Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine
I’m not sure I know the moment I first became interested, but I certainly know when it became an obsession. I drank a 1986 La Chapelle Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aîné at Andrew Edmunds for a price now that now seems impossibly cheap, but at the time was far more than I had ever spent on a bottle. It was more intense, complex and encapsulating than I had ever considered wine could be. And that was that.
Describe your wine list at Lime Wood
I like to think it blends the best of the classics many hope to see, alongside small producers, emerging regions and under-rated vintages, with plenty of rarities and cult classics to round things out. Above all, I want the list to be a space for discovery and temptation. Wines that are thoughtfully curated, drinking perfectly today, and which are being sold at a fair price.
Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?
During a particularly busy service I knocked over an inexpensive bottle in the cellar and it smashed - glass and wine everywhere. I was frantically trying to move cardboard cases away from the encroaching pool of liquid. I had not realised, as I grabbed a case of Chateau Grillet 2015 (on the list for £450 a bottle), that the cardboard was wet. To my horror, and in what seemed like slow motion, three bottles crashed out of the bottom. One smashed, sacrificing itself (I thought much later), to save the other two.
Name your top three restaurant wine lists
The Ten Cases (in London) has an amazing selection, always. Sometimes I read a huge list and still only have a couple of contenders at the end of it. Here I have one on every page. My favourite spot for many years now. I would also say Fera. It seems odd to say the list of a restaurant which closed years ago. But what it did by blending classics with off-piste/cult/natural wines effortlessly was amazing. I still have a copy on my computer which I am not ashamed to say I read like a novel for inspiration every now and again. And finally Noble Rot. Which is almost self-explanatory at this point.
Who do you most respect in the wine world?
My first mentor and head sommelier Adrien Espinasse. As I mature in my career I look back with such thanks and admiration for what he taught me, and what standards he helped me aspire to. He nurtured my passion and knowledge, and pushed me to be better every day. He also infected me with his love of New World wine. Considering he was as French as anyone could be, I am especially thankful for this.
What’s the most interesting wine you’ve come across recently?
Last year I visited Javier Arizcuren in Rioja. His wines blew me away. Barranco del Prado - a 0.32 parcel of Pre-Phylloxera Grenache vines, at 762m altitude, is an intensely captivating spot, and the wine is effortlessly stunning.
What are the three most overused tasting notes?
Smooth, mineral and funky.
What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?
1999 Au Bon Climat Hildegard. An iconic wine from California, it is such a rarity to see it with this much age. The persistent freshness, richness of aromatics and density of body are captivating. These bottles came recently from the ABC Cellars and so are in perfect condition. They so wonderfully expose the genius of the late Jim Clendenen. Being able to list and tell the stories of special bottles like this is what makes Limewood so fun for me.
What is your ultimate food and drink match?
Comté and Vin Jaune. I’ve been obsessed with the Jura for most of my career, and still nothing surpasses this combination for me. The oldest, nuttiest Comte and a mature bottle of Macle Chateau Chalon is nirvana for me.
Old World or New World?
More and more it’s the New World I’m talking about first with guests. Oregon and Washington are taking increasing space in our cellar as is Australia, and for good reason. The wines are of such high quality, and the prices compared to their European counterparts are still favourable.
What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?
Aggressive upselling. If a guest has done the sommelier a favour, has escaped the bonds of their typical English reserve, and been brave enough to say how much they want to spend, rewarding that by attempting to massively overreach the given budget is shameful. If I am a guest and you advise me to spend a little more for a better producer, cuvée or vintage I am grateful for the advice; if you immediately try and double my budget for a wine I wasn’t even considering, you’ve lost me.
Who is your favourite producer right now?
Jose Gil. I’m sure everyone at Limewood is bored to tears of me talking about Jose’s wines, because I go on about them so often, but they never fail to impress me. Another young winemaker in Rioja (in San Vicente de la Sonsierra) whose commitment to understanding and showcasing his unique terroir, is almost as impressive as the wines he makes there. They speak to an exciting, almost-Burgundian future for Rioja: made in small volumes, delineated by sub-region and vineyard, and free from the shackles of over-ripeness, over-extraction or excessive oak.
As a head sommelier, what question do you most get asked by customers?
What my favourite wine is - and candidly, I hate it. To narrow almost a decade of wine down to a single bottle is impossible, and becomes so hard to answer repeatedly with the enthusiasm it deserves. The question I wish people would ask me is the one I ask my friends in the trade - what was the last wine you bought? The truth is that we are lucky enough to get to taste so much wine - if we are going out and buying a bottle, it’s probably something we are excited to talk about.
Which wine producing region or country is underrated at the moment?
Saumur has the most amazing terroir, the king of which for me, is Breze. The Chenin Blancs being made here, by the likes of Arnaud Lambert and Guiberteau, are criminally underpriced for the quality, and age so well.
It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why?
Undoubtedly the hardest question of them all. I would flip a coin to decide between Ganevat Les Vignes du Mon Pere 2005 and Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 1964.