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Gastronomy and Wine Portal

Gerard Basset

Gerard Basset: «The whole life is a search of knowledge. And the more knowledge you get, the hungrier for it you become…»

27.05.2018, Persona Author: Olga Markovets

Today, leading wine brands increasingly often invite globally recognized experts to participate in their projects. An evidence of this trend is the October visit of Gerard Basset, one of the most renowned wine gurus, to the Ukrainian capital. At the presentation of “Tamada” TM for Kyiv professionals the maitre combined Georgian wines and European cuisine with enogastronomic ties. Gerard told D+ about this experience and many other things.

Drinks+: Gerard, you are one of the most experienced and award-winning wine expert in the world, and a holder of the title of Master Sommelier (1989). Tell us, please, how your career started, and how you became a Master of Wine – we have heard that is completing this program is a big challenge. Can you say more about this qualification? And how did you get a Wine MBA in 2007?

Gerard Basset: To be honest, I have never had an objective to become a sommelier. But one football match changed everything. I once came to England to support my favorite team, and I fell in love with this country so much that I decided to stay. I needed a job, of course, and I started as a waiter at one of local restaurants. This business became my passion, and when I returned to France for some time, and decided to learn cooking. I completed different training courses, from waiter to chef. But, frankly speaking, I never planned to become a chef. This was followed by a sommelier training course which I took to get new knowledge.

However, already at that time I understood that I did not want to be a restaurant manager, but I wanted to be a sommelier. Why I decided to qualify in different areas? Probably, just because I like learning as a process. Exams, contests and preparations to them are the best part of it. The whole life is a constant search of knowledge. And the more knowledge you get, the hungrier for it you become. Becoming a Master Sommelier – or, in principle, becoming the best in your sphere – requires a lot of effort.

First of all, you need to improve your level of education, which means a lot of reading, showing interest to new things, and a lot of practice. To get the Master of Wine degree, you will need to write an assay, in addition to other things. This is followed by technical part. For example, the tasting process for the Master of Wine is different from, let’s say, the Master Sommelier’s. You will need to describe the wine in more details, including the region, and to provide a good explanation in your answer.

The title of Master of Wine is highly respected in the UK. Wine experts will perceive you in a totally different way. I gained my MBA qualification at a management school in Bordeaux, where I wrote a thesis on the wine list. I was running my own business at that time, and this experience proved to be very useful. We were learning to understand the principles which guests follow when they choose the wine, and how the specific wine list may impact the guest’s choice. We took a small restaurant and filled its wine list with 90 positions. It contained everything but information about the wines. People started asking about such criteria as style and food compatibility, and then the geography.

D+: We have a different story here in Ukraine. Sometimes it is difficult to persuade guests to try a wine produced by the manufacturer they don’t know, as an alternative to a famous brand. This is why some sommeliers, if they want to draw attention to other wines that are not any worse, simply remove the “celebrity” positions from the wine list.

G.B.: The point is that new wines should be offered to guests by glass. It does not make any sense to pay $100 per bottle when you are not sure if the bottle’s contents meet your expectations. Unfortunately, it is not always possible.

D+: Which steps do you take for further development of your profession?

G.B.: It is a range of steps that includes reading industry journals and books, wine atlases, and visiting wine-tasting events and wineries. One of the books that have recently impressed me is ”The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty”. This is a real story of a wine triumph of Californian wine-makers of Italian descent in the Napa Valley and competition between their children. The book is written by Julia Flynn Siler and is highly recommended.

D+: Thank you for this recommendation. Gerard, in 2010 you won the Catey Award, an equivalent of an Oscar in catering industry. Please tell us about this nomination. And, in principle, do all these awards and title have any impact on your career?

G.B.: The Catey award is very important in the UK’s restaurant and catering industry. And it is really prestigious to hold it. However, almost nobody knows about it outside of the industry in which it is awarded. For sure, any awards are important for your personal development and your future career. Additionally, if you own a restaurant, this is a good reason to motivate your people: thank you, guys, we have become the best place. This is a good leverage for team management.

D+: How often do you travel? Do you have a favorite region and winery?

G.B.: I love Burgundy for its exceptional wines – sometimes you can find real masterpieces there. I like the Napa Valley, it’s like a wine Disneyland. I cannot avoid mentioning Madeira and Champagne. I really travel a lot – Italy, France, Portugal, South Africa – and each country is worth a separate story. Generally, to have an idea about the region, you need to visit not only big and famous estates, but also small producers too. If you come to Burgundy and visit just Romanee Conti, this will not be enough. Although I call their wines dream wines. By the way, I consider a visit to this domain my best experience.

D+: What are main mistakes that occur in making a wine list?
G.B.: I would not call it a mistake, but this is a very common thing in restaurants now, when the wines contained in the wine list are in fact not available. For example, you come to the restaurant and ask a bottle of wine you have chosen. They tell you it is not available now. Then you find another wine and point at the relevant position in the wine list. And you hear that, unfortunately, it is not available too. This shouldn’t be a case. But, in fact, different things may happen. Sometimes the wines contained in the wine list do not match the restaurant’s food at all. Once, my wife and I visited a fish restaurant in London. Its wine list was a variety of famous wine brands. Nevertheless, there was no real match between the wines and the food. Bear in mind that filling the wine list with top wines that don’t really match the food will not be a big success.

D+: It is a well-known fact that the chef also plays an important role in creation of enogastronomic pairs. Do you have any disputes with your chef?

G.B.: We have never had any disputes. This is a team work, and you always need to look for a compromise in case of any disputes. We have done big work with Andrea Nori, chef of the “OK Bar & Restaurant”. This is a great experience. And in the process of creation of enogastronomic pairs – a combination of Georgian TM “Tamada” wines and European cuisine – we were fine-tuning some things and changing other things, but it was just a kind of polishing.

D+: Did you find any complicated or unexpected combinations?

G.B.: This experience has become a kind of a challenge for me, because I’m just planning to go to Georgia and currently I don’t know Georgian wines that well. When making the pairs, I focused on stylistic characteristics of semi-sweet wines. And it worked in many aspects. The combination of delicate taste of cheese in salad and Tsinandali was what I liked especially. I think that you shouldn’t be too conservative and combine specific wines only with specific food. This is approach is boring and not very professional. Georgian sweet wines are quite interesting. I think Ukrainian consumers know them well.

D+: Have you ever tried wines from kvevri? If yes, what are your impressions, and do they have a chance for recognition in Europe?

G.B.: Georgian wines have just started their way to the global success. Wines from kvevri will definitely find – and have probably already found – their own audience, as they have their own history and philosophy. I have tried many natural wines in my life, and liked some of them and didn’t like other. But wines from kvevri which I tasted were really elegant. They are now available for sale in London.

D+: How do you think, does the chef has to have an extensive knowledge of wines or basic expertise is sufficient? For example, leading culinary schools now include wine courses into their training programs.
G.B.: Chef has to know and feel the wine. Today there are many culinary colleges that for some reasons tend to underestimate the importance of wine semesters, which is incorrect – at least from the marketing point of view.

D+: Which product, sauce or specific dish you think is the most difficult in terms of the choice of wine?

G.B.: Very spicy food. Especially when it comes to Oriental and Mexican food. Many wines, of course, go well with ‘hot’ dishes, but if the food is soaking in a think layer of spices, making pairs is not that important here. However, everything depends on the particular case. Chocolate, for instance, is also considered problematic with regard to wines, but many types of wine effectively unveil the piquant taste of the “capricious” product.


D+: Which restaurants (except those where you work) you can call exemplary?

G.B.: In London, go to “Texture” – a wonderful restaurant with good cuisine and an extensive selection of champagne. If we talk about places with outstanding wine lists, I would recommend “28/50”. They have very simple and basic food. But the unique feature of this place is that the managers include a minimum margin into their wine list. Therefore, visitors have an opportunity to taste wines of the chateau which they cannot afford at other restaurants. I also must mention “Terroir” for its extensive wine list. Here you can order exceptional wines by glass. In Paris, for example, I would recommend “Caillebotte”, a popular choice of locals and tourists. “Frenchie Bar a Vins” is another must-visit place in the capital of France. Great ambiance, carefully selected wines, incredible food, good service and very democratic prices make it a favorite place of many guests. “L’Affable”, a French restaurant with simple but delicious food. From wine bars, I would recommend “L’avant Comptoir”. This is a small place, but they have a very good wine offer.

D+: You own a restaurant and a boutique hotel “Terra Vino” on the South England coast. Can you please give an advice to beginner hoteliers – what is necessary for a hotel to become a success?

G.B.: My wife and I run our own small 11- room hotel and a restaurant of Californian and European cuisine. Location is probably essential for the hotel. From my practice I see that guests prefer staying near the water. Food and wine list are important, too. If your guest is not impressed by the food and drinks, he will not come back to you. You need to take all these factors into account, but if you are simply difficult to find, or it is necessary to cover 20 kilometers of winding roads to reach your restaurant, your project will be a failure.

D+: Gerard, thank you for the interview. We wish you a great journey to Georgia and hope to see you soon in Ukraine.

Фото: sanfranciscowineschool.com, inspirationf1.com, beingasommelier.wordpress.com, thedrinksbusiness.com, seebtm.com, aucklandnz.com, schiller-wine.blogspot.com, independent.co.uk, downtheroad.org, nypost.com