Tobias Brauweiler, group sommelier for Hakkasan and 2015 UK Sommelier of the Year finalist, explains how today's sommelier needs to be more knowlegeable and hospitable than ever before.
What makes a good sommelier?
Integrity plays a vital role to become a top sommelier. Not only with your customers, but with your team and your suppliers too.
What are you favourite food and wine pairings?
Apple strudel and German Riesling – possibly Spätlese or Auslese style.
What was your best wine find of 2019?
With the opening in Mykonos in May I was exposed to the wonderful wines of Greece. One of the highlights I tasted was a producer called Biblia Chora and their white blend of Sémillon and Assyrtiko Ovilos.
Which wine can't you do without on your list?
With my link to South Africa, there always needs to be a trendy label of South African wine on the list. You might have expected Riesling, but I have this on my private list at home.
What's your guiltiest wine pleasure?
Drinking more than my fair share of the white wine when I'm out for dinner with my wife!
How do you develop your knowledge and skills?
Training sommeliers and our restaurant teams keeps me fresh and on my toes. Staying in touch with the trends means making sure to open one or two bottles for yourself too.
Who is your biggest inspiration and what did you learn from them?
I take great inspiration from the sommeliers who worked with me in the past. Seeing them strive, grow in their career and being successful is the best motivation for me to stay on top of things.
Who would be on your ideal sommelier team?
My loyal and trusted colleague and friend Jose Hernandez, head sommelier at Hakkasan Hanway Place. We have been working together since 2011.
To keep some fun in the team I would like to see Anja Breit and Helga Schroeder, who are inspiring lots of young sommeliers in Germany. This would add diversity, as well as one or two laughs after service!
How has the role of the sommelier changed in the past five years?
Technology plays a big part in the restaurant scene these days. All information is accessible; every wine can be researched online and compared to a wine list. More than ever sommeliers need to be up to date with statistics, tasting notes, market prices and changes in wine in general.
We are seeing the next generation enjoying restaurants, going out a lot and adding a little luxury to their life. They will visit establishments with a sommelier, of course, and they do look for an extra bit of attention, an extra bit of interaction and education.
Today's sommelier increasingly needs to be a people person and emotionally intelligent – not just someone who can serve with knowledge and skill.
What advice would you give a front of house team member considering training to be a sommelier?
We have seen over the last few years a fair number of FOH team members converting into the sommelier team. I think training and development is a mindset, whatever route you take with your education and academic studies.
We are currently encouraging our sommeliers to enter the Court of Master Sommeliers and local competitions. Both are great platforms to network and exchange experiences and ideas with other sommeliers and like-minded colleagues.
What new skills have you developed this year?
What's your goal for 2020?
For my new role with Hakkasan, I have a clear idea of how the wine selection process will look. The implementation of a more collaborative approach to how wine is listed in the restaurant is crucial.
The sommelier team, the bar team, management team and chefs will have a voice when we do tastings with our suppliers, partners and wine makers.
Another goal is to strengthen our exclusive and in-demand wine dinners with top producers around the world. We have hosted a few last year with great success and will roll this out in 2020 on a larger scale.
On a personal level, my goals for this year are very simple: make more time for friends and family, be a better father every day and possibly buy a new car.
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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