ame: Julie Dupouy
At the moment: Republic of Ireland
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
Being French, wine used to take part of most of our meals at home when I was a child. Nobody would consume it in quantity but would have one glass or half a glass of wine at lunch and/or dinner, sometimes mixed with water. My grandparents on both my dad’s and mom’s side were growers and would make their own wines as well as growing other fruits and vegetables. I think my very first encounter with “fine wine” was on my 16th birthday with a bottle of Margaux, Chateau Marquis de Terme of my year of birth. I did not really like wine at this time but finding out that wine could be kept for so many years fascinated me. A few month later, I decided to stop general studies to enter a catering school to become a sommelier
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?
First of all, I think a sommelier should be someone passionate with a love for studies. The world of wine is in constant movement and the more you learn, the more you realize how little you knew and how much more there is left to know!
Apart from his knowledge, I believe that what makes a good sommelier is his personality. A sommelier should be humble, friendly with a good sense of people. Very often, the sommelier is seen as someone very intimidating in a restaurant. When you go to a table, you might have maximum 2/3 minutes to understand who is sitting at a table, what do they like or are used to drink, what they are looking for, what body language/way of speaking make them comfortable or uncomfortable, etc…. A good sommelier should understand people quickly and be diplomatic.
I have met many people that I admire within the wine industry but the first person that comes into my mind has to be Gerard Basset.
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?
I suppose internet is a very good place to start looking. Some websites such as the UDSF (French Sommeliers Association www.sommelier-france.org) and the European Sommelier association (www.sommeliers-europe.com) have some very good jobs ‘opportunities and are updated regularly. Also checking the Relais & Chateaux website can be a good solution. I often found that you have to be careful when registering with some catering agencies as you might end up dealing with people that are here to sell you and not necessarily help you find a role that suits you.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
I have always been taught at school about wine pairings and I realized after a few years working that they are not necessarily the most important part of a wine recommendation. Of course you have to be able to offer them if a customer asks but if someone is having a tasting menu and wants to order one bottle of wine you have to change strategy!
First all, it might sound strange, but I would always ask people what colour of wine they are looking to order, independently of what they are eating. Many people only drink red wine and love eating fish.
Secondly, I would check with them if there is a style of wine that they are generally happy to drink or that their particularly enjoy so I can base my recommendation not only on the dish but also on their taste.
Regarding a budget, if you are not sure how much people are willing to spend, you can politely ask “do you mind me asking what budget you have in mind” (but that should be done if only you feel it is the right thing to do with these customers…. For example not at a business lunch or when someone is hosting the table!). The other solution is to make a few recommendations in three different price brackets and then judge the reaction of the customer. Don’t offer anything above €150 (roughly) as if someone is looking to spend more you will know about it.
Finally, if someone is asking your opinion on a bottle of wine at a certain price point and you think that it would not be suited for them, do not suggest anything else way more expensive as you might only end up losing the customer’s trust !
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?
Regarding glasses, I always make sure that they are a couple of “safe options” in each colour (white and red) but I also like having some interesting options that most people may not have heard of as glasses are often the occasion to surprise and educate people.
When it comes to serve glasses, it is always done at the table as I like people to taste the wine first to make sure that they like it and to get a chance to explain my choice or give some indications about the wine.
I also think that a wine by the glass selection should change regularly (at least a part of it).
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
I know it is not always easy to get to taste the dishes when working in a restaurant (unfortunately too many chefs still do not understand the importance of a sommelier in the establishment and the necessity to get the staff to taste new dishes regularly!)
I suppose the first thing I would suggest to pay attention to when pairing a dish with a wine is the flavour profile of the dish (style of sauce, spices? herbs?). After this, the balance of taste has to be carefully determined (is it salty, bitter, acid or sweet). If there is a protein in the dish what category does it fit in? (poultry, fish, red meat, game, etc). Finally is the dish a classical dish or does it seem to take some inspiration from a country in particular. (Then the wine choice could be made within this country) The more components on a plate, the more difficult the pairing becomes.
Once all these elements have been thought of, it is time to decide if you want to make a pairing by matching or by opposition… Finally don’t close yourself into thinking wine only when giving advice for a pairing. (Especially if it is by the glass). Nowadays, people are very happy to taste other products such as sake, beers, whiskey, etc…
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?
Well, unfortunately we have the highest excise duty on wine in Europe in Ireland so the prices on wine lists are becoming a real issue here. Everywhere I worked was looking to do 70% margin on their wines….. Personally, I always wished that I had been able to charge 70% margin only on “house wines” and wines by the glass and I wished I had have more flexibility in term of margin in the rest of the list to try to encourage people to drink better….. Unfortunately I do not know many restaurants which are willing to do so.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I attend to as many tastings as I can and I try to incorporate new wines, new regions, new countries and new producers regularly on the list. I also try to stay updated as much as I can on new products. Living in a country that doesn’t produce wine is a real advantage for that; it seems to be a little more open minded for novelty.
I also use a lot certain websites on the internet, twitter and read some drink magazines.
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 wine is already being imported in the country, then I should be able to taste it through the supplier’s portfolio tasting. Otherwise, it unfortunately happens regularly that I get to taste some wines that I really like while on holidays or wine trips and I can’t find them in Ireland as they are not imported.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
If I was a grape variety I would love to be Riesling. It is versatile, ranges from bone dry to very sweet without ever losing balance, it has a wonderful aromatic palette, and generally lots of minerality. I found it an incredibly pure, refined variety and has the potential to be long lived !
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?
- German Rieslings
- Red Burgundy
- Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley
Not easy to pick one desert island wine…..for today let’s say Coteaux du Loir Vieilles Vignes Eparses 2009 du Domaine de Belliviere.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?