Ronan Sayburn is one of only 180 Master Sommelier’s in the world. He is currently the Director of Wines and Spirits for the Hotel du Vin group, a boutique, 14 hotel chain which is themed around Wine. Formerly he worked for the Gordon Ramsay group as Executive Head Sommelier for 8 years.
Ronan’s been good enough to answer four quick-fire questions, showing us a little of what he’s all about. For more information, check out his website – ronansayburn.com
Being at catering college will all the intention of going into hotel management, learning a bit about wine, one day trying a chardonnay that was described as caramel, creamy and vanilla due to the oak – I was stunned it had aromas just like the most delicious fresh Devon cream vanilla creme brulee with a glazed sugar top!
My eyes were opened and I realized all this waffle about strawberry and chocolate aromas, etc that you are supposed to find in wines was true! It was like taking my first step in a long ladder, I just sniffed that wine for hours. After that I became a bit obsessed and totally head over heels passionate about everything to do with wine.
The hotel management was over at that point. My first real wine job was with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons in Oxfordshire. I had passed a lot of wine theory exams at that point but not tasted the best – working there was amazing, big wine list, affluent clientele – I was like a kid in a candy shop, tasting Chassagne, Gevrey, classed growths, Hermitage, Barolos, etc.etc every day.
2. As well as the knowledge and service element, sourcing is obviously a very important part of your job. How do you decide on the range?
Variety, as in different grapes, countries, styles, price points. Its important to build wine lists that are exciting and varied and don’t always follow formulas ie. Chablis ‘tick’ Sancerre ‘tick’. But you have to build wine lists for your customers not for yourselves, with the most consideration being quality – never compromise on quality. If we find a great wine at a low price then that’s good, but we would never list something that was poor just because its cheap. That’s disrespectful to your customers.
3. You spent a number of years as Gordon Ramsay’s head sommelier where you listed Gavin Quinney’s Chateau Bauduc range. I’m aware they’re also on your list in Hotel du Vin. Where, in your opinion, do the strengths lie with these particular wines?
Wonderful story about a Brit going to work in France and totally changing the quality of the wines. His image was to be on the terrace drinking rose and watching the sun setting but the reality was more about being in the vineyard ten hours a day and then reading books about what he was doing for 5 hours a day! Very hard work but a great success story. Also the wines are delicious, classic, inexpensive, quality Bordeaux.
4. We’re very fortunate with the range of wines available to us here in Ireland, but are there any dark horses out there? Any regions or grape varieties we really should be paying more attention to?
Greek wines – delicious! But not retsina. Some assyrtikos from islands such as Santorini. Also Austrian St Laurent a grape that tastes like a delicious blend of syrah and pinot noir, from Burgunland in Eastern Austria. Croatia is also one to watch – in about 5-10 years, as is English wine in the same time frame.