Anne McHale MW is wine consultant to The Coral Room at the Bloomsbury Hotel in London, part of the Doyle Collection, which is known for its focus on English sparkling wine with 30 available by the bottle and six rotating regularly by-the-glass. Fizz from Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Surrey, West Sussex and Worcestershire are showcased on the menu. Occupying the front room of the Grade II listed hotel, the ‘country-meets-city’ drinks menu cleverly compliments the work of the building’s highly acclaimed architect, Sir Edward Lutyens, who is known for both his Arts and Crafts country mansions and city façades, including the British Medical Association in Tavistock Square and 67-68 Pall Mall. Here, the Master of Wine responsible for its wine list reveals how her father, who in 1969 founded the first ever student wine society in Queen’s University, Belfast, sparked her love of wine, and what it was like taking actress Emma Thompson through her WSET Level 2.
How did you arrive at the position you are in today?
Through a mixture of a passion for wine, a languages degree and pure serendipity! I began my wine trade career 15 years ago. After working for companies as diverse as Mistral Wines, New Zealand Winegrowers and Berry Bros. & Rudd whilst also studying for the WSET and then MW exams, I took the leap nearly three years ago to become an independent consultant. Since then I have been very proudly advising The Doyle Collection, owners of The Coral Room as well as many other beautiful bars and restaurants, on all things wine-related.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Putting together a new list of exciting wines in consultation with the front-of-house team and then hearing their feedback about how popular it’s been. We’ve been very proud of how our English sparkling selection in the Coral Room has been received by the industry and by our guests.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
I’m not a sommelier but I would say that the biggest misconception about sommeliers is that anyone who works in wine is thought of as one by the average consumer! I’m sure those reading this who aren’t sommeliers will relate.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
A strong and cold G&T or a very dry gin martini with a twist.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
No single bottle. My love of wine was sparked by my father, who back in 1969 founded the first ever student wine society in Queen’s University, Belfast. They got to drink great wines for free, since wine consumption wasn’t big in Northern Ireland back then and the wine trade wanted to change that. He talked about it all the time when I was growing up, and wine with dinner was a normal feature in our household. I went to university in Cambridge and the first society I joined was the Wine Society, so the passion continued to develop from there.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had many special wine experiences, both in the UK and travelling the world’s vineyards. I do find though that the most memorable experiences are the most spontaneous and unexpected. One that really sticks in my mind is opening a bottle of 1999 Beaucastel on a quiet Sunday evening and enjoying it with a pizza from Tesco! Am smiling just thinking about it…
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
I’m a huge fan of the great Michel Roux Jr. I hosted a dinner with him at Berry Bros. & Rudd, and not only is his food fantastic, but he is so warm and charismatic that he can build an instant connection with everyone, whether staff or guest.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
There are so many! A particular favourite is aged Oloroso sherry with mature Manchego. #heaven #salivating
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
Stellenbosch. I worked a harvest there nearly three years ago, at the wonderful Keermont Vineyard, and I was bowled over by the beauty of the area.
If you weren’t a wine consultant, what would you be doing and why?
For the majority of my wine career up until recently I worked mainly as an educator, and I really enjoy teaching. I still teach regularly at the WSET school and in staff training sessions at the Doyle Collection – so I would imagine that had I not been lucky enough to find this fantastic industry I would have been some form of educator or lecturer. Maybe not teaching French to teenagers though.
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
I can’t get my head around most Pinotage.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
When I was working in the education team at Berry Bros. & Rudd we were privileged to host the great Emma Thompson for a WSET 2 course. It was fantastic having her in the group every day. There wasn’t much reference made throughout the week to the fact that she was an A list celebrity, but when I was invigilating the exam the students had to fill in a section asking for their profession. Someone put their hand up and asked me what they should write. Emma announced “I just put ‘actress’!” and everyone roared. As if she was ‘just’ an actress…
What makes you most proud to be a consultant working in London?
The sheer variety and quality of restaurants and bars we have in this wonderful city. You are never short of somewhere new to try out and find inspiration.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
I’ve always been very keen to taste Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises, but even during all my years at BBR I never happened to be around when one was open. I’m lucky enough to have one bottle of 2002 in my collection. Maybe I’ll spontaneously open it one quiet Sunday evening.
Finally, what wine and paired plate would you pick from your list and why?
The Coral Room has an elegant selection of small plates which are all perfect companions for our superb English sparkling wines. Currently I would have to go for the Dorset crab on toast with a glass of Cottonworth Classic Cuvée from Hampshire.