30 Minutes with Alex Gilbert, Head Sommelier at Coworth Park
“Retaining a sense of humility and being humble at the table is important” – Alex Gilbert
Five-star bliss is how the fabulous Dorchester Collection Coworth Park describes itself. It is the Country retreat of the Dorchester Collections suite of outstanding hotels across, London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome. Alex Gilbert-Petz Head Sommelier works closely with Executive Head chef in the Coworth Park Michelin star restaurant and spent a few minutes from his hectic schedule to describe the role of a sommelier to us.
What is the role of a sommelier in your opinion?
The main role is to be able to liaise and guide the guests and clients through their wine choice in the dining environment to enhance their whole experience.
We have one other Sommelier so another important aspect is in mentoring and increasing their knowledge so that they can go on to bigger and better things.
Tell us about the role in Coworth Park? Are there any quirks, differences points of interest?
Coworth Park is quite diverse in what it has to offer from the Michelin Starred restaurant run by Executive chef Adam Smith – The Barn Restaurant which is separate to the main building and the Drawing room and Bar in the main house.
It is our role to oversee the wine and beverage offering in all those establishments.
What personal qualities do you require to be a sommelier?
I think that you have certainly got to have creativity & personality
Those are the main traits whilst maintaining an open mind in what you do. Every day is different and sports many different challenges so keeping openly minded helps in approaching those. Retaining a sense of humility and being humble at the table is important.
Where did you start with wine education?
In the industry for 15 years starting out in Country House hotels before moving into Central London I worked my way up in different Michelin Star and Five Star Hotels to end up here at the fabulous Coworth Park.
I have trained and worked under some of the best such as Nicolas Clerc MS and Joao Pires MS.
Is the role of sommelier confined to just wine?
That is the main focus although times are changing and we are now moving into other beverages especially spirits and increasing that offering.
We do get requests for non-alcoholics, which don’t require as much training and as discussed retain an open mind. You get to know the food and the guest and tailor make for the circumstance.
Is there a career path beyond sommelier?
I would say that it is going into the buying side. It comes to the stage that a sommelier moves off the floor and into the buying side, working for the wine supplier. It is where you can apply the sommelier knowledge well.
What tips can you give for the aspiring or new sommelier?
You’ve really got to listen to the person that you are working with who is in charge of the wine.
The industry is forever changing so you need to work extremely hard. There is much more to it than grape varieties. It diverse subject and you have to get one step ahead of the game.
Is wine still basically all about Shiraz, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot or has it moved on?
Times have changed and although the core varieties are still going to be popular – different countries and varieties obscure countries – which is what makes it interesting.
There are some really interesting varieties coming along as well from interesting regions and countries such as China and India. It is where the studying really comes in.
Natural, Organic and Biodynamic wines had a boom and remain popular and we have a number on our lists. The Coworth Park guests do tend towards the traditional and classics, so that’s what features our lists.
What are sommeliers looking for from their importers and distributors?
We look for diversity and range. It is a very competitive market for all the suppliers so they have to showcase what stands out above the rest.
What do sommeliers really look for in selecting new wines for their restaurants?
We are really looking for wines which the pairs with the cuisine – hence tastings and discuss with Adam. It is about finding the best possible combination, that mix of the science and art behind the food and wine matching - pinpointing the specific flavour components of the dish and then matching the wine.
Tell us about the latest trends – English Wines, Prosecco, Australian Italian varieties?
English wines – Being English myself, I have become much more of an advocate for English wine. It has been a slow run but they are really now picking up the pace. There are hundreds of wineries out there, so it is just a case of getting out there and seeing what they have to offer.
We don’t have the same climate like California, so that creation in itself is a real challenge.
Will Alexa ever replace sommeliers?
Quite possibly but there must be a sommelier behind Alexa to make the recommendations. it’s a bit like the Wizard of Oz. So in reality – probably no.
About the Author
The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell, Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers.
About London Wine Competition
The London Wine Competition recognizes, rewards and help promote wine brands that have successfully been created to identify with and target a specific wine drinker. It rates the brands based on three important criteria: Quality, Value For Money & Packaging. The event is organized by Beverage Trade Network (BTN), the leading online platform dedicated to connecting the global beverage industry.