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Confessions of a Sommelier

In this blog, we dive into everything you’ve wanted to ask a wine expert.

Our Hotel Manager (and wine connoisseur) Yohann shares with us his top-secret confessions of a sommelier. You’ll get to find out what dishes are the best to pair with your wine, what to do if you dislike your tipple at a tasting, as well as take a sneak peek into the life of a sommelier.

How did you become interested in wine?

I’ve been interested in wine my whole life. I started working in hospitality in France when I was fifteen and since then my passion for the industry has grown and grown. I love all aspects of it, but wine has always been an integral part.

What's your earliest wine memory?

When I was a child growing up in France, I was allowed to taste wine before I was even allowed to drink coffee! I remember being quite young and going around finishing the drops of wine left in the glasses when my parents had friends over.

What are the most important characteristics that go into making a good sommelier?

Passion. Wine is such a huge world, and it can become very technical. To discover and understand more, you need to be very passionate and perseverant.

How should we taste wine when the sommelier pours a bit in our glass for sampling?

Easily the most important part is smelling the wine. It is to detect if there are any faults with the bottle. For example, if it is corked, swirling the wine around helps to release the aromas – which will help discover any potential issues. Look for a musty damp smell. This is usually the sign of a corked wine.

What should a customer do if they don’t like the wine after they’ve tasted it, even if there’s nothing technically wrong with it?

This is a big misconception about tasting wine. Like my answer above, tasting the wine isn’t about deciding whether you like it or not – it’s to detect any faults. Historically, most wines were corked, but nowadays there are so many new types of bottle closures. For example, screw caps and plastic corks. Because of this, it is increasingly unlikely to get an ‘off’ bottle of wine.

I think the act of tasting wine has continued as more of a tradition than for anything else, and it’s certainly one I enjoy taking part in. Of course, if for any reason should you not like the wine you’ve tasted, you should always feel very welcome to notify your server, as they will ensure to do their best to find something perfectly suited to your taste.

How do you work with the chefs and the kitchen to pair wines and their creations? Any tips?

I’m always involved in the process when we are developing a new menu, so for any new dishes brought to the table, I’ll have a wine in mind and make suggestions to the chefs.

As for menu pairing, there are multiple ways to approach it. For example, with sweet wine, it can either be congruent or contrasting. Congruent compliments the food – for example, sweet wine with dessert. On the other end of the scale, a contrasting pairing creates a balance of flavours, such as sweet wine and blue cheese. I also enjoy breaking the conventions with wine and discovering an unusual pairing. At the end of the day, the best pairing is what works for you.

Can you describe the greatest wine and wine experiences that you've ever had?

About fifteen years ago when working in a five star hotel in London, I was lucky enough to try a Chateau Petrus 1964. At the time, the hotel was selling the bottle for £5000. It was like liquid gold.

As for the wine experience, I will always remember when Jean-Marc Brocard, a very well renowned Chablis winemaker, took me in his helicopter to go flying above his domaine on a beautiful summer’s day. Afterwards we went down to the winery for an amazing meal paired with all the best of his Chablis.

If you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?

That’s a tricky one! If money were no object, I would definitely go for the best Bordeaux there is.

If I must be more realistic, then I would probably choose a Beaujolais. Either a good Morgon or Moulin-a-vents, which pair well with many different dishes and are highly enjoyable for great value.

Which wines are the most frequently requested and ordered wines at The Alverton?

We have a large array of organic wines which are proving to be more and more popular. Nowadays the trend is for people to drink less but drink better wines. Our white Burgundies, such as our Chablis or Montagny, are always very popular.

Have you ever dropped an incredibly expensive bottle of wine?

Not that I can think of. I did break a few corks in my time though! Luckily, I’ve always managed to save the bottle.

What’s the most exquisite pairing of food and wine in the world?

The food that you enjoy the most with the wine that you enjoy the most. Everyone’s taste is different and there are no wrong answers.

What's the best region for wine?

Many regions offers different things. Regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy are renowned all over the world for their wines, but what I like is to discover those little less-known appellations, like the wines of Corsica for example. I’ve tried some divine wines in Greece, Romania and Poland too.

📷: My French Country Home Magazine

What is an unusual pairing that really works?

Blue cheese and dessert wine is a match made in heaven. The sweetness of the wine cuts through the saltiness of the blue cheese and creates an amazingly well-balanced pairing. Blue cheese is not my favourite cheese and dessert wine is usually too sweet for me, but the two together is a revelation.

Thanks for chatting with us Yohann.

Thank you!

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