of the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) course to see if I was any good at it. I found out that I enjoyed the lessons, the tasting, and everything that was wine related. After a couple of years I obtained my Professional qualification, took a master in service techniques and was invited to attend the Bonaventura Maschio seminar. I came to London at the end of 2008 to discover more about international wines and found myself in tune with the buzz of the City and the wine scene.
What do you think makes a great sommelier? Passion, dedication, attention to detail and the awareness that the customer satisfaction is more important than one's ego. Describe your typical day at work. The everyday routine includes replying to email, setting up appointments with suppliers, placing orders, making recommendations for private parties, maintaining the wine list, preparing the mise en place for the service. We also organize regular training sessions for the staff.
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners? I always tend to give customers three price level choices, and then we discuss further options according to how the conversation goes.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine? They have indeed. The good thing about it is that they are willing to talk about their preference, they feel more confident on describing the type of wine they like and they are more curious. I really enjoy when customers tell me a story about a winery visit, or show me pictures of a vineyard they went to. It all adds to the vibrancy of the wine market, and it all reflects on better wines being consumed.
Who has been most influential in your career? Probably Romain Henry: he was my first mentor here in London. He used to be assistant Head Sommelier at Maze, where I started, and he took me on a journey of discovery of natural wines (for which he is extremely passionate) and he opened a whole new world for me. He is now owner of a wine bar in Beziers "pas comme les autres" which serves delicious food and, of course, fantastic wines.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table. I believe the list should be self explanatory. If a list is well written every customer will easily find their way through it. The sommelier should be there at any time to discuss, suggest or recommend. Some customers might just want a bottle of their favourite wine or might know exactly what they want to drink that night - I don't think they have to be forced to deal with the Sommelier if they don't want to.
When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you? I consider the flavour of the main component of the dish, then assess how the other elements affect it; the smell of the dish is very important too. I regularly have the Chef and colleagues trying out new food and wine pairings.
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines? As often as possible. Any time I recommend a wine it has to be something I would happily drink myself. Sometimes customers ask me to have a glass or a taste with them, and that's always a good exercise because every bottle has a story of its own.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines. Tasting is the most important thing. I try to attend as many tasting as possible, to go on wine trips, to drink wines I am not familiar with when I go out. If I taste a wine that I think at that moment (or in the future) can bring more pleasure to my customers than one I already got on the list, I will buy it. It can also happen that some areas of the wine list simply need developing. The season is another important element, I think the wine list should be shaped to follow seasonality (more focus on light and fresh wines in summer, more robust, earthy and big wines in winter time). The type of food served at the restaurant is another important element: the chef affects my wine list without even knowing it!
Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please. It is a great opportunity for customers to try something different, something they wouldn't dare ordering a bottle of. And from a Sommelier's perspective that's the way to increase sales and, I believe, earn your customer's trust. It's easy to engage the customers in conversation and give them little taste of what's available by the glass if they are not sure about what they like. Not everyone wants to drink a whole bottle of wine, especially during week days and at lunch time. Wine by the glass allows people to drink as little as they like and also keeps the bill within a small budget without cutting off all the fun.
What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back? If it was my recommendation that means I didn't understand them. If they chose it themselves I always think we could have discussed it and I could have helped them making a better choice. Many people are still scared by Sommeliers; they still think we are there to make them spend more than they want, or are worried we will look down on them. It's such a shame!
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently? There is a growing interest for lesser known wines, people are more curious and less afraid of the unknown. Enomatic machines are a great idea because they allow people to experiment. They increase the fun for the customer and eliminate the waste risk for the shop - it's a win win situation. Also quality is more and more important - even supermarkets seem to slowly move in that direction, sourcing their own label wines more carefully.
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant? The geeky answer would be: it depends on the terroir of the Island..... but figuratively speaking I'd say Riesling and Syrah.
What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine? I believe I need to set a good example for the staff; I try to be always available to answer their questions and get them to taste things to build their own idea. They will eventually upsell the wines they like the most, and I don't see a problem with that. That way the customer will get a genuine opinion when asking for a recommendation.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing? Champagne with cheese is a very interesting combination (Vintage Champagne, rich and structured with aged nutty cheese like ComtE for example). I am always on the lookout for new interesting pairings anyway.
And a most unusual food and wine pairing? The wine world is all about perception, and perception can be a very personal thing. I don't think I've tried any food and wine pairing that I would call unusual.
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask? I would love customers to be forthcoming rather than defensive when they speak to me; the ones that know me have learnt that.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with? My Grandfather on my mother side. Somehow I believe he was the first person to put me in contact with that intriguing substance that is wine he died when I was three but they tell me I use to go with him in the cellar all the time. How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips? Smell everything around you, be curious, taste as many things as possible. That's one of the first things I was taught, and it helps! What we do when tasting wine is sticking the nose in a glass of wine and the wider the range of smells we know the better! I believe that 50% of our perception of wine comes from the smell.
What's the one thing you love most about your job? The smile on people's face when they taste a wine I chose for them. I love it!
Where do you see your future career path? Wherever the wine stream will take me.