The athletic head sommelier and head buyer for The Stafford talks to Douglas Blyde about the hotel’s upcoming English wine-pepped Coronation street party, his trio of mentors who are also his friends, and the importance of keeping informed of trends despite working in such a historic setting…
What is your vintage?
I’m a 1990 from Kharkiv, Ukraine – and I’m on the hunt for Ukrainian wines.
Where were you raised?
Aged four, I was grafted onto Italian rootstock, growing up in a fairytale environment in Pinzolo in the Dolomites. My mother specialises in textiles and is a master upholsterer, and my father was an ice-skating world champion, later becoming a coach when he retired from competitions.
What was your first job in the industry?
Straight from hospitality school I became a pastry chef, being trained to deliver exquisite products under pressure, from breakfast pastries to à la carte desserts and even wedding cakes.
What other formative roles have you done?
After the kitchen, I moved front of the house, taking my first steps in the wine world almost 11 years ago. For my first experience outside of Italy, I moved to the USA, being involved in the opening of “Tutto Gusto”, the Italian wine bar at Epcot, Disney World Orlando. I then moved across Europe, with the majority of my time spent in London, where I had the pleasure to work at Cut by Wolfgang Puck at 45 Park Lane.
I then worked as head sommelier at Da Terra when they were awarded their Michelin star. Shortly after, I returned to The Dorchester Collection, working alongside Master Sommelier Christopher Delalonde, the then-head of wine for The Dorchester hotel. As head sommelier of The Grill, I put my own stamp on the list as part of the relaunch. In 2021 I received the opportunity to take over the wine operation at The Stafford when Master Sommelier Gino Nardella retired. I was humbled — to honour the heritage of one of London’s oldest cellars while bringing my own input and growing the wine team.
How do you keep your list unique?
To be “unique”, a list needs to be diverse and intriguing while following the concept of the venue. We are always on the hunt for new gems which will push our guests to try something outside of their comfort zone. We need to make this possible while maintaining a beautiful selection from classic regions such as Burgundy, which I’m particularly excited about, Bordeaux, and the Rhône, which I’m poised to visit.
What note is served via Coravin?
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2012, Trentodoc Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2009, Terlaner Cuvée Riserva Nova Domus Cantina Terlan, Alto-Adige, Hermitage Blanc Chante-Alouette, Chapoutier, Vega Sicilia Alión, and Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva to name but a few.
What are you doing on the day of the Coronation?
We’re having a street party and of course the sparkling must be British! We are delighted to collaborate with a beautiful Oxfordshire winery called Hundred Hills. We will serve a welcome glass of Preamble No. 2 with a selection of their gems by the bottle, plus Preamble Rosé by the glass. Hundred Hills is focused on sustainability and its wines are expressions of precision, freshness and complexity.
How often do you hold wine dinners in The Stafford’s nearly four-century-old cellars?
It is rare a day goes by without activity in our cellars. On average, we host five wine events each week. We’ve just launched a wine-tasting series, with upcoming events including: “Discover the Gems of Piedmont” (28 April), “Off the Beaten Track, from Greece to Morocco” (26 May) and “Journey Around Sicily” (30 June).
What has been a particularly successful vinous match with the cuisine of Lisa Goodwin-Allen, realised by Executive Chef Jozef Rogulski?
As our menu is focused on meat and game, we have found wines from Austria and the Rhône pair exceptionally well. Our stuffed home farm lamb loin works beautifully with Côtes du Rhône Sablet, Domaine Creve Coeur, being a wonderfully leathery blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre. While, with quail gala pie, we suggest Austrian Blaufränkisch from Weingut Prieler Johanneshöhe, Burgenland. Its great acidity and light tannins match perfectly without overpowering the dish.
And what does Lisa enjoy drinking?
A gin and tonic or Champagne.
What is your favourite style of wine?
Currently, from Piedmont, I’m enjoying Barolo Cerretta 2015 from Garesio – as well as Greek whites.
And your least favourite?
Any wine produced without craftsmanship and passion. You can taste it when these attributes are missing.
How does The Game Bird restaurant’s interior enhance a diner’s mood?
Its layout is arranged for exceptional table service with trolleys, which is quite unique these days. This includes our famously irresistible Champagne trolley. Everything within The Game Bird’s design is thoughtfully set, which even goes as far as coordinating with the florists to make sure their beautiful floral displays don’t have perfumes which would contradict, or overpower the wines and dishes.
Who have been your mentors?
I am lucky to have had three mentors whom I’m even luckier to be able to call my friends. The first is Christopher Delalonde – my personal Wine Bible. His wine wisdom is inspiring and I have learnt a lot from him including, beyond wine knowledge, wine revenue management and wine list profitability. The second is Matteo Ramazzina who taught me the importance of having fun at work and how to foster a positive environment by always being there for your team. And finally, Gino Nardella, from whom I absorbed the importance of long-lasting guest relationships and heritage. Building and nurturing these special relationships is a big part of our everyday work at The Stafford. More importantly, he taught me that you never stop learning and must keep on top of new trends.
What can the wine trade do better?
The wine trade has focused on building strong relationships and this is the key to a well-oiled system to work. We all know that these are tough times with many external factors leading to wine shortages (changes in imports and regulations, climate conditions messing with vintages, inflation affecting the supply chain), so I would encourage teams to think more strategically about anticipating potential risks and having plans to mitigate them.
What is your motto?
“Life is too short to drink bad wine.”
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
Although my work is focused on food and wine, I’m passionate about health and well-being. I have a very precise exercise routine which I combine with a nutritious diet. I’m very diligent in carving out enough time to focus on training at the gym.
Which famous guest of The Stafford would you want to share a bottle with?
I understand that Sir Winston Churchill visited The Stafford on several occasions. It would have been very interesting to share a bottle of Pol Roger with him and listen to his anecdotes.
Who would depict you in a film?
Daniel Craig in James Bond, albeit asking for a glass of wine instead of a martini…
This article was originally published by the drinks business and has been shared with permission.