Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine
It’s hard to say as I did not discover the wine world in a conventional restaurant set up. Where I come from in Romania, it was usual for people to make their own wines, so visiting my grandparents in the autumn gave me an opportunity to see how the wine is made as well as the passion that someone needs to have to create a wine which you can be proud of.
Tell us about your wine list at Benares
It is not the most exhaustive wine list in London, as I see these days that some restaurants tend to list any wine available on the market. We have around 400 wines, give or take, which get refreshed several times a year. Our sommelier team is fully involved in curating it and finding the best wines that match our cuisine.
Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?
Let’s just say that I’ve created a pretty expensive Burgundy rosé wine, by adding a few drops of red Burgundy on top of a white Burgundy.
Name your top three restaurant wine lists
67 Pall Mall, KOL and Pied À Terre (all in London).
Who do you most respect in the wine world?
The winemakers from emerging wine countries. They have a great battle to fight against so many misconceptions and wine snobbery. Also, people trying to help them succeed by organising wine tastings, raising awareness or listing these wines from little known wine producing countries.
What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across?
It’s a Romanian orange wine, made from organically grown and hand-picked Grunspitz grapes, and it is believed that the Romanian vineyard Nachbil is the only dedicated grafted Grunspitz vineyard in the world. This wine is quite unique, with notes of rose petals and oranges, with invigorating minerality and great texture.
What are the three most overused tasting notes?
Fresh, floral and vanilla.
What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment (and why)
Viogner, Ktima Gerovassiliou from Epanomi, Greece. I dare to say that this is one of the best Viogner made outside of the Rhone. It has all the flavours that you might expect from a premium wine from Condrieu, like peach, pears, exotic fruits and is elegant but without the price tag.
What is your ultimate food and drink match?
Champagne and pepperoni pizza. You might laugh or judge me, or raise an eyebrow should you wish to, but I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.
Old World or New World?
I like to appreciate a good wine regardless of where it comes from.
What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?
When the next bottle of wine is offered to the guest by over pouring the current one.
Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why?
Our summers in UK might be shorter than in other countries but we do have a few days which we can call summer. And when that happens, I realised that if there is wine in my glass, it is most probably a dry, clean and vibrant Albarino made by Martin Códax wine co-operative from Galicia.
As a sommelier, what question do you most get asked by customers?
As I work in an Indian restaurant, the type of food we serve here might not be seen as the most wine friendly, so many people ask why they should replace their classic pint of lager with wine.
Which wine producing region/country is currently underrated at the moment and why?
Balkans and former Soviet Bloc countries have the perception of wine buying being more of a one-time unconventional experience, and therefore aren’t serious contenders in making quality wines. Romania is a fabulous example. After the communism era, the new generation of winemakers has dramatically improved the quality of their wines by getting more educated, seeking help from experienced oenologists, and experimenting with new styles. If you have a chance to taste wines made from the indigenous red grape variety Fetească Neagră, you’ll find an excellent unoaked, fruity, and youthful wine with ripe damson and plum flavours, that will change your mind about the wines from this part of the ‘Old World’.
It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why?
Krug Brut Champagne Vintage 1998. Because that’s what happiness tastes like.