Name: Mark Graham
At the moment: United Kingdom
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
My first brief encounters with wine span most decades of my life before my actual full time involvement.
The mid 70’s saw my class at middle school writing to wineries in the south of France for labels, I was one that received a reply and some labels.The early 80’s saw me bussing across France with the school to Switzerland and I always remember we must have been crossing the Rhone Valley, seeing the terraced hillsides with some corners occupied by a single cultivar. In the late 90’s I moved to Niagara Canada and was exposed to the developing wine industry there. Mid 2000’s I lived in Vancouver and attended my first WSET wine courses due to a curiosity to finally know more about this huge subject.
2010 I took the plunge and a full time role as commis sommelier at Hotel Du Vin in Winchester. Four and a half years later I feel I have found my vocation in life. Working fulltime in wine and midway through my Diploma with a further curiosity of most things wine and beverage.
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?
I suppose from a distance I could consider Gerard Basset and The Court of Master Sommeliers as mentors. I adhere to their ethos of modestly providing the information and service to enhance the guest experience as much as possible.
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?
Any keen young person can come to England and find a role as commis sommelier. London is one of the great centres of the world for wine. The exposure to tastings and arguably the best food and beverage scene in the world, opportunities are possibly second to none. Be persistent, want to be involved and when your opportunity arises put your head down and work hard.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
No two guests are the same and so my preferred approach is to try and seek the most information possible in the brief time frame available. I try to ascertain the guests awareness, to pair with food or not and what they initially have in mind. I then proceed to work on this information and provide a solution/experience to suit expectations and budget. I feel it’s my role to suggest wines and scenarios they probably have not thought or know of. Whatever the guest decides I try to make sure they feel good about their choice. Different guests have different requirements in this area, all of which a good sommelier should have a sixth sense for. Those who wonder about their abilities in these areas should always remember, it is an ongoing development. Seek to achieve and it will happen.
On this point I would stress any business or management structure that see’s sommeliers as merely bright runners who pour wine are missing great revenue development opportunities. Sommeliers can have the greatest single effect on the guests experience and the businesses revenue than anyone else in the room.
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?
Regarding glassware, it should always be clean and polished. Where possible and practical the most suitable glass for any given wine is ideal. However in the real world and certainly the quality restaurant arena big wines should always have the space to be swirled and get air. Where necessary closing in a little at the rim to avoid delicate fragrances being lost. Red and white Burgundy for instance. I work in a high end restaurant and we sell a lot of fine wine, we use Riedel. I would say anyone selling wine over £4 per glass should be using a quality provider or at least adhering the above guidelines.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Most of the advice I give on pairing is specific to the guest requirements mentioned previously. However so far as a few personal guidelines are concerned I’d say pair weight for weight. Acidity and minerality with many fish and a little fuller fruit and oak with sauces. Tannins with meat and more robust wines with tougher meats. Often times if in doubt, go to the Rhone and you’ll find something to do the job. I mention to my guests that they could take several expressions of Rhone wines home and have with their bacon and eggs in the morning, such is the versatility of this region.
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 markups?
Wine lists should try and suit the style of restaurant, the location, the target clientele and the particular ethos sought by the owners/management. My beef is more likely to be with any particular operation not providing the product quality and care suitable to the many different operating styles. Pricing policies should reflect the said operation.
I think it is fair to say most operations are corporate machines with an ethos of extracting as much profit as possible. It could also be said that most people are not forced to go to establishments serving fine wine. The competition is intense, however the battlegrounds chosen often seem to be on the marketing fronts and not the price of fine wine usually. However there are exceptions in London and wine led quality/value enthusiast owned and managed operations are expanding. Good wine is something of a luxury when consumed in the ontrade, to become more widespread vendors should constantly show knowledge care and attention to keeping and serving it properly. Storage and handling, temperature, glasses, decanting where necessary and basic product knowledge at the very least.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Staying on top of what’s going on must be easier than ever these days due to technology. Even so the wine and beverage industry is ever expanding. I take some email and twitter feeds and so have a fair cross section of what’s going on. Often a headline tells you most about the article and so you can home in on what is most pertinent.
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?
For a new vineyard to get my attention the best way would be to really engage me on the palate at a wine tasting. Be efficient/organised so I can easily understand what I’ve tasted. Then make it easy to acquire.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
If I were a wine I’d be a Syrah. Very versatile, a great traveller with solid roots and able to stand shoulder to shoulder with any other varietal in the world.
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?
In my collection there is nice Rhone (not difficult to find) a nice magnum of champagne for the extra depth and complexity and a few suppertime bottles from around the world. My desert Island wine would be a Chablis seeing as i’d be eating a lot of fish. Probably a Blanchots for its femininity to remind me of the finer things in life.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Decanter magazine is a good allrounder with a great online presence. The drinks business has great content and in depth articles along with Imbibe. The latter 2 are very much industry magazines however there are numerous outlets online with good content.
Please take a look at this link for my place in London. I’d like to especially welcome wine travellers from the industry as I know many travel at their own expense and not all have great budgets for this. I can also give them tips on great value wine led establishments around London.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com