Erik Simonics, head sommelier at Annabel’s private members’ club in Mayfair, was born and raised in Slovakia. He moved to London in 2010, beginning his career as a sommelier at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, followed by Orrery. As well as looking after the wine list at La Dame de Pic at Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square, in 2012 he moved to the The Savoy where he spent 4 years. Simonics joined Annabel’s as head sommelier earlier this year.
I studied hotel management in Slovakia and we had optional afternoon classes available to us, such as volleyball, maths, English, marketing etc. At the time I had no knowledge of wine whatsoever, so I started attending sommelier classes to learn more and more about it. Luckily, I had a great teacher, Blazena Felvidekyova, who saw potential in me.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Opening a bottle of wine. It may sound silly, but it excites me so much – I’m like a little kid opening a gift on Christmas day. A huge amount of effort, hard work and passion goes into making that bottle of wine and that thought fills my mind when I am pulling out the cork.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
That we are wine waiters. There is an incredible difference between a wine waiter and a sommelier.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
Either a refreshing pint of lager or a cask strength Scotch, depending on how the day has been!
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
I was decanting a bottle of Château Margaux in front of six business men – they were watching every move I made and the cork broke. I pulled the cork out in a million little pieces. Thankfully the wine still tasted amazing!
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a sommelier, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to fail. It will help you to become stronger.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
The first wine I ever properly tasted. I think it was a Slovakian Grüner Veltliner that we were tasting at the sommelier class, and I was so amazed by how many different aromas I could smell. Until then, wine simply smelled like wine to me.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
When Robert Parker came to London to host a masterclass of 100-Point Wines a few years ago. I was in a group of top sommeliers managed by Ronan Sayburn MS. We were in charge of opening, tasting and serving an incredible selection of wines that I had only ever read about in books.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
Adding ice to a fine white Burgundy – it breaks my heart!
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
Definitely Rene Redzepi. The guy is out of this world!
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
What I adore about Annabel’s is that I get to help members explore numerous unique wine pairings. For me, there is nothing better than a slice of beef wellington accompanied by a mature red Bordeaux. I could have it for breakfast!
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
On the moon. Great sunshine, unique terroir and one of a kind. Realistically speaking however, it would have to be Napa Valley – that place is just amazing!
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
Probably a lawyer, it is a great opportunity to do something good for others, plus I have a competitive streak – I love to win!
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
I do struggle with completely natural wine – it is produced without adding or removing anything during winemaking. I do appreciate it however, and I am learning to be more open minded.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
Working at Annabel’s means I have the pleasure of serving extraordinary people all of the time. It is a club whose membership base is made up of individuals who have achieved incredible things in life.
Personally, my most memorable encounter was with Rowan Atkinson – he is a legend after all! It was a little difficult to remain composed when recommending wine to him as I was almost laughing just being in his presence!
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier in London?
Working in places with such great history, like Annabel’s – a club that took the city by storm over 56 years ago and has welcomed the likes of the Queen and Princess Diana over the years. Being a part of that history alongside of top, like-minded Sommeliers from all over the world is something to be cherished.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
To try all of the wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The wines produced in this Burgundy estate are considered to be amongst the world’s most famous and expensive. I am getting there, slowly!