Uncorked: James Shaw

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image copyright: Food Story Media
Image copyright: Food Story Media

Related tags: James Shaw, Uncorked, Sommelier, Wine, The Pem, Fine dining

The head sommelier at recently opened Westminster restaurant The Pem on Jacques Selosse's Champagne Substance, Crystallum Pinot Noir and Ribera Del Duero.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine...
My first ever job was on the north coast of Spain, a tiny brasserie with fresh fish cooked over fire, and wine served without a label from a winery 500 meters down the road. This was my first real engagement with food and wine in combination, and it changed my life.

Tell us about your wine list at The Pem

It’s a really lovely blend of wines from independent hands-on growers with great stories from the communities in which they’re located, or great wines from iconic timeless houses. 

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?

My first time ordering at The Hand & Flowers, we had a power cut and I had to stock check by candlelight. It was chaotic as it was just before Christmas. All the computers were down and I had to hand write the orders. The system sent a double order by mistake, and when the stock arrived it blocked up half the pub. But we did get through it. 

Name your top three restaurant wine lists (excluding your own!)

Kerridge’s Bar and Grill at The Corinthia, The Naughty Piglets in Brixton and The Crown Burchetts Green, where they have blackboard list of very wonderful wines to try and you can haggle on the price. 

Who do you most respect in the wine world? 

Perhaps not a hugely known producer, but I have enormous respect for Pierre Frick whose winery is in Pfaffenheim, Alsace. He was the first person who fully explained to me how his biodynamic vineyard operated, and shared the advantages of his hands off approach to production. He was inspirational and very exciting.

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across? 

This would be a Champagne called Substance by Jacques Selosse which is created with 100% Chardonnay grapes, using the Solera system for the first fermentation. On tasting in the glass it reveals five or six completely recognisable styles such is the depth and complexity. It’s hard to get hold of, unfortunately.

What are the three most overused tasting notes?

Supple, it’s such a wishy washy term. Then there's dry as a concept, most wines are dry. It’s thrown about without real precision. And finally mouth filling, which is a cumbersome statement with no nuance. 

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment (and why)… 
Ciu Ciu Falero Oris Bianco DOP which we sell by the glass. Emma Underwood (the general manager of The Pem) and I are particularly fond of it. It sits beautifully alongside several dishes on Sally Abé's menu and is incredible value. There’s a lovely story behind the name of the winery too - the growers named it after their grandchildren’s word for the trains that run alongside the vineyard - ciu ciu!

What is your ultimate food and drink match? 

Rib of beef cooked over fire, with a red from Ribera Del Duero. It brings back memories of my first job. 

Old World or New World?
Old World.

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants? 

Not being able to reach my wine!

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why? 
Crystallum Pinot Noir has been eye-opening. Its method of  wine making in South Africa is really unique. There’s a very Burgundian approach, and the winery creates a beautiful balance of traditional wine making with new world swagger, embracing the terroir it works with.

As a sommelier what question do you most get asked by customers?  
What is your favourite wine?

Which wine producing region/country is currently underrated at the moment and why?

The wines of Georgia – this is a country with a long-standing tradition of wine making, long before vines came into mainland Europe. They use traditional methodsand have been dismissed because they’re not often enough in the public eye, but the winemakers really know what they are doing.

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 
Vega Sicilia Unico 2008, I shared this with my brother during the first Christmas we lived together as adults. We ran a little pub together, and saved up for a special bottle for our Christmas meal, just the two of us, and it has huge sentimental value. It tastes opulent and goes sensationally well with a rib of beef

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