Name: Martin Charlebois
At the moment: Canada
Website: Le Wine Hunter
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
I was 5 years old when I encountered wine for the first time with my beloved Grandmother. Sitting on her lap, she made me drink wine with her every night, not much. Then when we drank something else, I told her that it was very different from the previous one. If I could only remembered her face. Then through school from 8 till today I am reading, tasting and trying to perfect my skills. No real mentor, but very good teacher in Vittorio Fiore and Alessandro Fiore with whom I have a very close relationship.
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 think that curiosity is one of the top attitude to have, As for the rest I prefer humble sommelier that are mostly interested by the origin of the wine than the wines itself. That said humility in front of diners and these great men and woman that decided to dedicate their lives to the great Nectar of the gods. Sommelier I Like are Jean-Michel Cartier (Auberge St-Gabriel in Montreal), I also love the precision of Elyse Lambert (will be at world sommelier competition representing Canada).
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?
When I was teaching was telling them to trust their own palate without the influence of the market leader and go read some of HoseMaster story to get back at what wine is. Do not play the snobby card anywhere, know your wines, know all you want but do not act like a « poser » and invent some theory about something you do not know. Info is out there, you are not giving a show you are serving wine, you are not saving lives you are a guide to experiment.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
Acquiring information on the diner’s taste. This way you will be able to properly guide this person through the wine list. Keep in mind that people are not aware of wines that makes sommelier die and go to heaven, be ready to answer questions humbly about your suggestions, never bash or be condescending on a diner’s choice of wine. Pair intelligently for the meals that are at that table. serve what you would like to be served, serve with dignity. The choice will always be the clients one.
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 have been through so many glasses in my life. I love my Riedel Sommelier (given by a friend, because all sommelier knows that our budget goes on the wines, not on the glasses). My preferred glasses to taste are often the Riedel restaurant, because I have a benchmark of what sensation dinner will have. I do not need the fuss about technical glass!
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Drink what you like! this way no disappointments… Go with the weight of the meal, heavy meal match it with heavy wines, light and delicate you would be surprised to find that this type of wine paired to perfection is heaven. Try Barolo with Dark Chocolate or Some Ribolla Gialla on some Seared Tuna with a « squirt » of fresh lemon and basil!
Experiment, have fun, Wine consumers are not technical molecular engineers They are fun people that loves experimenting!
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
I find this practice disrespectful, condescending and cheap. Disrespectful because you are not the one paying for it, so let it be the consumer to tell you to do so or back-off. In service you would not have a glass at the bar between customer, now who do you think you are at table side? Their friends? Condescending, It is like people do not know nothing, You are Mister Sommelier right? Some dinner have more experience in tasting then young sommelier so let the person do his assessment of the bottle you brought. Cheap, that goes to the restaurant owners, you want skill sommeliers, staffer, better chef and waiter…. open bottles to have your staff taste… This way they know something beside the back label…
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 mark ups?
The key is to have a great network of supplier, people that are passionate about their producers. If a rep comes to me with a catalog he is only a peddler to me. You want to catch my attention, bring me tasting samples. have me taste what you sell. Always create your list with your dinner in mind, not your personal taste, As a professional you should go over this boundary. you have the skills to taste, selflessly it is your duty to find what your dinner will like. I am not saying to go with sure value or wines with cash back programs, Dinners are there to experiment, create that experience with your diners, show them that you are not only serving you are on a search mission for their enjoyment.
For the pricing, if only people knew the cost of running a fine dining establishment. This is all about paying your fees and making a bit of cash on the side. But mark ups are mainly up to 2.5 for me. over that could be abusive.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry? Never stop studying or exploring, If you come across an unknown region, grape varietal or a wine from Mars, you have the obligation to taste it and continuously evolve with the market. If you stop you are dead!
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?
This is easy, do you marketing by putting the juices in my mouth, do not tell me all the tech bullshit behind it.
3 simple questions I ask.
1- How much does it taste (for my palate, what is the price point of this wine) I call it my blind cost tasting. If it is below expectation you have a step in the door.
2 – Will my dinner like it? this is the hardest question. but a good sommelier should know about what his clientele expect from the restaurant.
3- would I have fun selling that, can I create a bond between this wine and my clients? A bonus question I always ask myself, If I am a dinner and I pay this wine with the mark up do I feel I have a great value or that I am getting laughed at?
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
If I was I would be a strange one! I would be a Schioppettino from the Friuli I guess, unknown to the mass, particularly spicy and surprising with a light approach in color and in texture but seduce you with a mouthful of what the hell just happened there!
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?
1 – Montescudaio Rosso DOC, Rosso delle Miniere by Sorbaiano: at ten years old this wine is all it can be and more. Deep, full, balanced complex. This is something that can grow on you quite quickly.
2 – Barolo Vigna Rionda by Massolino: For me this estate in Serralunga d’Alba is the best consistent house of the Barolo Kings. Always so pure, winemaking is flawless year after year, A sense of place, terroir and respect for what it is. This is something you share one glass for you, the rest for me! on top of that it is my son’s favorite wine, he is only 11!
3 -Piantonaia, My favorite wine ever
My desert Island wine would be Piantonaia, from Podere Poggio Scalette. I am crazy about that wine. The only problem is it is available only at Enoteca il pinchiorri in Florence. This restaurant is buying the whole 100 cs production every year from Vittorio Fiore. Good thing for me, I am kind of part of the family so I can drink it while I am there!
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Oh well there are the usual suspect, Wine spec, Decanter and all others, I read articles and opinions, I usually suggest to not build an opinion reading them, just trust your own taste. As for online platforms I am more of a reader on paper than on screen!
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com
Dominik Kozlik e.U.
4020 Linz, Austria