Let us introduce you to our in-house sommelier Amber Gardner, who has collated some brilliant wines for us, for your pleasure.
Hello Amber, for anybody that does not know, what is a Sommelier and what do you do in such a role?
In a nutshell, a Sommelier (or ‘Somm’ to some) is a person who is trained and knowledgeable in wine and service. However, any Somm who has roamed the floor of a packed restaurant armed with a wine list boasting hundreds, if not thousands of wines, knows that it takes so much more than this. You are a confidante, tour guide, investigator, teacher and heavy lifter. I couldn't agree more with Andrew Jefford, now co-chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), who once noted in an online Decanter article, ‘A really good sommelier is a kind of speed-dating psychologist. He or she can work out what sort of person you are, how well off you are and what you really fancy most with a few sentences of chat — and then take you there quickly, picking up on any hints you drop along the way.’
Off the floor, our days are filled with tastings, reading, podcasts (you are nothing without great knowledge) and a lot of time spent buried in a subterranean cellar.
How did you begin your career as a Sommelier? Were you always passionate about wine or was it a happy accident?
I have always been a huge Francophile. I studied French and History at University and my Erasmus (spent in Paris and Cap Ferret) was a revelation to me; filled with wine bars, good plonk and wine regions just a stone’s throw away. Hence, straight out of uni I joined the wine trade. It wasn’t until I was living in Australia that I got the heady pull from the restaurant world. The speed, pressure, camaraderie and vibrant interactions with guests was intoxicating. This, married with my want to know more and everything about wine, meant that there was a very clear path that lay ahead for me.
Do you have any fun stories about your time as a Sommelier? Have you ever had to stifle a laugh when a wealthy client was clearly pretending to study the wine list intently before playing the, "one up from the house red" game?
I would be lying if I said that a guest had not caused me to stifle a laugh or to exchange an exasperated look with another Somm. However, I am hesitant to discuss as, in our profession we already have a bad rep for being vinously snobby and a touch haughty....!
How do you end up connected with The Half Bottle Company and The Magnum Company?
One thing I love about the wine trade is that at its core it's about having a bloody good time with the people that you love. So naturally, I was introduced to George, the founder, through friends. After a few meetings, I knew that he would be great fun to work with....so I came on board.
What makes a great wine for a novice? What should be focused on when researching a suitable bottle?
My advice to friends and family is to be brave and think outside the box. Nothing pains me more than to see people resting on their laurels when it comes to wine. If you have tried something a hundred times, or recognise the name, try your hand at something different, you never know you may find your next great adventure!
Fine wine and good food are the ultimate culinary bedfellows. What are some of your favourite wine and food pairings?
One of the most epic food and wine pairings moments I have had was in the decadent French brasserie, La Cigale (Nantes, France) where I had steak tartare (prepared table side, of course) with a Château Rayas 2002. Pure heaven!
What do you say to people that claim, "I do not like wine" - do you think you could encourage them to try a particular bottle and see if that changes their mind?
In my experience, when people do not like wine, it is because of the bitterness and the tannic elements that some wines have. In this respect, I would almost always encourage people to try a white wine first and try out something more fruit-driven, such as a Chenin Blanc from South Africa.
Do you have any firm loves or loathes about the etiquette of wine, and the culture surrounding it?
I have a love/hate relationship with the etiquette of wine. Nothing else I know is so steeped in tradition, pomp and fanfair. It is infuriating and classist but a true portal into our history as British people. Whilst I endeavour to modernise the culture, there is something so ridiculously fun about all that pomp and fanfair...don’t you think?!