Our Sommelier of the Month for December 2019 is Helen Howe from Lumiere, Cheltenham. Helen has very kindly answered a selection of questions which are below along with her response.
What is your industry background?
My husband and I opened Lumiere Restaurant in 2009, located just steps from the famous tree lined Promenade in Cheltenham. Jon is one of the most exciting chefs in the country and I run our front of house. Prior to this I was a biomedical scientist working for the NHS for over 10 years. At the restaurant, both our food and wine menus are constantly evolving as the produce changes through the seasons and with only 8 tables, the restaurant is personal and intimate. We offer a great atmosphere, unique dishes, signature tasting menus and matching wine flights with warm, knowledgeable service & a distinct lack of pretension. We were awarded AA’s Restaurant of the Year for England 2017 which was one of our highlights alongside the 3AA Rosette Award and twice being named in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Fine Dining Restaurants in Britain. We are now regularly featuring in the Top 100 Lists.
All of my wine training has been done ‘on the ground’ rather than via the traditional certificated route. When time permits, I like to visit our suppliers, wine bars, other restaurants and vineyards to further my knowledge and inspire new ideas. I love visiting wineries & tasting with winemakers, it really gives you a sense of the people and story behind the wine. This year we helped out at a local vineyard by bottling 1300 bottles of Kerner by hand, it really gives you a different perspective and makes you want to serve the wine to your customers in the very best way possible.
Do you have a favourite Riedel glass or decanter, and what reaction do you get from customers when you serve their wines in the different varietal specific glass?
We love using Riedel glassware, I have lost count of how many different varietal specific glasses that we have.
The scientist in me loves that they are specifically designed to distribute a particular wine to particular areas of your palate and they really can help to decipher subtle notes in even the most complex of wine.
And as a restauranteur I love that the Riedel glasses are so beautiful and elegant and really elevate the customers experience (and also that they are durable enough to go through the dishwasher)
My favourite piece; our Riedel Black Tie decanters, they get such a great reaction from our guests when they see them.
What is your best experience in your role to date?
I love passing on what I have learnt to my colleagues and to our customers. I think some of the most rewarding work I do is with our staff, when they start working with us many of them are young and have never really tasted wines before and don’t really ‘get it’, but by teaching them the difference in wine flavour profiles, getting them to taste and understand food and wine pairings and how that decanting can make a huge difference to our customers experience of the wine. It’s really rewarding to see them recommending a great wine to our customers or for them to walk into a wine bar and confidently being able to order a bottle that they will enjoy!
What has been your biggest wine faux pas?
I find the biggest faux pas surrounding wine is the snobbery and pretension. Wine is made to be enjoyed, everyone should be made to feel comfortable picking up a wine list and asking questions.