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What do sommeliers really look for in selecting new wines for their restaurants?

30/11/2018

Each sommelier has a different approach to select wines for their restaurant. Know it from Marco Iaccarino & Lucian Obreja.

Recent research reports that there are an estimated 600,000 commercial wine producers around the world, which doesn’t describe how many more labels there might be on sale at any one time. Looking at the kaleidoscope of wine how do you select new wines for your list.

Current List

Different sommeliers have different approaches and Marco Iaccarino from Murano says, ‘It depends on the focus of the restaurant. For Murano, we focus on  sustainable and Italian and mostly we look for wines fulfilling these things’,

Michelin Starred L’Ortolan in the leafy countryside outside of Reading, homes an extensive lists of Natural, Organic and Biodynamic wines curated by Associazione Italiana Sommelier (A.I.S.) trained Lucian Obreja.

The Natural, Organic, Biodynamic frame along with some dead wood was left to Lucian by a former incumbent, which is part of the territory. However, he reflects more deeply about the customer.

‘Our customers are not the type of customer to find the most expensive bottles of wine and choose them because of that. There are a lot of factors which go into satisfying our customers on their special day. They come for a Michelin starred experience and require something special. We have a delicate balancing act to perform.’

The current direction of the restaurant and its overall business aims are important whilst giving the customer a unique and special occasion.

Value for Money

Lenart Cernilic of M Restaurants in London reflects that every sommelier is different bringing different ideas, which generate different selections and themes.  Similarly to Lucian, the clientele plays a major part in decision making. ‘I would like to think that the one thing we all have in common is getting great value for money. We love the idea of customers truly enjoying the wine they had without the sour note of thinking they overspent. Our aim at M is to find wines that are primarily great wines, but also fairly rare.’

Marco plays a more strategic game ensuring that price plays a part but informs himself of who is around in the market so that he ensures he is ending up with pro-rata good value.

Equally, he is fully aware that if he deals with fewer suppliers the increased volume should bring some economies of scale and reduce his price per bottle. At the same time that possibly reduces the selection available to him.

Exclusivity is Special

M Restaurants have 20 wines that are exclusive to us in the UK, so that aspect is very important to us as well. Lastly, but also very important is the food pairing. Our chefs work hard to prepare fantastic dishes, so it would be rude of us to select a list of wines, that don’t match their efforts.

Lucian reports the same. ‘L’Ortolan lists an Italian red wine from Piemonte which we serve chilled and needs to be served chilled. Everyone we give this wine to loves it and it and goes well with the chef’s dishes. It is only available in one wine bar in London so it makes the experience very special for the guest’.

On the grapevine, I hear of restaurants now setting up importing businesses so that they can create an exclusive supply chain.

Seasonality

Depending on the season, the sommelier or wine buyer will alter their purchasing patterns. So Marco Iaccarino is looking more at Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris from Alsace at this time of year when considering white wines than a zingy Sauvignon blanc.

Lucian is not looking for rose currently, because it is out of season, but finds Beaujolais Nouveau is fantastic because it ticks a number of boxes – value, great year, wide-ranging food matches and the first wine of the year.

Food Pairing

Nearly every sommelier that we contacted mentions the closeness of the relationship with the chef and the food of their establishment. Some go further and either request the help of the supplier or at least enquire for their wider experience of the market.

The issue for all sommeliers is having a route to sell the wine in question, for which they need a clear vision of food pairings and restaurant style. Lucian has a keen eye for matching what his kitchen is producing with possible wines. A recent pairing of Orange Wines with Foie Gras has been particularly successful.

Producer Size

For some selectors producer size is important.

Marco at Murano is looking for small artisanal, craft producers. This requires a lot of work with suppliers, identifying the right profile of producer and tasting frequently with suppliers seeking that balance of right taste, a right profile of producer.

In Summary

Marco, Lucian and Lenart are in agreement that it is a variety of factors that contribute to decision making. However, each is an individual and shop for individually styles outlets, that each has their personalities. The wine world with its cornucopia of wine selections allows for each place to sculpt the wine list as they want to tell their employers' stories. 

About the Author

Alistair MorrellThe article is contributed by Alistair Morrell, Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers.

 

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