The founder of Ampéli, an Eastern Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in Fitzrovia that serves exclusively Greek wines, on how she steers customers to unknown terroirs
What makes a good sommelier?
Being a good listener. Picking a wine for a guest should be collaborative process. I have to consider their flavour profile and preferences and, once I know these things, we can come up with some options together. Sharing this moment with the guest gives them the opportunity to get involved and passionate about wine.
What are you favourite food and wine pairings?
I love sparkling wine with seafood! Something extra brut with a nice pan-fried fish and some green veggies would be excellent.
On our list we have Domaine Karanika Extra Brut, from a blend of assyrtiko and xinomavro, a typical cold climate sparkling wine. It's dry with everlasting bubbles and perfect for this.
What's your best wine find of the past 12 months?
The Naoussa Alta Xinomavro by Apostolos Thymiopoulos. Lovely wine – it reminds me of top terroir Pinot Noir style.
Which wine can't you do without on your list?
Biblia Chora Areti Assyrtiko. It has proved to be a real crowdpleaser and I would hate to tell guests we no longer have it!
What's your guiltiest wine pleasure?
Aszu Tokaji. I have two shelves' worth of tokaji in my wine fridge at home. It takes about seven years to mature and it keeps its amazing flavour for ages. It is made with a very traditional winemaking technique that is untouchable because of the great wines it produces, which I love.
How do you develop your knowledge and skills?
I'm constantly talking to like-minded people. There is so much happening in the wine world right now and a large part of the innovations are being done by young people, which I love.
I also read both old and new books on wine – I love noticing the changes and developments across regions and grape varieties throughout history.
One of my favourite things is learning from guests, as it teaches me about what people who may not have studied wine but enjoy it really think about Greek wines.
Who is your biggest inspiration and what did you learn from them?
My grandmother, an excellent cook, has been and still is a big inspiration for me and encouraged me to open my restaurant on Charlotte Street. I have vibrant memories of her cooking and the way she took care of everyone.
Which sommeliers do you admire?
Terry Kandylis [head sommelier at 67 Pall Mall]. I have met Terry a couple of times and I always learn something new. I love picking his brain. He is one of the young Greek sommeliers really changing the way we look at Greek wines.
Who would be on your ideal sommelier team?
Anyone who is passionate and with a strong team spirit – and smiling is very important!
How has the role of the sommelier changed in the past five years?
I am new to restaurants as I used to be a photographer, so it's hard to comment, but I think sommeliers tend to care a little more these days, spending more time listening to find out what their guests want.
This may be because the spectrum of wines served in restaurants has grown in the last few years. Natural, indigenous and wines from "forgotten" regions have become very popular. More communication is required between the sommelier and the guest.
What advice would you give a front of house team member considering training to be a sommelier?
Smile, communicate, listen and read. Communication and understanding are vital; as is working together with the guest to give them the experience Ampéli stands for.
What new skills have you developed this year?
I have definitely become more patient and diplomatic in difficult situations.
What's your goal for 2020?
I want Ampéli to grow and shine some light on Greece and its wines.
Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year 2020
Entries are now open for the 2020 Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year, the awards that recognise the very finest talent in wine service.
Organised by The Caterer, in partnership with the Academy of Food & Wine Service, the competition is open to professional sommeliers and waiting staff working in the UK.
Candidates are judged on their wine and drink expertise as well as their ability to deal efficiently and knowledgeably with customers by demonstrating exemplary front of house skills.
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