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Vinisud 2012: Tips for Sommeliers from Top Sommelier

Posted: Friday, 09 March 2012 11:35

Vinisud 2012: Tips for Sommeliers from Top Sommelier

March 09 : The taste of what’s in the glass may be only what matters to sommeliers but there are other additional factors that are relevant, according to the World’s Best Sommelier 2010, Gerard Basset MW as he shared while conducting a Master Class on ‘Varieties of the Mediterranean’ including an exclusive tasting of 12 Mediterranean wines at Vinisud 2012 held last month in Montpellier, writes Subhash Arora who was invited to the tasting and also had an exclusive chat with him.

‘Obviously a Sommelier must be an excellent taster’, says Gerard Basset, a Frenchman living now in UK and with a dual nationality that made him eligible and was knighted by the Queen last year as an OBE. ‘But he or she must have a passion for food and wine in order to communicate with enthusiasm to the guests about the proper pairing recommendations and must be knowledgeable about many aspects of wine in order to talk with them,’ he adds.

‘The role of a sommelier is to give maximum pleasure to the guests and make them want to come back again and again to his/her restaurant.  Of course, the sommelier is also there to make guests discover new wines and surprise them but he/she must not impose his/her taste on them. He must not show off his knowledge to the clients and intimidate them but should make them feel comfortable instead. He should try to offer different choices to the customers- but only similar to their taste spectrum. For example, if someone likes Sauvignon Blanc, you could suggest a Vermentino.’

‘When you are selling wine to a customer you are not only selling what is in the glass but also emotions and inspirations. We have to make people dream,’ he says.‘Some sommeliers feel that the points given by critics like Parker are irrelevant and it’s only what is in the glass that is important. I don’t agree with that. Some customers may want to know more about what the experts feel about a particular wine. They may like to ask whether a wine has won many competitions. Of course, the customer would generally have a limited experience –some may be more adventurous while others quite conservative; the sommelier must try to understand their taste.’

‘He/she must be a great salesman in the noble sense and that means understanding what the guests like and how much they want to spend’, says Gerard. ‘A customer might love Mouton Rothschild 1945 but when he knows he would have to pay $15,000 for that bottle, he may not enjoy it. It is not only what is in the glass but his budget that must be understood by the sommelier,’ he emphasizes.

 Sommeliers are part of your sales team so they should be involved in the wine selection process for a restaurant. ‘ I don’t even do the selection of wines  we serve in my own restaurant,’ says Basset who owns Hotel Terravina near Southampton in UK with his wife, adding that he is only a part of the selection process for special wines like champagnes and lets his sommeliers decide otherwise.

‘Let’s say we want to introduce one new champagne label in my restaurant. The team will source and taste about 15 of them and short-list perhaps three and we will taste together these short-listed wines for the final pick,’ he says.

The sommelier must have an open mind and always willing to learn and discover something new. Giving an example of the Nebbiolo grape while presenting Barolo Reserve 2006 from Rivetto, he said there are modernists and traditionalist producers in Barolo making excellent wines ; but one must try to understand them both and also try to understand what the customer may like. Citing his own example, he conceded that the first time he tasted a Riesling he could not understand why it was considered one of the world’s best white wines. But after experience with several different wines he learnt to really appreciate it as a great wine.

‘He or she must be a true ambassador for wine producers as he/she is the link between the guests and the producers.  It is a fascinating job as the sommelier travels a lot in wonderful places, meets great people and work with a fascinating product.’  The sommelier must be also a good business person as he/she must buy well and achieve excellent wine revenues without ripping off the guests. 

Last but not the least, ‘the sommelier must stay humble and stay dedicated to the guests,’ was the concluding tip meant for the budding sommeliers from this Top Sommelier.

Gerard Basset is reportedly the only sommelier in the world with a Master of Wine, a Master Sommelier, holding a Wine MBA and also winning the World’s Best Sommelier Award (in 2010), qualifying him as the Top Sommelier of the world.

Subhash Arora



Yegas Naidoo Says:

Basset certainly walks the talk. He is indeed an impressive and widely educated expert in his field but above all his modesty is to be greatly admired as his humble approach still remains intact from way back during Hotel du Vin days when I first met with him.

Posted @ March 16, 2012 12:05


Niladri Dhar Says:

Great tips from the Legend!! Thanks for bringing his thoughts to us.

Posted @ March 12, 2012 14:47


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