Oscar Malek, head sommelier at Chewton Glen hotel & spa in Hampshire, has grown the wine list at the luxury hotel to more than 1,000 individual liines. He tells Katherine Alano what he looks for in a bin
We take great pride in our entire selection, but I do stock the odd bottle that might tickle my fancy more than the next. These tend to be the quirkier wines, such as Chardonnay and Merlot from Washington state in the USA, Rhone-style wines from the Lebanon and Israel and the very delicate Koshu, an indigenous white grape variety grown exclusively in Japan. England and Austria also have my vote, for whites and reds alike, and the spicy and voluptuous Monastrell of the south-eastern part of Spain wouldn't go far amiss, either.
Have diners become more knowledgeable in choosing wine? Absolutely. We are now catering for a very discerning crowd of hardened restaurant-goers. Wine has become a great deal more accessible to the general public, what with the huge influx of prominent wine personalities, with their many books and TV spotlights, as well as the private wine courses available across the country. This certainly puts the pressure on when providing high-end wine service to these experienced quaffers.
Who are your wine suppliers? We purchase wine from almost 30 individual sources. The larger companies, such as Enotria, Liberty, Berkmann and Matthew Clark, feature among our suppliers, as well as more boutique importers, such as Boutinot, Gerrard Seel, Georges Barbier and OW Loeb. We also give business to a couple of local companies, notably Whirly Wines, Vine Associates and Cape Wine Cellars.
How do you decide what features on the wine list? A great deal of tasting, trial and error, coupled with my team's wonderful ability to keep me on track and tell me where I'm going wrong. The ethos is very much based around sourcing individual wines of character that punch well above their price tag and that are made in a sustainable and conscientious manner. Naturally, we are somewhat obliged to list the big names on our wine menu, such as the great super-Tuscan reds of Italy, the famous whites of the Loire and a rocking collection of Classified Growths from Bordeaux, but from there on out, we pride ourselves on selecting the unknown labels from undiscovered regions â¨of the world.
What is the most expensive wine you have? A magnum bottle of 1982 Chateau Margaux from Bordeaux. At £6,950, it's a bargain!
What is the most unusual wine? White Koshu from the Yamanashi prefecture in Japan, red Areni Noir from Armenia, white Passerina from Le Marche in Italy and white AlbariÁ±o from Uruguay are some of our more unusual finds. It is also rare to see wines from Luxembourg imported into the UK, of which we have three.
What makes a good sommelier? An inherent thirst for knowledge and a natural desire to do right by one's guests, alongside a genuine passion for wining and dining, will make you an indispensable asset to our team. A little humility also goes a long way, as it is all too easy to be a little too pleased with one's knowledge and level of service, as is the fault of many in our trade. A good memory and a working palate will make a good wine waiter of you, but a great energy and attitude will quickly make you a shining star of the sommelier world and the hospitality business.