Name: Stephen Towler
At the moment: UAE/Dubai
Currently: Fine Wine Category Manager
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry?
On a surfing trip to South Africa back in 1995 when I ran out of money and started working in restaurants... beforehand I had zero wine experience.
Any particular mentors at that time?
Not until I moved to Newbury and started working at the Vineyard at Stockcross. My mentors then were Edoardo Amadi and Shaun Corrigan,
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?
Humility and dedication, Gerard Basset, Dimitri Mesnard
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?
Don't just think about the money... there are lots of different things to consider including personal development, quality of life and to which next step this position will take you professionally.
Any further tips?
Never rest on your laurels as far as wine education is concerned. There is always more to learn... keep setting yourself new challenges, if you're not learning you're forgetting.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what's in your opinion would be the best approach?
Don't be too pushy if there is an upsell opportunity then take it by all means, but there are different methods for gauging how open to suggestion a customer is... I sometimes ask what customers drink when they're at home or what wines have they previously really enjoyed, then try to pick something for them of a similar price level and style. It's important to always show them the wine list as well so that they can see the price, to avoid nasty surprises when the bill comes!
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? It differs depending on the restaurant... there's a balance to be made between value, durability and prestige. I have been involved in quite a few restaurant openings where the first intention was to have fine stemware, only to move to a more durable line after a few months. I'm not sure what sort of message this sends to the guests. Better to get it right first time and not use top of the range Riedel's for a 200 cover brasserie, (as an extreme example!)
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
There are some obvious elements to balance, between what's on the plate and in the glass such as weight of the dish/power of the wine, fat/tannins, oil/acidity, sweetness/spice... but sometimes the flavour element get's overlooked. I like looking at classic food flavour combinations for inspiration, e.g. a minty noted Cabernet with lamb or an apricot flavoured Albarino, or Viognier with Pork. I remember working with a chef to create a menu for a Champagne dinner and the main course pairing wasn't quite working until we added a soy gelee to the dish to bring out the Umami character of the Champagne. Unfortunately finding a chef who is so open to such a suggestion is all too rare...
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 like a wine list to have a theme... a focus which relates in some way to the concept and cuisine of the outlet. If you can tailor that theme to current consumer trends, all the better.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry? There's so much information out there these days it can be a little overwhelming but subscribing to a couple of good blogs and magazines should do it... you have to sort out the wheat from the chaff though or this can be too time consuming. I revert to my previous comments on continued study,,,, a subscription to the guildsomm.com website has been an invaluable tool for me in this regard and it is constantly updated.
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?
Invest heavily in your sample budget by all means, but try not to leave the samples to be tasted at a later time, taste along with the Sommelier or the bottle will just sit in a sample rack.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Mourvedre or Cinsault... something Mediterranean please! Just for the weather :-)
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? At home Burgundy, Bordeaux, Mosel and for the island a Meursault Perrieres Coche Dury 2002
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommelier - www.sommeliers.at