First venturing into writing of wine with a 1988 book on Port, Andrew Jefford grew into one of the world’s most skilled and hailed communicator of it along with noted tangents into whiskey, tea, and other of life’s hedonistic pleasures. It was during his 2005 stint with BBC Radio’s Wine Programme that we grew acquainted when he ventured into a south London cellar to report upon where I stashed my bottles alongside that of my landlady a fellow wine writer. His acclaimed 2002 book The New France likely laid the foundation for his now home of Montpellier though he may be more easily found in Decanter and The World of Fine Wine published in his native England. Jefford and I had time together when I was attending February’s Vinisud wine fair, and this chat came out of that.
* How do you view the relative value of a sommelier in what’s primarily a food, rather than wine, service operation?
Essential, because wine is far more complicated than food. A restaurant can only serve a limited number of dishes thirty or forty at most. It may have 500 wines or more. The dishes all look different; the wines all look the same. Sommeliers are essential! Of course customers have varying requirements; for some, a ‘nice glass of wine’ is enough, and they don’t want some nerd banging on for ten minutes of their precious romantic time about granite and schist. (Good sommeliers need psychological acuity, of course.) Most customers, though, are up for a little education, and would like a wine which will suit what they are going to eat. But most customers won’t be able to put a flavor to more than 5% of the wine names on the listcue sommelier.
* What new developments in wine should the US sommelier look out for?
The grower revolution in Champagne, and dwindling dosages. Sparkling wines which offer a comprehensive rethink to the over dominant Champagne model, especially fine Cava (a much more interesting and revolutionary taste challenge that Prosecco). Any white wine which has flirted with its skins, whether orange or not. The whole natural wine thing is important, too, though it’s rife with charlatanry and idiotic fundamentalism, so always taste first and don’t dump garbage on your customers. Long lost Eurasian indigenous styles it would take a long time to enumerate all of these, so ‘Georgia’, ‘Italy’ and ‘Portugal’ will have to do as shorthand, and remember that Piedmont is secret wine kingdom to itself and would reward a lifetime’s study. The great wines of New World interventionists, from Mornington Peninsula Pinot to Mendoza Malbec. Petit Manseng from Marlborough (that wonderful Churton wine). The Chateauneuf vanguard wine’s true ‘Star Treckers’, always boldly going where no winemaker has gone before, with dazzling results, no matter what those who bleat on about ‘high alcohol’ will tell you. And I also think that Coravin technology has the possibility to revolutionize wine service, especially for fortified wines a vastly neglected category which offers the best price:quality ratio in the whole world of wine. But it needs a total restaurant rethink, and wild evangelism.
** for those of you wishing inspiration adjacent to his more accessible writings, Jefford weekly Twitters a new haiku and annually discloses details of his earnings along with far more interesting points at http://andrewjefford.com.
More Q & A with Andrew Jefford here next week.