AN ACCIDENTAL SOMMELIER
I never intended to be a sommelier. It happened accidentally. During university, I played semi-professional football. That paid well but I needed more money so I started working as a waiter in a 5* hotel. The guests often asked me about the wines (e.g. the vintages, grape varieties, different exposures to sun etc.) but, as much as I could offer my opinion, it embarrassed me that I couldn’t answer in greater detail. That’s when I became more curious. Everyday, I would spend time researching and discovering new wines and, from then on, I was completely enamoured by it.
‘Wine is a very complex and fascinating topic. There are so many facts to discover; flavour sensations to explore and travel adventures in search of exciting vineyards, producers and wine experiences… Woowww! It really enticed me.’
THE WORLD OF WINE: A GLOBAL FAMILY
One of my favourite things about wine is how vast and welcoming the community is. Traditional family vineyards in Spain; global producers in California; homemade wines in Italy and Poland; exploring new styles of natural and biodynamic wines or more traditional, conventional wines… There are always opportunities to travel and meet new and interesting (not to mention opinionated!) people. It’s very exciting. Whether they are controversial, experienced or simply enjoy the social experience of wine; whether you agree or disagree with each other’s views, it’s all inconsequential because wine itself is very subjective.
THE PASSION & HEART OF THE LOCALS INSPIRES ME
It inspires me how generous people are, particularly in the lesser-known regions. They’re so passionate about both wine and life. They really want to give part of themselves to their guests and ensure that they have an enjoyable experience… their souls, their food, their wine… I also love the diversity of the places I visit. Each country, region, vineyard and winemaker has its own completely unique personality and philosophy about winemaking, which definitely shows in the wine. Wherever I travel, I always discover something entirely new.
A QUICK SHOT OF TEQUILA OR A SLOW & TEASINGLY DELICIOUS CHATEAU MARGAUX
At the beginning, I considered wine a small adventure. I never imagined that my passion would last or that I’d stay in the industry for such a long time. Having immediately caught the wine bug, I thought that it might disappear - that it was simply a youthful enamour that would dissipate - but it didn’t. Six years later (which, admittedly, is a relatively short amount of time but I’ve worked incredibly hard and intensely to achieve everything that I have so quickly) and I can’t imagine life without it. The industry offers so many interesting opportunities; it’s impossible to get bored.
As with any natural produce, wine is hugely influenced by seasonality, both in taste and production. Weather conditions, geographic locations and production techniques all influence which wines are produced and when, especially for the more artisanal producers. They have to be very adaptable and make many important decisions throughout the years. Consequently, you’ll often find that some regions have bigger vintage variations than others (e.g. a European 2009 will have a different flavour profile to one produced in 2003), which is why it’s important to be aware of vintages, and the seasonal and environmental conditions of different countries.
Summer is the perfect time to try something fresher, crisper. There are some delicious, very light red wines and beautifully delicate perfumed whites available. Then, as the autumn approaches, you’ll notice much heavier, more concentrated flavours beginning to appear, both on your plate and in your glass.
FAVOURITE PLACES TO TRAVEL
SOMMELIER 101: SO MUCH MORE THAN TASTING WINES
Being a sommelier involves so much more than simply tasting wines. It’s about being approachable and interacting with people. Whether that’s your guests or the chefs, they need to feel comfortable asking for your advice and, when you offer advice, you need to consider their personal tastes; which wines will best compliment the ingredients in the dish; and, thirdly, you need to push them outside of their comfort zone a little bit because they want to discover something new, something that they can enjoy and will excite them. You also need to be open-minded and willing to broaden your own knowledge and palate. It can’t always be about your own preferences and the wine world is constantly developing so you need to be dynamic and willing to constantly develop with it.
TRAINING TO BE A MASTER SOMMELIER
I’m currently training to become a Master Sommelier. To pass the examination, I have to complete 3 tasks: a theory examination, a service examination and a blind taste test. The blind taste test must be completed within 25mins and achieve a score of ≥75%. During the test, I have to taste 3 white wines and 3 red wines and judge them individually (approx. 4mins per wine). It’s notorious for being one of the hardest examinations in the world, with one of the lowest pass rates simply because there are so many wines in the world. Wish me luck.
'Congratulations to Piotr! He passed the exam and is now officially a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers.'
LONDON RESTAURANTS WITH GOOD WINE LISTS
There are so many restaurants in London with great wine lists.
Or outside of London, it has to be…THE FAT DUCK, BRAY - They really treat their wine cellar, sommelier team and guests in a very special way. It’s the ultimate wine experience - very experiential!
Nowadays, people are becoming increasingly passionate about the whole wine experience, not simply the tasting. At the restaurant, we have guests who collect corks and bottles; and some ask us to remove the label so that they can take it home and frame it or have special books and encyclopaedias full of the wines they’ve tasted on their travels. Others simply collect them for the sentiment; perhaps to remember a special bottle they enjoyed for an anniversary, engagement or other special occasion. It doesn’t happen very often but it does happen.
‘I’ve never done that but after doing the whisky tasting, wine tastings and other things, it’s surprisingly interesting.’ When I first joined the wine industry, I was very geeky - I’m still am but I was probably geekier than I should have been. I used to collect the bottles of the special wines I sold to customers (e.g. the rare bottles from super valuable wines and by winemakers I admired). It became such a hobby that, one day, I realised that I no longer had any space to put them so I had to throw them away.
SELECTING WINES TO TASTE AT HOME
I recommend horizontal tastings of one colour so that you can clearly analyse the differences and similarities. (E.g. Taste 10 white wines from different countries, based on the same variety (e.g. 10 different Rieslings) one day and then, another day, taste 10 red wines.)
‘Ultimately, as a sommelier, I’m an ambassador for my guests. The wine list isn’t necessarily my personal choice. It’s the voice of my guests, of my customers.’
FAVOURITE PEOPLE TO TASTE WINES WITH
Gerard Basset. He’s the father of all sommeliers, the most coveted, most awarded sommelier alive - a living legend - so to attend his masterclasses and taste wines with him is an enormous privilege for every sommelier because he’s so knowledgeable and such a down to earth man. Everybody loves him. I also love to taste wines with my friends who aren’t necessarily into wines. It’s really nice to have fun together and be able to show them something new but I don’t want it to feel like a lesson so we’ll all bring wines. That way, not only can I help them discover something exciting but they can surprise me too.
‘You don’t become a Master Sommelier overnight but wine appreciation is a love that lasts a lifetime. Something for everyone to enjoy.’
FAVOURITE WINE TASTING GAME
Many people think that wine tasting is very serious but, unless it’s your profession, it’s not like that at all. It’s all about enjoying and appreciating the wine and time with friends. My sommelier friends and I play a game where we’ll each bring a special bottle of wine but we’ll hide the label (i.e. wrap it in a sock or aluminium foil) so that we can enjoy discovering the wines and having fun guessing what they might be, where they come from etc. At the end of the night, we uncover the wines and everybody is always surprised to see that it is / isn’t the wine we thought it was. It always makes you laugh because, it’s such a fun game and we’re all relaxed and enjoying ourselves when we do it but, when you think about it, it’s not too different from sommelier exams so, naturally, we’ll always tease each other about guessing incorrectly but that’s what’s great about wine: it’s a never-ending voyage of discovery. Different countries, vintages, grape varieties, production techniques… the wine world is constantly changing and there’s something new to discover everyday. No matter what you do, you can never see and taste all of the wines, even by the end of your life so it’s impossible not to be excited.