Sommelier of the Month - Laura Blanchett
- Name: Laura Blanchett
- Date of birth: 16th March
- Place of birth: New Zealand
"Relocating to the UK from New Zealand in 2007 was followed by a brief stint at the Hoste Arms at Burnham Market, (where the incredible Caroline Symington was in charge of the teams wine education at the time). Summer 2008 was spent travelling before I was fortunate enough to begin working for MW John Hoskins at The Old Bridge Hotel, Cambridgeshire. During the course of my 3.5yr tenure, my passion for wine was truly ignited and I began my studies with the WSET. Following this the city called and I moved to London, becoming a Sommelier at Zuma, Knightsbridge where I was promoted to Assistant Head Sommelier in March 2013. I then transferred as Head Sommelier to the ROKA Mayfair opening team in January 2014 before being appointed ROKA Head Sommelier & Wine Buyer, UK in April 2016."
Roka, Mayfair, London
ROKA followed the enormous success of ZUMA as Rainer Becker recognised the popularity of the dishes from the robata grill. ROKA was co-founded by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney in 2004.
Rainer fashioned Roka Mayfair to be a relaxed yet elegant dining destination. Located on North Audley Street, between Marble Arch and Bond Street, ROKA brings its unique style of contemporary Japanese Robatayaki cuisine and its sophisticated urban design to this exclusive London neighbourhood.
The heart of the restaurant is the robata grill, which is an integral design element of the room and the source of the vibrant, welcoming energy that flows throughout. Roka Group Executive Chef, Hamish Brown, has created an extensive menu that features some of ROKA’s most celebrated signature dishes such as the lamb cutlets with Korean spices; as well as bespoke offerings like the rice hot pot with lobster. To compliment the food from the robata, a selection of expertly prepared sushi and sashimi is available, alongside dishes from the main kitchen.
ROKA Mayfair is open for all day dining. For more information visit the ROKA website: http://rokarestaurant.com
Laura's wine and food pairings
Fukuju Ume Shu - Plum Sake
The delicate sweetness and refreshing acidity make this the perfect ROKA alternative to the more traditional foie gras and Sauternes pairing.
Lustau "Papirusa" Manzanilla Sherry
The saltiness and intense umami of the manzanilla balance perfectly with the sweetness in the protein and hint of spice on the sauce.
Gaia Wines "Wild Ferment" Assyrtiko 2015
Assyrtiko is an interesting native to Greece, producing dry, full bodied whites with astounding minerality - this matches perfectly with elements of it’s provenace - citrus, spice and roasted protein.
How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
Spending my teenage years in Hawkes Bay, NZ, a region surrounded by coast and vineyards I always had a great appreciation for wine and knew that I would eventually pursue a career path which combined, travel, food & wine.
What do you think makes a good sommelier?
Knowledge is a pre-requisite, however a good sommelier must posses a passion for their chosen path and I believe most importantly a natural empathy for their guests, with an ability to create and experience regardless of circumstance.
Describe your typical day at work.
The beauty is that every day is different. Mornings and afternoons may include meetings with suppliers and/ or colleagues, receiving deliveries and preparing the restaurant for service. The magic happens when the restaurant opens and we are on the floor taking care of our guests.
When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Pairing particular dishes becomes a very interesting task in and Asian environment as it is a sharing concept where dishes are served to the table as they are ready, therefore there is often an abundance of flavours on the table at any given time, however we very much enjoy the task and like to develop special pairings.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
We are always on the lookout for new and exciting products, so taste at trade fairs and also with our suppliers. When replacing a product or making a new addition my team and I sit down together to discuss & taste, then take it from there.
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
There appears to be a shift back to more traditional grape varieties and styles at the moment with many consumers slightly less willing to pursue the unknown.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Tuna tartar and fino sherry.
What is the most unusual food and wine you know?
Not wine, the most surprising combination I have tasted recently was Dassai “23” Junmai Daiginjo Sake with Tangy Cheese Doritos & Blue Cheese.
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
I like to discover the guests preferred beverage of choice to gain a greater understanding of their palate, so that I can suggest & provide alternatives accordingly.
How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Taste in good company and have open discussion about what you prefer/ dislike and why that is the case. Keep a record of bottles you have tried - there are some very good applications to track this these days.
Where do you see your future career path?
Continuing to develop with amazing wine, sake & food.
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
I would plant a white & a red - Viognier for its diverse range of style and Sangiovese, as I have a soft spot for Italian varietals.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
My 90 year old Great Aunt, who motorcycled solo across Europe in the 1950’s.