Jean-Marie Pratt – pictured here in informal attire – has been the Head Sommelier at Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous three Michelin star restaurant in Chelsea for three years, and is off on 1 February on a sabbatical, working in wineries around the world. Before he flies off, he has these words of advice to customers when choosing wine in a ‘fine dining’ restaurant.
1. Most restaurants have their wine lists online. It is worth having a look in advance if you are the host and won’t have time to read the list while chatting with your guests. Check with the restaurant if this is up to date on the website when making your reservation.
2. If you are four people or more, don’t order four glasses of Champagne by the glass as an aperitif, better to order a bottle. A bottle is equivalent to six glasses and restaurants make more profit on wines served by the glass and especially Champagne. You will also have a wider choice. This also works for wine during the meal, and six people is ideal if you want a different glass of wine for everyone to go with each course (it’s trickier with eight people, unless it’s a sweet wine).
3. Always try to decide at the beginning of the meal how many different wines you will need. This will allow the sommelier to prepare all the wines and to decant if necessary and to check the temperature. If you order your red wine when the main course is in front of you, it is likely that the red will be too cold, if straight from the cellar, and taste too ‘tight’ as it won’t have had time to breathe and open up.
4. Choose your wine according to the time of day – not just on what you are eating or what you normally might pick off a shelf for drinking at home. Go for a lighter wine at lunch – if you have only had breakfast and a cappuccino so far in the day, don’t be hard on your palate by ordering a super fat oaky white or a rich alcoholic red.
5. Don’t hesitate to give your budget to the sommelier. A professional sommelier should not make you spend more than you want – but if they do, then this must be justified by the quality of the wine.
If you have comments or suggestions, we’d like to hear them. I’ll be seeing Jean Marie on Wednesday, 27th January at 9am, so feel free to ask him a question and I’ll put it to him.