Sommelier of the Month - Sarah Riddle

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Sarah Riddle
  • Date of birth: 9th January
  • Place of birth: Greenwich, London.
  • Eye colour: Blue/grey
  • Nationality: British

My love of hospitality came from my parents at a young age; my father was a Chef and I spent a lot of time in his kitchens at the Reform Club. At the age of 17, I was working as a pastry commis at Patterson's Mill St. This gave me a huge insight into the world of Chefs and encouraged me to further my knowledge within the kitchen, where I moved onto the RAC club where I worked with great people and learnt some great life and cooking skills.

After this adventure I went to Racine and here is where it came to me. I had Henry Harris teach me the skills of Provence cookery. His restaurant was my favourite in London for its authentic and unpretentious approach. There was a man called Sylvan and he used to come to the kitchen to talk about wine, open bottles and taste along with the food, sometimes during prep time and I would listen. I had never really analysed wine; I didn't know that it was popular or that it really mattered. How could wine make people happy? I was so concerned with learning about people and how watching them interact with food, I hadn't thought about drinks.

I came to sketch through a conversation with Gus Gluck (Vinoteca) during Somms Vs Bar tenders and he said Sarah you have a passion for wine; do it, go for it, don't waste your passion and talent. So I did, sketch was the birthplace of using my skills, my passion, my knowledge and being able to learn more through Fred Brugues (Wine Director) and Thomas Roger (Head Sommelier). Then, to my delight, in 2014 I won the Imbibe Bartenders vs Sommeliers Competition.

About our restaurant

For me, sketch is an iconic venue which has been ever-evolving over 13 years through clusters of new artists, exhibitions and creative menus from the Lecture Room and Library through to the Gallery restaurant. Master Chef Mr Pierre Gagnaire, is the mastermind behind the menus at sketch. His ability to see the soul of ingredients brings them to life and make people happy is fun and inventive. His menus highlight so many flavours that using our huge wine list is an absolute joy.

I work with my team in the Gallery and have done for nearly a year now. I see myself as an enthusiast, self-taught, ever learning, discovering and wanting to share that with our guests. I see perhaps 250-600 people every day depending if I work both the Afternoon Tea and Dinner shifts. I think it is an exciting thing that my team and I, with the support of our Head sommelier Thomas Roger and wine buyer, and Executive Sommelier Fred Brugues are allowed to share the creativity of the wine list and our knowledge and have these wines unleash their beauty. I love to do blind tastings with guests and they enjoy the interaction. I love that our guests let me aid them in choosing their wine for them and that I can introduce them to some interesting wines +such as new world wines and bond over this. To me, this is simply wonderful.

Sarah's wine and food pairings at the Sketch restaurant

Broccoli soup
A chilled broccoli veloute with a Chantilly goat's cheese centre is a perfect dish for allowing flavour to speak for itself. The wine to keep in tune with this harmony for me, would be a 2010 Kerner from Astley vineyards UK. An off dry 100% Kerner that when hits the sweetness of the broccoli is in tandem, and the round sharpness from the goats cheese just links in at the end and the match is beautiful.

This wonderful layered open ravioli with morels and a little supreme sauce to marry the flavours together is my favourite dish for a middle course. It's not as heavy as it sounds; it's delicate and precisely cooked with beautiful flavours. Earthy notes and creaminess with a savoury taste is what I need to highlight, so a grape-like pinot noir but not pinot would work well with this dish. A wine from Anjou has meaty, earthy and slightly smoky flavours so Gamay or Grolleau or even a blend would match beautifully. Personally I like Clau de Nell by Anne Laflaive. Its sumptuous robust meaty availability drives me wild and to enjoy the two are a great match. There are softer approaches but I love the precision and it's not a wine you would immediately think of.

Dover Sole Meunier
What a classic course, and what a beautiful fish Dover Sole makes. They have a delicate and silky textured flesh and when cooked and served with butter, it's heavenly! I wouldn't want to tone down that luscious nutty butter so, although I do love where Adelaide hills is going with their toned down Chardonnays, still I think Coche Dury and his 2008 Aligote is both intresting and fresh and the flinty minerality on this number is incredible!

Sketch Chocolate
If you opt for a dessert at sketch, you will be anything but disappointed. The Tuille that you tap and it fractures into small pieces allowing you to fold this into the delicious rich chocolate is divine. Rather than choosing the traditional tawny's or the Coteaux du layons I would opt for a refined aged Armagnac; silky but not hidden vanilla structure that aids the creaminess of the dessert but the alcohol allows the bitter chocolate to be amplified.

Sarah's Q&A

How did I become a sommelier?
Well it was curiosity at first and excitement that opened my eyes and how people tried to describe what they were tasting in their glass. How did people blind taste? So I sought answers to my questions and they led me to tastings. I went to everything I could. I was nervous, inexperienced but I asked lots of questions, annoyed some winemakers I am sure. I went to the Languedoc with Harpers wine and met over 400 winemakers; things were crazy and confusing and after my 3 day tour round the Languedoc I felt fuelled with these new discoveries. So, I began talking and using my knowledge with our customers at the The botanist, One Canada Square and now at sketch.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
First you have to have passion; you cannot do anything without this. Patience, because what you know is in your head and you have to ask what the guest is looking for. You have to convey your jargon into a sentence that a guest will understand and it is important to have a few wines to enlighten them. You have to be quick but not rushed, and you have to be genuinely curious of what the guest is expecting. After all they haven't tasted the wine list you have, so have patience. I urge people to taste, smell everything from the unpleasant to the delightful.

Describe your typical day at work.
I go to the cellar to check that the wines are in good condition and I check the glassware. I do my mis en place and I'm constantly thinking of what questions I will get asked and the wines that would answer them.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Knowing the Pierre Gagnaire style, it's always enlightening for me to pair wines. I think about the textures of the dish, the initial flavours and what the guest will want. I have to think what flavour and texture profile the wines have so I can liaise but not overbear the flavour of the dish.

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
I source wines based on our most popular wines at sketch. I study what wines guests prefer and look for alternative options to further our wine list. I love introducing wines from other countries that are exciting, such as Washington Rieslings and Tokaji Canbernet francs.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
Supermarkets have really supported Picpoul, so a lot of guests ask for this. Prosecco is constantly requested, guests love Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc as well. Chardonnay is never as popular with our guests, but Chablis is often requested. I understand the reasons for the above and it is my job to keep entertaining guests with new grapes, appellations, hidden gems and keep the cycle of available wines turning. The wines noted above will sell themselves thanks to marketing, my job is to be the Ambassador of our list and help people feel comfortable and not be embarrassed to share why they like or dislike such wines.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
What I like today is not what I like tomorrow and I haven't tried all the grapes, wines and styles which makes this so very difficult to answer. I love the reds from Jura, they excite me so I would have to take a red wine from there such as Lucien Aviet et Fils - Caveau de Bacchus. Whites, I would take Clos Ste Hune Riesling, Alsace - the older the better. I would drink these whilst planting Riesling and Trousseau or Gamay.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
I don't have favourites, but there are pairings that just work. Keeping traditions is just as important to me as making new waves. I love rich whites with Dover sole and Samur Chenin, or Savinerre Chenin Blanc with river fish or fish soups.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
I tried asparagus with a very tame Oz Sauvignon blanc from Tempus, which was especially good but I love Semillon from Vat 1 Tyrells wines with asparagus which some don't think about.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
Be honest with what you like, and trust me to find what you want. Be it the grape you called for, or something different. I really care about making my guests happy, and providing them with a great experience. Ask me anything, with 1600+ wines in my cellar, you would hope there is a wine for every mood, celebration and style!

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
I would like to be in Burgundy during the war, talking with the monks and asking them what they were thinking, how were they analysing the soils without the technology we have today. How did they succeed in doing what they did, so that to this day people strive to buy these wines which have such credited status.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Book tastings, go taste, and ask questions. Play blind tastings, try the unusual, go to different countries, and speak with the winemakers. All this is practise that is beneficial to becoming a sommelier.

Where do you see your future career path?
I didn't know that this was going to happen so I can't say what the future holds. I would love to make wine, and I would love to teach people about wine and food. I am so happy at the moment where I am, being in the middle of the wine list and the consumer having an influence on what is chosen is amazing. I would love to write about wine in articles as well.

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