Name: Rakesh Awaghade
At the moment: India
Currently: Head Sommelier & Wine Buyer
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
Although I knew next to nothing about the wine, my interest grew as I listened to people at tables with bottles, telling stories about the people who made them and the places they came from while I was working as a server in a modern Indian restaurant situated in the corner pocket of Westminster abbey, London were matching wine with Indian food was a complete no-no. I changed the mindsets of people as I learned to pair people to bottles and vice versa.
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?
A genuine interest and love for the wines; if you like geography and science it will be like an icing on the cake. Other than that a good Sommelier should also possess a great personality, be humble, friendly and diplomatic and should understand people quickly.
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?
Sommelier needs to travel and explore them with the international market as you get to learn the current trends within the multicultural environment. Hence a prior experience at home and then need to look out for abroad for international exposure.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what's in your opinion would be the best approach?
The best approach would be to understand the customer’s requirement (spending power) and the mood (occasion), once you know that it will be easy to match the customer’s expectations. Also many a times it’s better to know what style of wine they usually drink.
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 so fussy about the glasses as long as they are crystal since a wine takes a different stage when served in the right stemware. I am currently working with multiple brands in different outlets as fine dining restaurants have Zalto, all day dining restaurants have schott zwiesel and banquets have ocean wine glasses.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
My only advice would be do not follow any rules. Secondly if you still follow the rule then make sure there is enough salt and acidity in the food to enjoy your wine. Thirdly wine should be matched with the diner not with the dinner.
Should a Sommelier (e) taste the guest's wine?
Oh absolutely as we have to make sure the wine served on the table is flawless.
The two major threats we face over here are of cooked wine (cause of temperature fluctuations during transport) and oxidation(due to irregular storage conditions) though corked wine doesn’t come that often.
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?
I believe wine is geography in bottle and hence there should be a good diversity and I prefer single varietal wines and indigenous grapes to fully express the people and the heritage of a particular terroir. This is how I decided to create a larger offering in our wine list by covering others important wine regions such as Languedoc, Jura, South West of France, Corsica, Central and South Italy with its Islands, Portugal, Georgia, Slovakia, Greece and new world wine regions such as Washington and Oregon in USA. It depends on the level of restaurant, but generally the right markup should be in proportion to wine's cost, more expensive the wine and less should be the markup in proportion. In some cases of a wine very rare, few bottles produced, very hard to get, an exceptional vintage; I would apply an high mark-up because of its exceptional quality: Usually entry level wines have a high mark up and that’s how a restaurant generates most of its profit.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Networking and engaging with the trade people, attend wine tasting events and sessions, master classes, seminars, subscribe to newsletter and magazines, visiting international exhibitions and vineyards. Study continuously which refreshes your knowledge and apply it to practice.
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 the wines are listed with a distributor of any country then I encourage a representative from the house to do regular master class and wine dinners to get the attention. If you aren’t listed then you should do a private tasting with the group sommelier/wine buyer of a particular hotel/restaurant chain to get listed.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I would be a Barbaresco because of his constant changing personality, with an ultimate expression of power, balance and refinement. When carefully aged the tannins and austerity soften revealing the true personality.
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?
Champagne, German Riesling and Piedmont Nebbiolo.
A tough choice to decide on one desert island wine but for the moment it would be 1999 Salon Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Wine Spectator’s, Decanter, Glass of Bubbly, Drinks Business(newsletter)
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