Uncorked: Clara Rubin

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Clara Rubin group wine manager Hawksmoor restaurant group

Related tags Uncorked Wine Sommelier Hawksmoor

The group wine manager at Hawksmoor on her passion for wine education and the steak-focused group’s ‘guest first’ mindset.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine

I’ve answered this question many different ways over the years and honesty always prevails. I drank a lot of Blossom Hill White Zinfandel, Black Tower, and yes, even the good ol’ bag in box of Hock, throughout my university drinking career, until I started working for Majestic Wine in 2008 and started to understand what it was all about. I realised my passion for social anthropology; people, time, place, society, could be expressed through a medium that could literally be bottled.

Tell us about your wine list at Hawksmoor 

Our lists are curated with a ‘guest first’ mindset; what’s the best thing we can put on the table for that guest? They represent real works of passion. You’ll find a core of listings throughout the group that represent who we are; sustainability, quality, food-loving, good value, through to more adventurous styles that our wine managers adore and want to share with our guests.

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters? 

I remember one couple that came to the bistro-de-luxe of a member’s club I worked at for their  wedding anniversary. They had been saving a bottle of a 3rd Growth Bordeaux, (I think it was Chateau Cantenac Brown 1994). They were so excited to drink it after all these years and had clearly carted the bottle from place to place in order to open it to celebrate their Diamond wedding anniversary. I opened the bottle and decanted it and it was completely ruined. Cooked, oxidised, no fruit left whatsoever. Unsure of how to tell them I just offered them both a taste. They welled-up, looked at each other and said something like, “it’s exactly the same as it was on our wedding day”. It was beautiful. 

Name your top restaurant wine lists

I’ve always respected and liked The 10 Cases; their philosophy and their approach is admirable. They’ve always got something great for any budget. I also love La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. It’s an unashamed romp through European classics. 

Who do you most respect in the wine world? 

It’s the people who’ve put their values, and passion for hospitality and development through everything they do. I was lucky enough to meet Gerard Basset at a time in my life that was quite formative, but never got to work with him sadly. The same for Christine Parkinson, there are so many people that owe their introduction and initiation to people like her, and those people are now in decision-making roles. 

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across? 

‘Interesting’ is such a great word. We tend to use it for wines that have really missed the mark and yet you have to find something constructive about it. It’s still a wonderful thing to find a wine that is challenging and raises discussion. 

What are the three most overused tasting notes?

Side-stepping the debate about ‘mineral’ in order to keep things concise, it still baffles me that we use gendered tasting notes; ‘it’s so delicate and feminine’, ‘it’s such a powerful, masculine wine’. I did a talk at The Cocktail Show in Paris with the inimitable Sula Richardson back in 2017 for their P(our) Symposium and they were passe then, and five years on we are still using these terms.

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?

Value is really subjective; our lists are made to represent good value at every entry point but the best value for money can really be found the further up the list you go. Each list has a ‘little black book’ style selection of wines, older vintages from classic regions and little parcels we’ve nabbed from producers we love. 

What is your ultimate food and drink match? 

I’m a huge oyster fan and can never decide between how to dress them and which wine I want to drink. Happiness is a dozen oysters with a full variety of dressings (the Vietnamese Oysters at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge are fantastic) with bottle (each) of Vin Jaune or Manzanilla Pasada or a Junmai Daiginjo Sake.

Old World or New World?

The great thing about being in London is we never have to choose. This city really is a melting pot for the world’s wine. There is so much exchange between winemakers that categorising wines in this way is more confusing than it is helpful. There are vineyards in South Africa that pre-date Bordeaux and there is constant conversation between winemakers across the world so we find tradition and innovation everywhere. 

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants? 

Wine service education is my passion and always has been. A true pet-hate would be when I see a sommelier stop a new member of the front-of-house team from going to a table because it’s not their  remit. This compounds the issues we have around ‘snobbery’ and creates barriers that don’t serve us as an industry. That, and dirty glassware. 

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why? 

It's simply too hard to choose one. I think about all of the incredible producers I know of or have been lucky enough to work with; all to some degree a little mad, and they all share a common thread which is a desire to make something that stimulates connection, conversation, and experience.

As a group wine manager, what question do you most get asked by customers?  

“Do you have a dry white?” It’s still a question that haunts me. But what it shows is a guest trying to communicate and that is never a bad thing. I have always tried to approach wine training with the ethos that we should never discourage guests in trying to engage with wine. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Which wine producing region or country is currently underrated at the moment and why?

Greece and Austria have some really incredible things going on at the moment. Innovation and tradition in a very exciting synchronicity. 

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 

The answer to this question changes all the time but I recently had a bottle of Chambolle Musigny Les Feusselottes from Domaines George Mugneret-Gibourg 2013 with some friends that I wouldn’t mind drinking again. 

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