Sommelier Speak: “I prefer to pair wine to the diner rather than to the dinner”


Sommelier Rakesh Awaghade

Rakesh Awaghade, Resident Sommelier, The Oberoi & The Trident Gurgaon, shares his refreshing philosophy regarding wines and wine drinkers with Reva K Singh

As the resident sommelier for both the Oberoi hotels in Gurgaon, what is the underlying philosophy of your wine programme?

The most important thing to consider is our guests’ preferences in wine selections. Not all of our diners in the fine dining restaurants are big spenders or wine connoisseurs. Many of them are leisure travellers or convention guests who may not be as familiar with some of the more esoteric wine selections. Sure, we include some less-known wines on our lists, but we have to focus on what our guests are used to drinking wherever they come from. You will see some very familiar wines on the lists at Threesixtyone˚, Cilantro and the bars for which we have designed lists with our regular clientele in mind. The notable exceptions would be Amaranta and Saffron restaurants. For many, the cuisine at these restaurants is considered a high-quality culinary experience, so I have paired the wines witha the Chef’s degustation menu. As a result, their wine list selections are noticeably diverse.

What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?

Balance is essential for a good wine list. Balance is key in terms of diversity, flavour and price point. It’s also important to have a balance of wines that are unique or less well known and those that may be more familiar and crowd pleasing. The most important thing of all, though, is that the wine list works with the food y ou’re serving your guests.

Which wines do you serve by the glass?

Our wine-by-the-glass programme consists of 10 white, red and sparkling wines, which change twice a week. So every time you dine at any of our restaurants you will find something surprising and interesting that will suit your taste buds. We have a multitude of choices on offer, including biodynamic, organic and artisanal producers.

Some regional highlights on our wine list among the reds are Tuscany cabernet merlot – ‘Guidalberto’ (2nd wine of Sassicaia), Margaret River cabernet sauvignon – Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ and Rioja tempranillo – Marquis de Riscal Reserva. In the white wines we have Napa Valley chardonnay – Staglin ‘Salus’, Friuli pinot blanc – Livio Felluga and Alsace Gewürztraminer – Hugel et Fils

Do your guests tend to prefer local or imported wines?

Even though we have many wines from different international regions, we also carry many local wines, which consistently grab the attention of our foreign guests. A good portion of our customers opt for the wine-pairing offer, which features beverages from the entire world. We recently poured an Austrian grüner veltliner with a 63° poached egg, and are currently pairing the 2009 Gramona Imperial Gran Reserva Cava with Wilderness – a confit of king mushrooms, croquettes and gram salad – from the Chef’s Table Menu of nine courses.

How much importance do you attach to food and wine matching?

Thanks to the size of the wine list we hold I am able to advise or guide guests through various styles of wine. Food and wine matching is obviously considered, but on bigger tables with a large variety of dishes, exact matching is not always possible. We do offer paired tasting menus at our speciality restaurants, which is very interesting as you get to try new wines every time you dine in. Contrary to what you might expect, I follow no rules while pairing food and wine because I believe it is more important to pair wine to the diner rather than to the dinner, as in that way the guest will get the most pleasure.

What’s your top tip for wine lovers?

Pour it, taste it, drink it – with good friends and family, as well as with your favourite dish. You don’t have to be a wine expert to do any of that. And you don’t have to get into a deep and meaningful discussion about varietal expression, vintage variation, soil types and oak seasoning. Leave that to the geeks!

What is the most rewarding aspect of your profession?

Bonding. Over the years, selling wine has helped me make countless new friends, both professionally and personally. I still chat with guests to whom I introduced a special bottle perhaps a few years ago and can count some wine suppliers as my best friends. A number of servers I have trained over the years have been inspired to pursue the wine industry more in depth, and those relationships are ones I continue to foster today.

What is the most annoying customer habit? What is the oddest request you have received from a customer?

Customers who ask to freeze a white wine to death or to drink a big red luke-warm. The oddest request I have received was, “I would like a red wine sweet and sour style…”.

Do you have a memorable wine moment?

In London, bordeaux wines are not in fashion as they once were; many wine lovers prefer drinking burgundy, barolo, and interesting cool-climate wines today, including champagnes. While my personal tastes have fluctuated over the years, every time I smell well-aged bordeaux, I remember the old wines I first tasted over a decade ago, thanks to friends who shared their cellars with me when I was first getting interested in wine. It was one of the most exciting times of my life, discovering wine, and I’ll never forget all that I learnt during that time.

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