Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
I fell in love with wine at the age of 19 whilst working at The Kings Arms at Charlton Horethorne in Dorset. I was presented with a glass of 2006 Spice Route Winery Chakalaka and it completely changed my life. Soon after I discovered that my late Godfather (Kit Stevens) was himself a Master of Wine which encouraged me further along this career route. I joined The Ritz London sommelier team where my first mentor Tobias Brauweiler MS took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. He was very thorough and always keen to get the best out of his team and I’m very grateful for what he taught me. He also got me through my Court of Master Sommeliers Certified exams. I have had many mentors over the years who have helped me and showed me new ways of working… I am very grateful to all of them for getting me where I am today.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier possess and is there any person with those qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
A Sommelier should be humble, open and always willing to go the extra mile. There should be a natural thirst for knowledge and the willingness to improve every day. For me that person was (and still is) Pierre Brunelli (Head Sommelier at L’Enclume)…. He taught me that although it’s important to have plenty of knowledge, it’s also important to remember who you are and always be yourself and have fun.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s the best approach?
Always be open and honest with them. Be kind and approachable. Try and find something they can relate to and make it as fun as possible. Never be condescending and never think you know more than they do.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Always consider the most important component of the dish. If you have a pork dish for example, served with a garnish based on tart apple then pair the wine to go with the apple – such as Radikon Chardonnay Orange wine or a dessert made of caramelized parfait, goats cheese mousse, parsnip and sorrel syrup I would definitely pair a Devon cider! Be willing to experiment and try something against the grain.
Should a Sommelier taste the guest’s wine?
I expect my Sommeliers to understand what they are serving to be able to recommend styles of wines that guests are looking for so yes I firmly agree with Sommeliers tasting the guests wine.
Favourite pick: If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Oh it’s got to be Cabernet Franc (no question) – it can often be difficult to understand, difficult to fit but when it does it can be charming, seductive and full of so much character that you finally get who it is. Let it age a bit and you’re in for a real treat.
What are the top 3 types of wine we would find in your home wine collection and what’s your Desert Island wine?
3. Sena, Chile
Watch this space for regular news and views on the wonderful world of wine as Charles will be contributing regularly to Wellies & Wine. If you have a vino-related query or simply want advice on good wine pairing for a dinner party coming up, then send your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet it to @cumbriawellies. Enjoy our new feature – bottoms up folks!