I was long overdue with writing a short summary of my thoughts about Gerard Basset’s posthumous autobiography Tasting Victory, yet watching a part of the Best Sommelier of Russia 2020 yesterday as YouTube live stream reminded me that I owe it to one of the greatest wine professionals.
Mr. Basset, likely the most known sommelier of all times, holder of both Master of Wine and Master Sommelier titles, the winner of the Best Sommelier of the World and multiple winner of the Best Sommelier in the UK, was a humble but determined Frenchman, who moved to Britain in his youth, accepted his new homeland and embraced his wine profession, and strived to become best in business, in service and in competition. While I initially hoped that the book would have a bit on his wine knowledge and wine travels, like Kermit Lynch or Neil Rosenthal s books are – well, it has none of that. This is a book of determination and achievement, of setting targets and milestones to get there, be it wine or something else. No stories of fraternizing with top Burgundy vignerons, or getting drunk with Gianfranco Soldera. Sadly.
Yet, the Russian competition yesterday and its panel of top contenders, all three already retired from the actual sommelier work, forced me to put a quote here. Here it goes, from the man himself, and not me.
Following the test, I talked a lot with Nina, and in her very rational manner she reassured me about my sommelier ability. We came up with the idea that for the last two months I would work “on the floor” at TerraVina and be the sommelier. From the opening of Hotel TerraVina I had always been involved with the wine service, but rarely fully, as I had some talented sommeliers working for me. Indeed, my role was to greet the guests and work with Nina to supervise the overall service.
Therefore, I told my two sommeliers, Laura and Laurent, that each evening I would do the wine service at Hotel TerraVina and they would be there just to back me up during very busy periods in a reversal of the roles. It turned out to be a great idea, as I put myself under a lot of pressure. Regular guests wanted to talk to me, but I had to find polite ways to keep the conversations with them short and not get behind, in order to accomplish the wine service with minimum help from Laura and Laurent. On the whole I managed well, and in fact I really enjoyed it.
In addition, I did two very short stints in top restaurants. Diego Masciaga, the managing director of the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn, the restaurant owned by Michel and Alain Roux in Bray, kindly let me spend two days working as a commis sommelier there. I explained to Diego that it was important that I was treated no differently from any of his employees. Those two days were extremely beneficial as I was serving at the top end of fine dining, which I had not done since working at Chewton Glen.