Uncorked: Chanel Owen

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Chanel Owen head sommelier Pied à Terre

Related tags: Chanel Owen, Pied a Terre, Sommelier, Uncorked, Wine, Fine dining

The head sommelier at Fitzrovia stalwart Pied à Terre discusses her love for vintage Champagne and the wines of Slovenian producer Peter Gönc.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine

My family wasn’t particularly interested in wine and it was rarely on the table at family dinners. However, my granny would always have a glass at the end of each day and I remember finding this ritual intriguing. I enjoyed my first sips with her but it wasn’t until I worked in restaurants that I was able to appreciate how big the wine world was. It was here that I experienced that diversity of flavour and people that you find within the industry, which sparked an interest in me.

Tell us about your wine list at Pied à Terre

The wine on our list at Pied à Terre is traditional with an inspired twist. We have a fantastic core of classics that people would recognise and feel safe with, and yet we’re always looking for interesting bottles to add to our offering. We’re always striving for inspiration and innovation. By introducing our guests to wines from lesser known regions we want them to experience different flavour profiles. We want to open up the world of wine for them. 

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

Absolutely! In my view there is a stumbling block at every service. When you’re serving your guests one of the best bottles in the house, even that one drop of red on the table cloth rings alarm bells. You’re literally estimating in your head how much that particular drop has cost! The experience that shook me the most was while working in a restaurant in Singapore as a junior sommelier. We were hosting a Ruinart reception for its South East Asia sales team and I was asked if I was any good at opening champagne. I’m not sure whether the bottle was a bit warm but as I twisted the cork it just shot out all over the walls and floor. The bang of the cork certainly reverberated very loudly for me. I was mortified. 

Name your top three restaurant wine lists

I’m a huge fan of Adam Handling’s The Frog. He has an amazingly dynamic wine list. I also love Trivet in London Bridge. I literally dive into their wine list whenever I visit and it ticks a lot of boxes for me. For downtime, the place that I go when I just want some really nice wine with decent seasonal plates is 40 Maltby Street - their wine is biodynamic, natural and ethically sourced. They have a great team there and I trust their opinion wholeheartedly.

Who do you most respect in the wine world? 

A lot of the people that have really inspired me are lesser known individuals. One of my old mentors at Humble Grape (where I worked prior to Pied à Terre) - Desiree Russo Taylor - has taught me so much. She’s a wine educator whose passion goes beyond anything and it’s totally contagious. She has a depth of knowledge that translates everything in your bottle to your palate. Another person is Jancis Robinson who does a huge amount for women in the industry. The weight of her opinion is vast and she has a lot to say about how being a woman in the world of wine is an advantage. 

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

This is a really tough one as I’ve opened a fair few bottles in my time. When I was training the first Sauternes I had was from Château d’Yquem. We had a 1991 and it was the first Sauternes I’d ever had and it just danced across my palate. It was like fireworks and it opened my eyes to just how amazing a wine can be. I’ve had so many wines since then but it was that particular wine that taught me about how much of an experience you can find within one bottle. 

What are the three most overused tasting notes?

I try to avoid the term ‘minerality’ because it’s misleading and denotes something that it’s not. If we’re talking in terms of terroir then people think it comes from soil and that is what gives the wine its flavour. It’s for similar reasons that I don’t like the term ‘earthy’ - it suggests something that it isn’t. The term ‘balanced’ is overused too. Of course a wine should be balanced otherwise why would you bring it to the table - it wouldn’t have been made correctly or it would need something else to put the equilibrium right.

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment (and why)… 

We have some great entries but the best value I would say is the 1966 1er Cru Champs Gains from Potinet Ampeau. It’s on our list for £296 which reflects the amount of investment that David has put into storing and acquiring these wines. Having it on the list for this price is almost criminal as it’s a wine experience that is really hard to beat. 

What is your ultimate food and drink match? 

I don’t think you can go wrong with a Barolo and a hard cheese but my absolute ultimate is some vanilla ice cream and a Pedro Ximénez sherry.

Old World or New World?

Definitely New World. The winemakers there have more of a free rein to be creative than in Old World appellations, where winemakers tend to be more constrained. 

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

I absolutely hate going to a restaurant with a partner where the man is asked to taste the wine even if I’ve chosen it. And while I like the theatre of decanting it shouldn’t be overdone - it places a barrier between you and your guest and overcomplicates what we do as sommeliers.

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why? 

A producer that has really opened my eyes to a region is Peter Gönc, based in Slovenia. He’s a young winemaker with a great Instagram presence and his wines are natural and funky. He puts a huge amount of work into the vineyard and cellar to make sure that he can make clean wines with limited faults. I love these pocket friendly, straightforward wines that reflect the winemaker’s hard working approach in a region where a challenging economic and political history prevented its wines from coming to the fore in the UK sooner. 

As a head sommelier, what question do you most get asked by customers?  

Where I am from! I’ve travelled a lot and some people think my accent is international. People are always surprised when I tell them I’m from Essex.

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

Germany. The country has that lineage and history of stunning wines and also some amazing young up and coming winemakers operating there. 

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 

I would have a Vintage Cru champagne. As much as I hark on about the new world, you can’t beat a Champagne. You can replicate it and have good alternative versions of it without even copying the style but it’s the development, flavour, butteriness, texture and longevity of a good vintage Cru from the 90s that would help me die happy.

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