30 Minutes with the Rosewood's Head Sommelier, Michael Raebel
Michael Raebel is a part of the 2020 London Wine Competition judging panel. Further below is his exclusive interview with the Chief Editor of LWC.
With over 28 years of experience within various sectors of the hospitality sector, Michael Raebel successfully manages and supports his team members to enhance their performance. He is currently associated with the Rosewood Hotel in London. Here, he started as a sommelier and later promoted to the position of Head Sommelier/Wine Buyer in 2014. Further below is his exclusive interview with the Chief Editor of LWC.
Tell us about yourself.
I am the Head sommelier of the Rosewood Hotel in London a leading hotel group with ultra-luxuries hotels throughout the world. I am looking after a team of three sommeliers and four baristas. I am responsible for wine buying and programming in five outlets. I was born in Berlin, Germany where I studied theatre history in Salzburg, eventually becoming a director. I discovered my love of wine whilst studying in Austria. I am also a trained chef and very fond of cooking. If I am not drinking wine or cooking, you will find me at the ponds of Hampstead Heath where I swim throughout the year or cycling down the River Lee.
What do you see as the most important skills a sommelier can have?
To be able to read your guests and truly understand their palate and their wine experience. Only then can you take them on a journey that will be memorable.
What’s a Wine trend that you’re currently excited about?
Eastern Europe is very exciting to discover. There are not only many unknown grape varieties but its wines are a good value for money. It is always so interesting to travel throughout history and rediscovering ancient wine-growing regions that we know very little about.
How has the role of the sommelier evolved?
I believe that with the growing wine knowledge of customers, the days of Sommeliers being able to pass by with minimal understanding are long over. More and more guests want to be taken on a journey that goes beyond the 175ml of wine in front of them. The challenges Sommeliers face nowadays are not only the increasingly experienced guest but team development, mentoring and knowledge regarding allergies and intolerances to wines.
What you look for when you plan to buy wine for your business? (If applicable)
First, it is the quality in the bottle and the story behind the wine, that is of utmost importance to me. Secondly, it is a mixture of marked demand, style of outlet and menu, cellar capacity, team selling capability, and my own taste preferences.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The greatest challenge I find is to stay in touch with reality. Quite often we get carried away in the way we describe wines with a sommelier vocabulary that is difficult to understand for a novice. Furthermore, we are getting excited about premium wines on the level of Grand Crus, Cuvée Prestige’s, Super Tuscans that are so far away from what the regular guest can afford or is not accustomed to. I also find it very important to not to lose touch with that base or become snobbish about wine.
Have you noticed any change in the preferences of wine consumers?
Certain wine styles and grape varieties are still strong favourites like Malbec or New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. We have seen the rising in popularity of sherries (for a time) and orange wines that will hold for a while longer. I believe with the move to healthier lifestyles, customers are seeking more and more organic and biodynamic wines, especially those with lower alcohol or none and lower content of sulphur.
With the decline of the pound, guests are also very price-conscious and wanting good value for money.
Which regions and varietals should we be on the lookout for over the coming year or two?
As mentioned before, I think that Eastern Europe is growing in popularity. Besides that, Italy’s wealth of indigenous grape varieties and Spain make for very exciting areas. Also, we should not overlook the increasing popularity of English sparkling wines.
If you could only buy one bottle to drink in December, what would it be?
I think this is the most difficult question of all, it is like asking about your favourite star in the sky. If I could only buy one bottle to drink in December and I had to buy it myself (without a Santa to slip it under the tree) it would be a bottle of Domaine Georges Vernay, Condrieu, ‘Coteau de Vernon’ from the northern Rhone Valley.