Name: Gregory Smith
At the moment: Peru
Director of Wine
Website: Vines & Wines
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
I was working in a gourmet food shop in Omaha, Nebraska, when the wine bug bit me. The owner was a New Yorker, a retired department store executive who was a novice chef and fanatical about French and German wines. The shop also had quite a nice selection of wines, and at the time, that would have been the early 1980s, we could still get fantastic German wines from 1971, 75, and 76. Riesling from the Mosel has been my favorite ever since.
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?
A good sommelier must know the food he works with in order to write a good wine list. A wine list must be more than a walk down the supermarket aisle. It must include wines that work well with the food the restaurant serves. The good sommelier must also be a good listener, and understand what the client wants, and also know when the client wants interaction and when not. Within the wine industry, although not a sommelier, is Jancis Robinson. She’s spot-on, fair in her reviews, and highly ethical, and for those qualities I truly admire her.
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?
Probably the biggest challenge will be adjusting to a different culture, and if you don’t speak the language that will certainly add a particularly difficult hurdle. Of course if you’re going to move to a developing country you’ll have to accept the fact that salaries are not going to be what they are in the developed world. And then there are little things that you realize once you arrive, like you can’t find your favorite brand of mustard, or the climate isn’t what you expected, or you can’t find any Austrian wine!
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
I like to start off asking what they’ve enjoyed recently. If they can give you two or three examples, you’ll have some idea of what to suggest. I also like to ask if they want to play it safe, or if they’re feeling adventurous.
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?
We work principally with Riedel and Schott-Zwiesel, and currently we use 21 different types of wine glasses. We experiment with different wine glasses with different wines, especially the wines that accompany the tasting menu.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
When the chef creates a new dish, I talk with him about not only the flavors, but also the textures and aromas, and the concept behind the dish. I then allow myself some time to think all this over, then decide on four to six wines to try with the dish. I call my team of sommeliers together and invite a chef or two to join us, and we try the dish with the various possible wines. Usually one of the wines works perfectly although sometimes not, and then we have to rethink.
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?
I think the wine list really depends on the style of the restaurant and its cuisine, and what the sommelier wants to do with the list. You could be a specialist in one region or country if the cuisine permits, or you could have the best of a bit of everything. You might work in a market with little or no access to certain wines, which will certainly restrict your creativity, or you might not have much storage space and so have to make do with the space you have and focus on a small selection of wines that best work with the food. But if you’re going to be innovative, think your concept through and make sure it works. To my esteemed colleagues in Peru who dream of an all Peruvian wine list, I’m sorry, but the quality isn’t there yet.
Certainly a restaurant is a business, and as in any business it must make money in order to survive and thrive. Markups should be fair, but in the case of rare bottles it’s a seller’s market. In my case, the least expensive wines are marked up the most, and the more expensive bottles the least. I think it’s absurd for a restaurant to sell a bottle of wine at $300 or $400 that a client can buy at the supermarket for $100.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I read a lot online to stay up-to-date on international news, and I talk to my peers and attend meetings to find out what’s going on in the local market. It’s important to interact with your peers.
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?
Given the spotlight on Peruvian cuisine and the restaurant scene in Lima at the moment, we are constantly bombarded with new wines entering the market and requests for appointments to taste new wines. I always taste prospective wines with my team, and on most occasions I invite other wine professionals to taste with us. If we aren’t convinced of the quality of a wine, or if it simply doesn’t work on our wine list, we don’t add it. It doesn’t do me or the producer any good to add a wine that my team isn’t going to sell, even if Parker and Suckling loved it.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I would be a GG Mosel Riesling, with a dry sense of humor and plenty of acidity to keep me snappy even at a ripe old age.
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?
You’ll always find Austrian Grüner Veltliner (Kamptal, Kremstal, Wachau), Mosel Riesling, and red Burgundy at home. Mosel Riesling would have to be the desert island wine because it’s refreshing and thirst-quenching even if not chilled.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Online I read The Drinks Business and Decanter just about every day. Wine Spectator I read a couple of times a week.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com
Dominik Kozlik e.U.
4020 Linz, Austria