How did you become interested in wine?
At catering college in Metz, France, where I studied hospitality, there was a course on the curriculum on oenology. Thanks to one particular teacher who was passionate about wine and told us fascinating stories about French vineyards, I became very interested in wine, and three years later decided to become a sommelier. During my final study year, I was fortunate to have a training period at the Hotel du Vin in Winchester, where I returned after I sat my exams to the position of commis sommelier. That’s when my career in wine really got going.
Tell us about the wine list at The Vineyard
We are fortunate to have one of the largest lists in the country - with 3,000 different references - and about 50 available by the glass. Sir Peter Michael, owner of the hotel, also has the Peter Michael Winery in California, so we have a focus on some great Californian wines, as well as a broad international selection from the biggest houses. Recently, I have been focussing on dynamic, up-and-coming wineries that are showing smaller batches of really great wines.
While working, have you had any unfortunate wine-related incidents during service?
No disasters, thankfully, although I did once pour a whole bottle of water by accident down the back of a gentlemen guest, which was very embarrassing. And very early in my career, serving wine at a banquet, my corkscrew suddenly broke when it was in the cork and we had to use pliers to remove it. We laughed then but it was a bit embarrassing.
Which restaurants have particularly good wine lists at the moment?
There are a few that have impressed me lately with their lists - Summer Lodge (in Dorset), 67 Pall Mall (the private members club in St James’s, London), and Blandford Comptoir (in London)
Who do you most respect in the wine world?
Gerard and Nina Basset have done so much to encourage and mentor young sommeliers over the years, and I am grateful to them for their contribution to wine service in the UK in general. Previously I have also worked with some very impressive sommeliers, who have truly helped me in my career progression - including Yohann Jousselin MS, Eric Zwiebel MS, and Dimitri Mesnard MS. Their support and advice have been invaluable over the years.
What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across?
I am regularly being introduced to new and interesting wines - but recently I really enjoyed a UK white still Pinot Meunier from Simpsons Wine Estate, which I have just added to our list.
What are your thoughts about wine tasting notes?
I try to keep my tasting notes and explanations with restaurant guests to the minimum - some sommeliers can go into too much detail, when the customer just wants to know a bit and then enjoy the wine. If a guest asks questions, I am always very, very happy to explain the background of a wine and to make recommendations and describe those choices and why I suggest them. My motto is always to read the table and figure out what the guests wants.
Are there any particular wines on your list at the moment that you think are especially good value?
There is a small producer, François Maujard, who started his estate in 2016 near where I am from - he learned his trade in Burgundy with some iconic names, including Thibault Liger-Blair. He is making excellent wine from some great vines but in a Burgundian way, working with single vineyards. We have his Domaine Maujard-Weinsbert, Pinot Noir, Lacey 2016 on the list at £50 - and it has amazing Pinot Noir characteristics as well as great regional identity.
What is your current favourite food and drink match on The Vineyard menu?
Executive Chef Tom Scade and I really enjoy examining new dishes and determining what wines work best with them. I do recall a couple of years ago when a Spanish winemaker visited the restaurant and asked me to suggest some wine pairings, including for a starter of celeriac velouté with truffle oil. I recommended a Palo Cortado Sherry from Sanchez Romate, which, even though he was Spanish, had never considered the match, but declared it to be excellent. I like introducing new options to guests, when they are open-minded to try different wines.
Do you have a preference - New World or Old World?
Depends on the day - I love examples of both. It’s an unfair question for a sommelier with such a big wine list!
What’s your latest wine discovery - new region, variety or style?
Not so much of a discovery but more of a new indepth look; South Africa is making some incredible wines. Great value for money and we see more and more small estates being brought to the UK.
Is there anything about wine service in other restaurants that you don’t like?
Inattentive service - when a wine glass is empty. And on the other end of the scale, I hate endless topping up of wine, and the same for water. The service should be properly paced. And a sommelier should constantly keep an eye on the guest and the table.
Do you have a favourite producer at the moment?
In California, the Melville Estate in Sta Rita Hills (owned by Chad Melville) produce elegant wines with great freshness. It is an up-and-coming region, and there are numerous young and dynamic winemakers and estates that make amazing wines, mostly with no oak involved, and no malolactic fermentation for their Chardonnays either, which gives a tense acidity and mouth-watering texture. One of my favourite wines is their Inox Chardonnay Clone 76, which is unoaked and has a bright, almost salty texture, with a dried pineapple aroma - so Californian!
What question do you most get asked by customers?
“Do you really enjoy drinking wine?”
What wine are you drinking personally at the moment?
I drink mainly white wine. I really like dry Rieslings, Grüner Veltliner and dry Tokaji, especially when aged. If I go for a red wine, I tend to like them to be quite full-bodied, like Priorat or Rhône Valley Syrah.
Where is the most memorable meal that you have had?
In the Michelin three-starred restaurant L’Arnsbourg in Baerenthal, Moselle, where I worked before coming to the UK.
Which wine producing region/country do you think is currently underrated?
England, for sure - especially for still wines. They are drinking very, very well.
What would you choose to drink with your last meal?
Something quite special - such as a double magnum of Les Pavots 1988 - to go out in style.