Name: Richard King
At the moment: French Polynesia
Head Sommelier – 2016 New Zealand Young Sommelier of the Year
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
First of all, I was very lucky that my family always took me dine out at different restaurants since I was a child, and not just fine dining but also street eateries. Growing up in such a gastronomic environment really built my interest in all sorts of beverages. However I was just a winelover, what got me really into wine career was when I first started working for Hilton, I was assigned to help organise the wine cellar, and somehow it’s just like opened up a magic world to me, I was deeply attracted by all sorts different labels, and I started to google them one by one and read all the interesting stories behind each bottle. “Yes! Believe or not, Wikipedia was my first mentor!”
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?
Sommelier is hospitality, no matter which environment, either fine dining or a casual bistro, always keep a good standard. Of course a good sommelier needs to have great knowledge about food and beverage, not only wine but also beer, sake, spirit, non alcoholic beverages, tea coffee, cigar, cuisine ingredients and even the news! I still remember the first lesson my teacher Master Sommelier Brian K. Julyan gave me was the following three words “Integrity- Hospitality- Humility”
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?
My advice to a young Sommelier is to work with 100% passion and an honest heart, never stop learning and remember, you are not selling wines, you are selling experiences. Go work in a restaurant with a decent wine list, I found it is the easiest way to learn about wines.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
Usually I have my three steps: observe listening and suggest, I never suggest first, instead listen to my guests first. My favourite wine could be the worst to my guests. And depending on the mood, even weather of that day matters. Unless he or she is your best friend, my best friends always dine in at my restaurant and I always try different options for them (without asking).
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 am not too fussy about wine glasses, as long as they look elegant and they have to be proper wine glasses, not those trendy jugs or mugs. My personal favourite is Riedel, I’m always opening trying new brands. Maybe not handmade glasses? They are too fragile and overly priced.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
This is my favourite part! It is always a open question, there is never right pairing but better pairing. Keep open minded, and again, remember Sommelier isn’t just about wine, I do suggest a nice beer with our steaks sometimes.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
Oh I wish I could taste every rare bottle when my guest orders them, but always politely ask for permission first.
Where would you suggest a young Sommelier start searching for Sommelier positions on the internet in your country?
There are always careerlink at the bottom of restaurant pages, do not hesitate dropping your CVs if they are hiring. If no response you don’t lose anything.
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 have been revisiting a few famous restaurants and their award winning wine lists just trying to learn and to get some new inspirations. Also trying to understand why are they best wine list of the year, best hotel wine list, however I was quite disappointed by following:
1, massive 20 pages? No. 30 pages? Nah. 40 pages…….it’s more of a wine book
2, extremely detailed, from grape varieties to vine training, to the stories behind the wines to……..
3, a lot of trendy things, orange wines, natural wines
I’m not saying they are right or wrong, there is still a lot for me to learn. What I am trying to say is I see this as a consumer point of the view, as a outsider(not everyone is Somm) what I found is the wine list has fallen into a tool to obtain medals or to show off how much knowledge the Sommelier has. They are not wine lists written for general public, they are sommelier’s list to me they are even a bit of a snob.
If I were the guest, yes, I want to be guided every time when I go to a restaurant but I don’t want to spend hours on reading the list!!!
Yes, I want to know the story behind the wines but I’m not in a library,and moreover, I want to hear it from a sommelier, I want to interact with a sommelier to see what he or she recommends. Not readings after readings.
Yes, I want to know more about how they plant the vines but I don’t need to know too much details for my meal.
After all, I’m here to experience, to be happy, to enjoy the meal and the glass, not sit in the class having sole conversations with professors.
To me as a Sommelier, I think, the wine list should be correct, accurate and up to date. Simple easy to read but informative. Also a decent range of varieties to suit different tastes.
As the mark up, every establishment has a different standard, I can not change the markup but I could do my best to serve the best value under that certain price.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I was very lucky to live in a place 15 minutes away from vineyards and I was a part of local wine community where all our suppliers and restaurant sommeliers or owners gather regularly share our thoughts opinions and news and of course regular tasting with different themes. I also signed up as member of Guildsomm website edited by a group of Master Sommeliers. Very comprehensive information about wine industry.
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?
If two wineries with same price range and same quality, usually I would pick the representative with better attitude and personality. I once encountered a very good winery who produce amazing wines, however they have very bad attitude and super slow on delivery. I took them off the list without second thought. I do like to work with smaller family run wineries, they are generally nicer faster and easy to deal with than some “famous” large wineries.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I would be Madeira, stay fresh and energetic forever.
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?
Magnums( I love any larger format wines), Vintage port and some super tuscans that I have saved for years. Pinot Noir and Riesling as well, they are my daily coffees!
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Guildsomm, Decanter magazine.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com