Charlie Blightman, head sommelier at Noble Rot wine bar and restaurant in Bloomsbury, has worked in hospitality for two decades. Formerly buying the wine for Hawksmoor Spitalfields, Blightman was introduced to Mark Andrew MW and was part of the original Noble Rot team when it launched in 2015. He currently divides his time between his roles as head sommelier for the restaurant and as sales manager for Noble Rot’s sister wine import company called Keeling Andrew.
What or who inspired you to become a sommelier?
I got fired from an art gallery after the credit crunch of 2008! So I got a job in Mark Hix’s restaurant and my love for food and wine grew and grew and I realised I could make a career out of it. I had some really good managers who would let me read the Atlas of Wine behind the bar during service and I met many people in the wine trade who made me realise that wine was a constantly changing, thoughtful product that could be a deeply rewarding thing to be involved with.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
People – the colleagues, customers, winemakers, bon vivants and raconteurs you get to meet are all fascinating.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
That we judge people because of the wines they like to drink. This is only partly true.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
Nothing beats a cold beer after you’ve been tasting all day.
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
Spilling an entire bowl of soup straight into someone’s handbag when I was 14 years old and not telling them!
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a sommelier, what would it be?
Read everything, travel whenever possible, ask questions all the time.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
There isn’t one specific wine, it was more a gradual realisation that there was something beyond plonk out there if you cared enough about it.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
A hot cup of tea and an egg sandwich on a campsite is as memorable as Sauternes and Foie Gras in a 3* joint if you are in the right company.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
Upside down bottles in ice buckets.
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
Anything that has been made with love looks and tastes better than any dish made in a development kitchen.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
I think it has more to do with the right wines, the right food and the right people all combined to create the right atmosphere.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
On a floating island that could be moved around the world so that you could control the climate and be near to friends and family when you needed to be.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
Sitting on a bean bag in an office that had scheduled ‘nap times’ and free apple juice. Or is that play school?
Which wine do you find it impossible to get along with?
Anything with an abundance of oak derived tannins tastes like Bourbon to me.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
Mike D of the Beastie Boys, how many people can manage to still be cool in the eyes of a 12 year old skater and a fully grown wine nerd 25 years later?
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier in London?
As a city we have been trading wines for decades but without any culture of winemaking of our own (until recently) which means everything is available. Trends and fads get dealt with pretty swiftly too.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
The usual, I’d never pass up the chance to try DRC, Leroy, Jayer, Engel, the 1st growths etc. but that is because they are so out of reach that my curiosity is piqued. I’d love to be able to go back in time and taste when certain wines were at the height of their powers too.
* Noble Rot was ranked 24th in Wine List Confidential’s 2019 guide to the best restaurants in London for wine. To see its full review, please click here.