Sommelier Charles Donnadieu at The Lalit New Delhi tells Reva K Singh that the profession of a sommelier is recognised around the world…
Charles Donnadieu earned a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management from International Hotel Management School, Vatel France, in 2005 in Nimes. “I then specialised in wine service at a professional Sommelier school in Nimes where I learnt service, pairing, storage and everything about French vineyards,” writes Charles. Subsequently, following an internship at the Michelin starred restaurant of La Réserve de Beaulieu on the French Riviera, Charles started working in well-known companies around the world including Marriott, Relais & Chateaux ,and Sofitel. In 2007 he started working as sommelier at the Grand Intercontinental Hotel New Delhi, now named The Lalit New Delhi.
What, if any, is the underlying philosophy of your wine programme?
My philosophy of wine is to discover more and more wines and help our customers discover them too. I like introducing wines by offering pairing recommendations so that our guests enjoy an optimal experience of wine and food. An example is our “naannery” concept where we paired naan and wine in a tasting. There are three different naans paired with three 50ml glasses of Indian or imported wine.
What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
As we value wines with good structure and great balance so, too, a good wine list is one that balances four key points,: commonly known wines that the market requests; less common wines to enable the discovery of new tastes; pricing; producer; and the varietal according to food served.
Which wines do you serve by the glass?
Each of our restaurants has its own selection. For example, in Baluchi we serve the following wines by the glass: Bibi Graetz Bianco from Tuscany, South African MAN Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Grover Zampa Vijay Amritraj Red and White, Sula Brut Tropicale and Sula Brut Rosé, Fratelli Sette and Fratelli Vitae. Between 16 and 20 different wines are served in the hotel.
What wines do your hotel guests prefer – local or imported?
It depends on the restaurant. In The Grill Room they mostly prefer wines from our imported selection, whereas our Baluchi guests tend to appreciate Indian wines paired with the pan-India food served there. As an Indian hotel group, we attach great importance to showcasing the best Indian wines. We are working with York, Fratelli, Sula, Grover Zampa and Krsma. Our foreign guests are always surprised by the quality of premium Indian wines. Whenever we serve a York Arros, a Fratelli Sette or a Sula Brut Tropicale, we always receive good feedback from the customers.
How is your Wine List arranged – by grape varietal or by country of origin? What’s the ratio of Indian to imported wines?
As of now, it is the classical style of listing by country of origin. But we are in the process of changing our listing according to the style of wine as per The Lalit London wine list. For example, the white wine offerings will be arranged as follows: Light crisp whites/ Elegant mineral whites / Off-dry fruity whites/ Dry aromatic whites / Ripe fruity whites / Full-bodied rounded whites. Indian wines represents about 15% of our offer.
How much emphasis do you attach to food and wine matching?
I always drink wine during my meals to complete the flavour of the food. This has been a practice in my family since my childhood. We always have wine with food on all occasions, and this is why I have integrated food and wine pairings in all our outlets’ menus. I consider wine as part of the dish, because it helps to experience the flavour fully.
What advice would you give a diner when ordering wine?
There are some basic guidelines to follow in recommending a wine pairing: budget, type of meat, type of cooking, texture of dish and main flavours. It is according to these that I recommend a type of grape and a style of wine.
Given the chance, what region would you like to have more wines from on your list?
As I’m from the south of France, I would like to help my customers discover some appellations from small producers which are not so well known. Last year we introduced Ventoux and Vacqueyras from the Côtes du Rhône and both of them received great feedback from our guests. This year we plan to introduce new selections from Provence, Cahors, Bordeaux and Baron Albert Brut champagne.
What specific traits or skills should a sommelier possess to succeed on the shop floor?
The ability to listen to the customer, find out his taste by asking simple questions and recommend a wine according to it. To respect the basics of wine service, particularly with regard to temperature.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
When a specific wine is out of stock, it’s a great pleasure to risk introducing a new wine to our customers – and to know that it has succeeded in pleasing them.
Do you think that the profession is well recognized?
Yes, it is. In fine dining places all around the world, the wine offer can make a difference to the dining experience, and that is thanks to the sommelier. It’s a growing profession in Asia, as people get more interested in wine and need a sommelier to guide them.
What is the most annoying customer habit for you? I would say it is the habit of some guests who focus only on the brands of wine they know, who have no curiosity to taste other wines…
What is the oddest request you have received from a customer?
When a guest asked for some ice with a red wine!
Do you have a memorable wine moment?
There have been so many! But the most recent one was when our Baluchi restaurant won the award for the Best Wine List in an Indian cuisine restaurant. It was definitely a memorable wine moment.
How do you source your wines?
We source from all vendors and distributors ,and decide on the wines only after tasting them with our hotel staff. Our house wine and house champagne, however, are sourced directly from the producers.