Name: Ravi Sankonah
At the moment: UAE, Dubai
Current Position: Brand Manager/Head of Wine
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
It was 7 years ago when I joined a company, a fine dining Thai restaurant in Dubai for the position of Assistant Bar Manager. There was a cellar with around 700 different labels. There was no sommelier in the restaurant and the staff didn’t have any clue about wine except the General Manager, but unfortunately he left 2 months after I joined. After, it didn’t take me very long to start understanding the labels and become passionate about it as I had lots of support from the Operation Manager to do my wine courses. Wine took me so deeply that within 2 years in the company I was awarded as well recommended sommelier in the Middle East for Hotelier Middle east Caterer award. For me that was when my journey started.
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?
For me a sommelier is considered as the brain of the restaurant. Beside knowledge of food, wine, spirits and service which is a must, he or she should have the ability to understand the team as well as the guest needs. He or she should be a motivator, and have the ability to drive people toward the same passion. Olivier Gasselin (3 years consecutive sommelier of the years 2013, 2014 and 2015), the Man behind my successful career.
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?
Passion is the key to success. It might be challenging in the beginning but once you start understanding, it become easy.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what's in your opinion would be the best approach?
First of all I will ask the guest if he or she has any preference on grape variety, style or country. And then I will recommend a wine of his preference which goes well with the food ordered.
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?
For me glasses do have a big impact on the wine service. Each glass differentiates the characteristic and the quality of the wine we are serving. In the restaurant here we use Riedel and Spiegelau.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
If you are thinking of Red wine goes with meat and white wine goes with fish, I will suggest you to erasing it. Any wine can goes with any dishes as long we consider those elements which are balance of flavor, weight, acidity level, tannin and sweetness.
Should a Sommelier (e) taste the guest's wine?
To keep the quality of service at a high level, I recommend sommelier to taste the wine before serving it to the guests as this allow us to find out if the wine is free of faults or not.
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?
You can have lots of selling skills and knowledge about wine but when your price are double than other restaurant price, it reduce the restaurant reputation in general. Here in Dubai you have to base your price after adding the supplier tax, hotel tax, municipality tax and service charge; and not to forget your margin on the top of that.
You also have to do a strong market survey with price comparison.
There is no harm to reduce the price for few wines as it will bring you lot of business, and of course you cannot look too cheap as well.
More business you do, you will receive more support from the supplier with FOC to reduce your cost and increase your margin.
You need to create your own unique wine list. In the restaurant here, we have many specially import wine exclusively for our restaurant in Dubai. Guests have a lot of different option to experience. Most of the wines are tasted with our signature dishes to make sure it pair well with the food before we introduce it in the wine list.
The wine list should be free of mistake. Proper name, vintage and etc..
A wine list should not have many out of stock items and should be changed at least 2 to 3 times a year. (Here we change every month).
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Daily wine news, Magazine, researching, masterclass, trade tasting, wine dinners, travelling, competitions and etc..
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?
Masterclass and send sample to the restaurant so we can try it with the food. Trade tasting.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Halfway matured Cabernet Sauvignon because I like full bodied wine, complex with tobacco, cedar, oak and specially when the tannin has soften a little bit..
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) Shiraz from Barossa Valley, Australia
2) Pauillac Medoc Bordeaux
3) Piedmonte Italy
So far I have not yet try a dessert wine from Mauritius. But I particularly like the Vin de Constance, Klein Constantia from South Africa.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Jancis Robinson, Decanter magazine and also the daily news online, wine spectator. And not to forget www.sommeliers.at
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers - www.sommeliers.at