Uncorked: Sarah Williams

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Sarah Williams group F&B manager at Firmdale Hotels on wine

Related tags Sarah Williams Firmdale Hotels Uncorked Sommelier Hotels

The group F&B manager at Firmdale Hotels on Tenerife’s Suertes del Marqués, women working in wine and refusing to stock Prosecco.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine
I went to work at The Dorchester straight after I graduated from Oxford Brookes. During my time working in the bar, then bar manager Giuliano Morandin gave me a little Tignanello to try that a guest had left. I had never tasted anything so amazing and this really sparked my interest to learn more about wine. 

Describe your wine list at Firmdale Hotels
We take great pride in curating our wine lists, celebrating producers with evocative stories that really care about what they do. For us it’s all about craftsmanship, which is why we focus on grower wines. Alongside this, we look for producers that are farming vines in a conscious and sustainable way - organic viticulture and with low intervention wine making. Our lists are dynamic so we update them regularly when we find new wines that excite us, and we’re constantly discovering lesser-known producers making incredible wines. We discovered Champagne Déhu last year, following a team trip to Champagne, and now we exclusively serve several of their wines across our hotels in the UK. While we are brave with our choices, we want wine to be approachable. There’s always a large selection available by the glass, with a selection of premium wines available via Coravin.

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters?
Nothing major luckily - mainly due to not serving wine on a day to day basis.  I did, however, have my fair share of Champagne disasters in my early career, with bottles shooting across the floor, out of my hands, and spinning like a Catherine wheel spraying multiple guests. 

Name your top three restaurant wine lists
It goes without saying, Noble Rot. Plus I love 10 Cases for the amazing value they offer. Also I live in South West London and there really isn’t anywhere that brilliant on my doorstep, however The Waterman’s Arms has just opened with a concise and fun wine list.

Who do you most respect in the wine world?
Any woman who is working with integrity and passion in the wine world – it’s not a world I work in 100% of the time, but it is still very much male dominated. I’m lucky enough to work in a company where this is not the case.

What is the most interesting wine you’ve come across recently?
I am lucky enough to taste lots of fabulous wines but recently one of our F&B managers wanted to make a special wine list of only wines from the UK. We barely scratched the surface but we are really happy to be championing UK producers like Woodfine, Davenport, Langhams Estate and Ancre Hill within the list of more well-known producers. Woodfine’s Interconnections Part 2 is an ancestral Col Fondo style wine which I particularly like.  

What are the three most overused tasting notes?
Crunchy, mineral, feminine – all really annoy me!

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?
There are so many to be honest but a particular favourite of mine is Suertes del Marqués, Trenzado from Tenerife. Whether you are sitting in Ham Yard or enjoying it at home, it’s always on fire. Also Champagne Déhu, as mentioned, made by eighth generation grower Benoit Déhu is great value. We are very proud to be listing it across all our restaurants. 

What is your ultimate food and drink match?
I recently went to 64 Goodge Street and had their lobster vol au vent with a Chardonnay/Savagnin from Domaine De Carlines in Jura – that match was pretty memorable. 

Old World or New World
I always seem to naturally choose from Europe however last year I went on a great trip to Oregon and California which was really interesting – I am particularly drawn to an Oregon pinot. Also working with Emily Harman, you can’t help but become a big fan of South African wine which she is a real champion for!

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?
The usual look down your nose attitude that I do still sometimes experience sadly, plus I really like having the wine near me when I dine out. Recently I ordered the wine and the male in the party got offered it to taste – rather infuriating in 2023.

Who is your favourite producer right now?
I love Sylvain Pataille from Burgundy. A friend recommended a podcast where he is interviewed and I have been in love ever since. 

As an F&B Manager what question do you most get asked by customers?
Why don’t you have Prosecco on your list? 

Which wine producing region or country is underrated at the moment?
Probably Galicia. As part of our Wine Dinner series at Covent Garden Hotel, we recently hosted one on Galicia with Indigo Wines. I think our guests were shocked by the quality and value of the wines produced there. I’ve been a fan since visiting a few years ago.

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world, what is it and why?
Putting on a Nebbiolo and white truffle dinner has become a bit of a tradition for us at Firmdale, and I think my last meal would be a massive bowl of pasta with unlimited amounts of white truffle cooked by our group executive head chef, Joe Fox, and paired with Barolo made by Giovanni Canonica.

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