Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine
My parents drink. I don’t mean they have a problem with it. I just mean they enjoy a tipple and they love entertaining. I always enjoyed watching my mother on Friday afternoons when a friend would swing by our little corner of the suburban sprawl with a big bag of crisps under one arm and two small bottles clinking in her handbag. And I admired how they would talk, laugh, and drink. I admired how the more they drank the louder the laughter got and looser the talk become.
Tell us about your wine list at Leroy
For a small bistro it’s bloody big. It ebbs and flows like the tide but we typically have between 250 and 350 bins. It’s part wild and weird and part proper old-fashioned plonk. I think it’s important to have something that’ll surprise people. I think it’s important to have entry level sub £30 quick date night juice and just as important to have old school ethereal swill.
Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?
Haha! Almost every day. I’m clumsy. I try and look proper. I do up my top button. I carry bottles like you would a new-born baby. I have a sharp knife in my pocket and a clean napkin in my hand and despite my best efforts the champagne corks shoot at the ceiling, the clarets dribble across the table and the cold bottles slip from my hand. I carry faith with me, that disasters can be overcome. There’s always a little fizz open in the fridge to help smooth things over.
Name your top three restaurant wine lists
I’ll have to say Noble Rot. They have an ease and coolness about them. Their interest in bangin’ classics and their access to them, too. I’ll also say Ampeli in Fitzrovia. They are a relatively new Greek bistro with a list curated by MW Yiannis Karakasis. I love the wines of Greece. I champion them. Lastly, I’ll give it up to 10 Cases. Every time I go, I find something I’ve never had before.
Who do you most respect in the wine world?
I respect the fool that first left his fruit to rot and discovered it turned to juice, discovered that juice had taken on a new life and was game enough to taste it. Without a certain folly would we even have wine at all?
What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across?
Castello di Nieve Barberesco. I was working at a strange Italian restaurant in Sydney tucked into a corner of the lobby of a struggling industrial art space. The chef, David Lovett, was incredible but the venue suffered from either a complete lack of traffic or an abundance of it, and nothing in between. I don’t remember the cuveé and I’ve not been able to find it since. The wine was on the list and the first bottle I sold I poured a taste before serving and thought something was wrong with it, it was so pale for a ‘big’ red it was like lolly-water. But on drinking it had so much muscle. It was all grip, bite, wood, and charm, and it had me. It had me against the ropes. It was the most surprising thing I’d ever put in my mouth.
What are the three most overused tasting notes?
Mouse. I hear somms and waiters saying all the effing time and it’s bloody annoying. Yes, mouse is a fault. Yes, we’re seeing a lot more mouse in wine and in the new wave stuff that gets tossed about trendy watering holes, but mouse isn’t in everything. Sometimes there are no wrong answers, right? But just because you say the word mouse doesn’t mean that there’s mouse in the wine. Then there’s organic. Said too much. Misunderstood. And then there’s natty. Just… stop.
What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?
J. Christopher Pinot Noir 2014. Extraordinarily good value American Pinot from the good German doctor that is Ernst Loosen. There’s something of the old and the new about it. Opulence, restraint, poise, and yet it drips with cherry, smoke, and sexuality.
What is your ultimate food and drink match?
Schnitzel and Riesling. Or Xinomavro and Maltese rabbit stew.
Old World or New World?
Old. For without the old there is no new.
What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?
Too many top ups and shit glassware.
Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why?
Matthieu Barret of Domaine du Coulet (in the Northern Rhone). The best Cornas I ever had. He makes wines with energy. He somehow infuses them with lust. Biodynamic (obvs) and at times indescribable that a tangible liquid agricultural product can speak so much of the intangible wants of the human heart.
At Leroy, what question do you most get asked by customers?
What are skins? Where are you from? What should we drink? Does this place have a Michelin star? Where’s the toilet? Although not necessarily in that order.
Which wine producing region/country is currently underrated at the moment?
Greece. The great underdog of Europe. The slow crawler from the shadow of her past to a bright future. Mostly indigenous (old) varieties that create wines of promise, of place.
It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why?
It’s gonna be a Barbaresco. Probably a Gaja. Probably with at least 15 years of age on it. Probably because as I draw my last breath I want wild strawberries across my lips, I want the whisper of roses and roads long travelled and dirt and grit and the slow ghost of eternity skipping across my palate. Probably because it’ll bring a tear to my eye and if death itself doesn’t do that, at the very least the Gaja will, and my eyes will be so wet from crying I won’t see The Reaper coming.