Sommelier of the Month - Alexandru Pastrav

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Alexandru Pastrav
  • Date of birth: 13th April
  • Place of birth: Bucharest
  • Eye colour: Brown
  • Height: 180cm
  • Nationality: Romanian

"I was born in Bucharest, Romania. I grew up with wines, as my grandfather used to have a small vineyard, producing wines from Romanian indigenous grapes.

I started working in restaurants from the age of 18 and was exposed to wines on a daily basis, leading me to fall in love with the amazing world of wines. Travelling to vineyards and helping with harvest and wine making process and talking with winemakers and oenologists was the best thing ever.

I have worked in several top restaurants in Bucharest as a Sommelier and entered the Sommelier National Contest in 2003, finishing in 2nd place. Moving to the UK was a very good decision for me as I was exposed to wines from all over the world and gained experience working in some of the finest restaurants in the country. I have also studied the all three WSET levels, graduating with my diploma in 2015. The next step I would like to take is to enrol in the Master of Wine course."

Sky Garden, Fenchurch

"I am currently working at Sky Garden as their Head Sommelier within the restaurants and bars. I started here in June 2016 and it is such an exciting place to work, not only because it is an iconic London building but also for the fact that I am surrounded by my amazingly talented colleagues with similar passions for food and wine. I spend most of my time in the Fenchurch Restaurant which opened its doors in January 2015 and soon established itself as a gastronomic destination for its exceptional food, service, atmosphere and exquisite views over London. It is a sophisticated restaurant serving contemporary British dishes, beautifully presented. We currently have 84 covers, normally operating 2 sittings over a service, making it a very exclusive and intimate setting.

My role as a Head Sommelier is to oversee the whole wine service at Sky Garden, with the focus on Fenchurch Restaurant. Here at Sky Garden we recently introduced a section to our wine list for organic and biodynamic wines as well as a wine flight with our delicious tasting menu. This is one of the wine trades' trends for 2016 and we have seen a growing interest from our guests in natural wines. Our customers have always been curious about the provenance of the food but now that interest is spreading to learning about wine. The natural wines, which have been crafted by artisan vineyards, are fine, low-intervention living drinks with nothing added making them unique in flavours, aromas as well as offering characteristics that enhance and complement most of the dishes on our menus. We have also found that younger drinkers are more positive and receptive towards natural wines."

Alexandru's wine and food pairings

Chopped mackerel and pickled cockles, sea herbs with oyster cream
Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, Paulinshof, Mosel, Germany, 2014
A great pairing with the mackerel's richness and the creaminess of the oyster. The high acidity of the wine and residual sugar complement the whole dish.
Rabbit bolognaise, spatzle and harissa
Escudo Rojo Blend, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Maipo, Chile, 2012
This dish requires backbone and weight which Escudo Rojo provides with its palate cleaning tannins and soft spice notes.
Dover sole, scallop and shrimp mousse, capers, samphire with mussel cream
The FMC, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, SA, 2013
The long finish of this wine complements the different textures of the dish. The saltiness of the samphire and the ripe fruit of The FMC goes well with the delicate texture of the Dover Sole.
Asparagus, hollandaise and pink grapefruit
Naturalys Chardonnay, Gerard Bertrand, 2015 ((biodynamic))
The result is a fresh, pure Chardonnay with peach, blossom and mineral aromas along with a zesty palate with broad flavours, typical of fine Chardonnay. This goes perfectly with the fresh flavours of asparagus and grapefruit.
Barbecued banana with chocolate, toffee and vanilla ice cream
Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance, Constantia, SA, 2008
A fantastic pairing due the richness of the wine marrying impeccably with the chocolate, toffee and vanilla flavours.

Alexandru's Q&A

How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?

I grew up with wines, as my grandfather used to have a small vineyard and produced wines from Romanian indigenous grapes. I also started working in restaurants from the age of 18, which is where my love of wine with food began. I have been exposed to wines for most of my life and still love the amazing world of wines today.

What do you think makes a good sommelier? A good sommelier understands the biology, chemistry, economics, sociology, ecology, history, cuisine and aesthetics of wine.

Describe your typical day at work.

I usually start my day at 9am checking the previous day's sales, my emails and my deliveries.

After this I set up for lunch and do a small tasting with my team where I will present a few wines in the briefing. Lunch service finishes about 3.30pm and once guests have left the restaurant I hold a daily 1hour training session with my sommelier team. During this we taste blind and analyse a few hand-picked wines - it's a great way to develop their tasting skills. Afternoons are filled meeting wine suppliers, winemakers and people in the trade to discuss future opportunities, trends and new upcoming wines. I then stock up the wine fridges for the dinner service which is followed by a tram briefing where we showcase 2 or 3 wines by the glass or the bottle. Through dinner service, I spend time advising and guiding guests in wine selection. I finish my day normally around 11.30pm and head home before doing it all over again in the morning!

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?

I always put the dish first - it's a complex process where you taste and dissect the dish. I look for its main ingredients, flavours and aromas and from there narrow down the best wines to complement the dish.

I meet with Zac Whittle, our Head Chef, once a month before changing the tasting menu and wine flight. We taste the dishes as well as sample a few wines blind with the dish before selecting the best match. This allows taste to lead the decision rather than other factors. From there the winner gets listed on the menu!

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.

I am constantly on the lookout for new wines and am particularly keen to showcase more unknown grapes, obscure regions, small producers and more organic and biodynamic wines.

I try to go to most of the wine tastings organised by wine suppliers and attend wine shows through the year to discover new wines. I make notes and I review them straight away to make an informed decision about sourcing these wines for Sky Garden. With winemaker and producer contacts in the industry, old and new, I keep in touch and meet regularly so I am on the pulse of new wines launching and can taste new upcoming wines.

Once I receive samples, I taste them with my sommelier team and Chef at the restaurant. We then discuss as a team which wines we taking on board.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?

Rise of Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Wines with a story. Organic and Biodynamic wines. South Africa wines. Coravin. English Sparkling wines.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?

Dover sole, scallop and shrimp mousse, capers, samphire with mussel cream

The FMC, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, SA, 2013

The long finish of the wine seamlessly complements the interesting textures of the dish. The saltiness of the samphire and fantastic ripe fruit of The FMC goes perfectly with the delicate texture of the Dover Sole.

What is the most unusual food and wine you know?

It's a tough call! It would be between bacon and eggs with Red Bordeaux or Oysters with Beaujolais.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?

It's a case of understanding and taking advantage of the sommelier role. We are here to suggest wines, to enhance the guest experience with our expertise and work out the best wine matching for the dishes chosen. We have several wines available by the glass and Coravin so we are happy for guests to ask for samples in order to select the perfect wine.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?

I recommend the Nez du Vin wine aroma kits, they are fantastic for budding wine enthusiasts and a great way to train your nose and recognize the aromas.

There are also some great wine games on Amazon - drinking board games that are excellent fun but also a great way to learn.

And lastly I would say taste wine every day and always take notes - buy a wine journal and write down your thoughts.

Where do you see your future career path?

I would like to continue building my career at Sky Garden and developing our team. We have a very young team on board and as we grow as a group it will create fantastic opportunities for all of us.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?

Riesling and Pinot Noir.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?

My wife!

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