Our Sommelier of the month for April 2015 is James Payne of Fonab Castle. James has very kindly answered a selection of questions which are below along with his response.
How did you get into the wine industry?
Following several childhood holidays in rural France & Spain, I took a Saturday job in our local "smart" hotel - The Angel, Bury St Edmunds - where the manager had the inspired idea of getting me to proof read the wine list as he knew I’d travelled a bit. It was at that moment I really put together the link between wine and its place of origin through the regional names appearing on the labels, rather than the grape variety. My parents had always tried the local wines on holiday (with the regional dishes, of course!) and somehow my brain had remembered those names: Monbazillac, Bergerac, Chinon, Chassagne-Montrachet, Gigondas, to name just a few. So as wine drinking became more popular and I was working as a waiter, I was able to talk about these wines with a natural confidence, often the best of sales techniques...and I became a sommelier without quite realising it at the time.
Why do you enjoy using Riedel glassware within your hotel/restaurant?
I was lucky enough to attend the London launch of the Riedel Restaurant range held at the original Petrus, so Marcus Wareings menu, introduced by the man himself, Angelo Gaja wines, tutored by him and all shown in Riedel glasses introduced by Georg Riedel. An unforgettable occasion, and definitely worth the round trip as it convinced the MD of Sharrow Bay Hotel, Nigel Lightburn, to purchase the glassware for the hotels Michelin starred restaurant.
Ever since that time, I have considered it natural to serve fine wine in Riedel Glassware.
What reaction do you get from customers when you serve their wines in different varietal specific glasses?
The Riedel name is now well known among the fine wine drinking public and so when we serve good wine in the right Riedel glass the customer is immediately at ease and to my mind reassured in their expectation of quality in a fine dining environment.
What’s been your biggest ‘wine’ faux pas?
Whilst decanting a magnum of 1978 Petrus at table side in Le Pont de la Tour restaurant, my watch alarm began beeping loudly. That section of the restaurant fell silent as other customers were intrigued by the noise...and my face was no doubt turning as red as the wine passing gently into the Riedel decanter. I kept calm and carried on decanting, after all the wine had to be looked after and my embarrassment faded as the table quietly applauded the end result.