Fabien Laine – France (Head Sommelier / Columnist / Wine Judge)

April 27, 2018

Name: Fabien Laine

Fabien Laine

Nationality: French

At the moment: France

Head Sommelier/ Wine Consultant / Columnist / Wine Judge / 

Website: Digital & Service Agency



Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?

Born in French South West, wine always been on the table. As a kid, I was already running in vineyards, doing harvest, tasting everything. I dreamed of wine & food so I graduated in F&B school with a specialization in wine, spirits and other beverages. I dedicated years to learning more about it, graduated as Sommelier in a neutral country (I mean non producing country, so no influence) which is Norway and then also a Certified Sake Sommelier with the SSA.

Passion drove me and I continued learning while travelling the world, discovering new languages, cultures and countries. I’ve been teached by many people including MW, MS and producers. But where I learned the most is probably  “in the action” by travelling, meeting producers, understanding nature and “terroirs”, working a lot in restaurants, reading tons of books, working in vineyards, helping organizing events, writing a blog and for some magazines, buying tons of wines just to taste and spit, participating in events, talking with consumers…

What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?

First of all being a good sommelier is not about the books. And it is not only about wine but, about all beverages served in a restaurant and accompaniment such as cigars…. Respect and humility are some of the most important value of a sommelier among others. You need to be down to earth. First of all you are a beverage manager and it is a business sure, but if you only base and believe in those values you won’t make long term in this lifestyle. You need to know that you will never be at 100%, wine world is so vast and all beverages, cigars and other things are also giants, so changing all the time, new wines, new styles, new grapes reintroduced, new appellations, new rules, new products, so many new…

The only thing constant in life is “Changing”…

Also don’t forget that you need to taste to learn, taste as many things as you can.

You also need to be organized and a very good listener, you never know who is your customer in front of you. And you need to understand him, follow his lead, and read him to understand what type of drinker he is and what would make his time a unique and good experience. Listen to your customers.

Also you need to know how to get some fun, get out of the too formal and too professional way, make feel comfortable your customer to break this fence that might appear between a customer that do not know much about wine, the bottle and you. Not everyone understands wine and knows about it as professionals do. There are so many people, many that I know and met, but also many that I want to meet especially from the US.

What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad? Any further tips?

A good advice for a correct position at home or abroad ? Probably your site is pretty good, https://www.sommelier-jobs.com/english/sommelier-e-jobs/, also don’t be afraid to contact skilled sommeliers and professionals but also the Guild of Sommeliers who has propably the best platform for sommelier and wine passionate people.

As matter fact this unique platform is highly dedicated to the job and for a yearly fee, you have access to an extensive social and educational network, provide a large amount of features such as maps, discussions, study guides, networking opportunities, enrichment programs and more.


When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?

First of all like I said previously, be a good listener. But also observer. Learn with time and experience. You never know who is your customer in front of you. You need to be able to assess his budget. « Read » him to understand what type of drinker she/he is and what would make his time a unique and good experience. You need to profile not only the customer but very important also the situation (business, family,…)  and think about the food that will be enjoyed with it.

What’s your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?

I like to experiment with glasses trying new things all the time, Riedel, Fusion, Spiegelau, and Zalto, and more. All I need is appropriate shape to the types of wine to enhance the wine, a thin glass made in crystal and border I prefer, to thick glasses shut down the wine I think. And real crystal brings good vibration to the glass. I hate Champagne flute it really kills good bubbly wines.

What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?

For wine and food pairing… ? First thing, keep it simple. Acidity makes wine often versatile. Think about the balance of the dish and how it’s been cooked. You need to understand « Cooking ». The wine and dish need to be in harmony. Experiment at home. There is not only wine to pair with food, and Sake for example is very versatile and food friendly. If sometimes the customer wants a wine, even if you know this is not the best pairing, you need to accept the choice of the customer, let him enjoy his moment and his wine. You don’t change the wine behaviours of a consumers unless he is adventurous and asks for it.

Wine list:

What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markup?

Key ingredients for a wine list would be :

  • Focus on your niche & USP
  • Achieve perfect balance between personality and pairability
  • Don’t be too conservative and traditional, move beyond clichés
  • Well and fairly priced
  • Ensure flawless and effective communication
  • Promote and update often
  • Communicate and listen with the drinkers
  • A great wine list tells stories and is a team work
  • Complements the chef’s food

When it comes to markups and pricing, I would say :

  • Create different price points – costs: Cheapest – Mid Range – Top Range
  • Fix limits of markups

When it comes to Premium Top Range wines always  try apply this rule:

  • Forget the Profit Margin
  • Think and improve the Profit Value or Cash Margin !

You need to make the customer confident that you get Top Products, applying Logic and Value Prices, and show that you get good wines resources to fit with your sommelier.

Remember when buying wine, the lifetime of a wine is Parabolic and NOT Linear.

Peak Maturity / Loss Risk Tolerance are both important in your cellar planning and managing !

As business:

– Don’t buy something if you cannot sell it !

– Don’t make too much money sleeps into your cellar.


Create classification prices in your products and make difference between Profit Margin (Cost) and Cash Margin!

Your pricing and your products assortment will determine and attract your customers (PEOPLE TALK)

How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?

Use social media, communicate, read, be open-minded and travel.

How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what’s the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?

They need to show up, propose tastings, stands out from others, be unique, have a story and connect. Today everyone tells you I make good wine !  For my part I don’t really care, I want to know what makes you so special, and what’s your plus added value. Use social media, it costs a bit time but if done carefully no money.

I said it already in a previous article for a magazine. Definitely get closer to the final consumer. They are the key. Don’t forget without any consumer (you know, the person at the end of the chain that will open the bottle, share it with its friends or family and drink it) you are nothing! Work closely with the professionals to make understand your wines. Be open minded, keep tradition and be modern. Share with them, get closer, organize more tastings, educate the consumers when doing tasting.

Favourite pick:

If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?

Not easy to answer this! Too many I could name, but the one I can name would be Port wine, for it’s panel of flavors, sorts, characters and longevity.

What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?

Can I say 4 ? Definitely Port wines, Rieslings, Rhone and Burgundy.

Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?

Sure, for platforms I would advise the #winelover group on FB that I’m ambassador of. We are people from around the world sharing a passion.for.wine, invested in social media to facilitate greater communication, education, and promote wine based business for all facets of the wine industry, from vineyard to glass. After, as I said previously I highly recommend the Guild of Sommeliers platform, a gold mine.

Jancis Robinson platform,  freshly revamped lately. Tim Atkin website and reports.

For magazines, probably The Somm Journal, Sake Today Magazine

And then for other magazines check out their social media networks, easy, quick and free of access.

Fabien Laine


@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions –  www.sommelier-jobs.com

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