Sommelier of the Month - Debbie Smith

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Debbie Smith
  • Place of birth: Edinburgh.
  • Eye colour: Blue/green.
  • Nationality: Scottish

Having quickly decided a paper round didn't suit her Debbie started working in a local restaurant aged 14. Eager to progress with genuine enjoyment she took on the position of events manager at a local catering company whilst studying at University before going on to Assistant Restaurant Manager at The Three Chimneys, Skye winning Front of House team of the year in 2012 before relocating to Chewton Glen the 5* Country House Hotel in Hampshire where she gained further experience as a Sommelier before taking on the role of Deputy Restaurant Manager. Having put together the largest English and Welsh Wine List in the UK Chewton Glen was awarded a Conde Nast Johansens Award of Excellence in 2014. Scotland beckoned her back with the opportunity to open Cromlix House with Andy Murray, ICMI and of course Albert Roux, she being responsible for all beverage operations, and winning Rising Star of Wines and Spirits for Scotland within one month of opening. However the allure of 21212 where they genuinely like her purple hair was enough to tempt her back to Edinburgh. Currently competing in Imbibe Bartenders V Sommeliers.

About our restaurant

21212 opened in Edinburgh in May 2009 and was awarded a Michelin Star in 2010. It is set in a listed Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh's Royal Terrace and owned by Katie O'Brian and partner and Chef Paul Kitching. Set over four floors as well as the 38 seat restaurant with open kitchen, there's a drawing room, two private dining areas and four luxury bedrooms. Chef has stayed true to his contemporary French cooking style but has added a unique approach to his menu combinations. Though the menu never has more than three choices for any course, variety is achieved by having a new menu each week and the food offering is very eclectic. Within the restaurant my role is to look after the entire beverage operation. Responsible for all purchasing, maintaining lists and working the floor. Overseeing the running of the bar and educating and training staff on wine and drinks service.

Debbie's wine and food pairings at the 21212 restaurant

10 C.C. (Cornfed Chicken, Chickpeas, Cashews, Carrots,Chives, Courgettes, Cumberland & Chips, Curry and Cherry Tomato.)
Pinot Blanc 'Barriques' 2011 Domaine Ostertag, Aged in wood, this is an unusual style of Pinot Blanc for Alsace. The toast flavours are subtle, leaving plenty of room for fresh fruits, light acidity and creamy texture which compliments the delicacy of the chicken. Although there are many ingredients this dish requires a subtle wine to compliment. By being barrique aged the acidity is lended a sympathetic degree of rounding.

Beef Fillet Pie (Lid, Parsley, Pinenuts, Pumpkins, Pimentos, Exotic Legume Blanc, H.P. sauce)
Psi 2010 Peter Sisseck, 100% Tempranillo, this is a bit of a personal favourite. The palate is expansive, generous with abundant fruit, richly textured and bursting with personality. Energetic and lithe, driven and focused throughout, with a freshness and purity borne of natural acidity which not only works with the slow cooked fillet but also compliments the sweet earthy pumpkin and spicy HP sauce.

Cheese (Selection of 10-15 European Cheeses)
Cotes de Jura 'Fleur de Marne La Bardette' 2010 Domaine Labet. A truly wonderful wine which is a delight with Chefs extensive selection of European cheeses. 100% Chardonnay, which having undergone oxydative aging takes on a beautiful rich nutty character. Particularly compliments the harder, nuttier cheeses like Comte and Manchego but also the spicier blue cheeses.

Lemon Tart 23rd
Tenzan Yuzushu NV, Japan, A Sake liqueur which is packed full of citrusy punch but finishes dry and fresh on the end palate. Compliments the flavour profile of the lemon tart whilst contrasting and balancing with the sweetness. Most people like it, one or two, including my boss hate it!

Debbie's Q&A

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
For me it is all about being down to earth and approachable. I still think that a lot of people perceive the Sommelier to be a pretentious presence in the restaurant with the sole aim of making you part with more cash than you want to. I really don't mind what I sell my guests as long as they enjoy it. Of course I love serving first growths, nice Burgundy and other prestigious wines that carry a certain price tag, but every wine on the list is there for a reason. The minute I don't want to serve that £30 Pinot Grigio, it gets removed from the list and replaced with something I do want to sell. A good sommelier needs the ability to make a judgement call about how much interaction a guest wants, after all it is their night out not ours.

Describe your typical day at work.
I'm not really sure that there is such a thing as a typical day as hospitality is very good at throwing the unexpected at you! Generally speaking I will start at 10am or 12noon and take two or three hours off in the afternoon before starting again for evening service at 6pm. On the days I start at 10am I will use the couple of hours prior to service to put away deliveries, meet with suppliers and discuss requirements and training needs with all restaurant staff, as well as assisting with set up and mice en place if needed. Apart from table clothes, I don't do table clothes! On the days I start at 12 its straight into service. During service I offer advice to anyone who desires it, pop in and out of the bar to make the odd cocktail and generally do what I need to, to ensure all of our guests are looked after.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Chef changes at least one or two dishes on the menu every week. This is always done on a Friday, prior to that he will draw superb pictures for us and outline the ingredients and processes which will be used. This gives me at least 24 hours to think about what wines might work. All the staff then have the opportunity to taste the dish on a Friday afternoon, and that is my opportunity to test my pairings. More often than not I end up starting from scratch again but by knowing why one wine doesn't work it helps me to focus my senses and make alternative selections. On other occasions I taste a dish and just know exactly which wine will be the ideal complement.

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
Occasionally a gap becomes apparent on the list, whether because several guests have asked for a wine I do not list or more commonly because a listing becomes unavailable in which case I am looking for a specific product and I would tend to approach one of my core suppliers to offer suggestions. However the list is never static so I am always seeking new wines, whether to replace current wines or simple to add to the list. My suppliers are brilliant at giving me the opportunity to meet and taste with producers, offering a greater insight into the background of the wine, and is often done in a more convivial and relaxed setting. I will also request samples to ensure the wine works with Chef's menu.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
Increased production of Nebbiolo in countries out with Italy, particularly but not limited to Australia. More prevalence of barrel aged whites from Sauvignon and Pinot Blanc through to Riesling and Albarino. Within the restaurant a growing willingness and desire among guests to try lesser known grape varietals and wines from more obscure locations.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
It would really depend on climatic influences, but assuming my dessert island could accommodate them sufficiently, Riesling and Zweigelt.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Soup and Sherry! I love sherry and think it is so under-rated. At 21212 I partner what is essentially a sparkling sherry (Xarel-lo topped up with amontillado then secondary fermentation in bottle) with our Mediterranean style soup. At The Chimneys it was Olorosso with Rabbit Bree (Scottish broth!) or Fino with Lobster bisque. Sherry has a depth and concentration you struggle to find in any other wine.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
White chocolate fondue with a cabernet roasted leg of venison and a few bottles of Chateau Beaumont. The chocolate fondue had been on the go all afternoon when some friends popped round, after a few beers the leg of venison that had been in the oven for dinner was ready, however no veg or tatties had been prepared so it was dipped in chocolate and enjoyed with the 95 vintage of Beaumont. Tasted amazing, although maybe down to the company and intoxication so I will remember the memories rather than re-visit them.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
I think I should probably be the one asking questions, after all they are on a night off/evening out and shouldn't have to put in a lot of effort. Although it is always nice when guests ask you what you would drink with a particular dish. I tend to ask about styles which they normally enjoy and those which they don't like, then recommend something that they may not have tried within those parameters.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
There are lots but if I could only select one it would have to be my father, he shares, and has indeed influenced my love of wine, and career.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
To taste as much as possible and to buy out with your comfort zone, not in terms of price, just style. Smell and taste everything possible. Have a party and get everyone to bring a bottle allowing for comparison and contrast. Attend as many consumer tastings (or trade) as possible as this allows exposure to a much greater selection of wines and expertise. Developing my own palate I found and still find horizontal and vertical tastings to be both fascinating and valuable.

Where do you see your future career path?
I wish I knew that! For the time being I am very happy doing what I do so would hope to continue that for some time to come. I certainly see my long term future working within the wine community.

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