Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine…
There was no lightbulb moment for me but more of a gradual process. I understood wine to be an integral part of the industry and learnt the basics at my first few jobs having had literally no idea of anything beyond a house white until that point. Moving to London and taking on more senior roles it became obvious I needed to up my game and I completed a few levels of WSET but to be truthful that kind of classroom learning is not for me and it has been on the job, training staff and of course the complete sacrifice that is trying as much as I can that has driven the interest to blossom.
Tell us about your wine list at Oklava
When we first opened Oklava in 2015 was entirely focussed on Turkey to reflect our Turkish Cypriot menu, this was a deliberate move on our part to make a bit of a statement I suppose. It would be unremarkable to do the same with a French restaurant for example – but also to kind of strong arm our guests into trying something new. It became a real talking point with customers but over time has become unsustainable – both creatively and logistically. You are battling with European wines of equivalent quality for half the price, supply chain nightmares getting a steady flow of stock and restricted by what is imported to the UK in the first place. We have since expanded to Turkey and the surrounding areas of the Levant which adds a lot more diversity to the list in terms of grapes, production methods and so on and that’s been a really refreshing change. At Linden Stores the list is less restrictive but also has a different slant as it’s partially retail. We don’t have any specific rules we stick to in terms of style or geography – just great wines, not taking themselves too seriously at an accessible price point.
Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?
Luckily not too many myself but I have witnessed some absolute clangers. Red wine on a £10k dress, Champagne sprayed all over a couple on their engagement dinner, a Château Lafite Rothschild 1988 saved for a special occasion that ended up in a stockpot….
Name your top three restaurant wine lists
Sager + Wilde, Noble Rot and The Laughing Heart (all in London).
Who do you most respect in the wine world?
I really admire Sarah Abbott MW. She specialises in similar areas of the world to our list at Oklava and is always so generous with her time and knowledge. We have visited several wineries together and her ability to store so much information in her head amazes me. She champions women in the world of wine and is incredibly passionate.
What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across?
I often find the most interesting wines aren’t always necessarily my everyday favourites but wine I maybe find a talking point and learning experience. For that reason I found an awful lot of the wines I tried in Georgia exciting – to effectively be drinking wine as people did 8,000 years ago is incredible and the wine making process is so unique.
What are the three most overused tasting notes?
"Refreshing”, “crisp” and “mouth watering”.
What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment (and why)…
At Oklava I would probably say the 6N Karasakiz by Pasaeli. For me it is just a complete embodiment of that classic Turkish sour cherry flavour, matches perfectly with our food and is therefore great value as it’s just such a perfect example of what modern Turkish wine making can be.
What is your ultimate food and drink match?
Jamon Iberico and manzanilla pasada (a long-matured sherry). We had a leg and a case delivered for my partners thirtieth last summer and it went down a treat.
Old World or New World?
I feel like I have a foot in both! But if pushed it’s New World. A lot to prove and an awful lot of creativeness and innovation around to make that happen.
What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?
Wine lists in no particular order aside from price are my pet peeve.
Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why?
I love Alfredo Maestro (a Spanish natural wine specialist). Beautiful wines that are always a surprise, full of personality with original labels which have great shelf appeal. They’re natural with the quirkiness you would expect without feeling performative. I can just imagine he has a complete ball making them and it makes you want to have a great time drinking them! They’re the wines we always reach for off the shelf at Linden Stores come the end of a long working week.
As a wine specialist, what question do you most get asked by customers?
At Oklava it is always “where do you find your wines”. Most guests have not come across a lot of the grapes or wineries before so there are always lots of questions which are a really great opportunity for our team to display their knowledge and make a connection.
Which wine producing region/country is currently underrated at the moment and why?
Biased of course as it’s our area of expertise at Oklava but I think it is the Levant region. Hampered by a lack of government support, conflict and the logistical challenges of getting these wines out in to the wider world so much never reaches our shores.
It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why?
Well I hope it’s nice and sunny for my last day on Earth so I’ll have a txakoli please with some beautiful fresh seafood. Slight sparkle for that sense of occasion, perfect match for the food and naturally lower alcohol – I want to have my wits about me at the pearly gates.