Wine: Wine waiters offer a taste of the future

PUBLISHED: 12:32 03 March 2006 | UPDATED: 10:25 07 September 2010

All regular diners-out have their stories of snooty sommeliers with dubious wine knowledge and no nose at all for corked bottles. The bad few, sadly, damn the good many. But while polishing the latter's reputation with consumers is not the mai

Liz Sagues

All regular diners-out have their stories of snooty sommeliers with dubious wine knowledge and no nose at all for corked bottles. The bad few, sadly, damn the good many. But while polishing the latter's reputation with consumers is not the main intention of Sommelier Cru, it might very well do just that.

Sommelier Cru? Who? It's a new association to bring sommeliers together at a professional level, offering them opportunities to taste great wines in themed sessions at times and places which fit their work schedules, to establish better relationships with suppliers and to extend the range and interest of their lists, plus a lot more besides.

There will, too, be a big pay-off for consumers, in the form of by-the-case selections of top wines from each monthly tasting - choices which should prove real dinner-party talking points.

While the idea came from sommeliers themselves, putting it into practice is the job of two people with much broader marketing experience, Coz Kampanaos and Alyson Walsh. Walsh, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, led the UK promotion team which brought Loire wines to much more public awareness - the wine-themed gardens at Hampton Court Flower Show were one successful initiative.

But for Sommelier Cru the wines will come from all countries, all regions, all grape varieties and all styles. Champagne and other sparkling wines launched the programme of themed tastings at the Hellenic Centre in Marylebone, followed last month by up-and-coming varieties - the likes of tannat and petit corbu. Topics ahead will include investigations of winemaking styles, wines from coastal regions, choices for celebrations, biodynamic wines and dessert accompaniments.

A feature of each event is a blind tasting of wines in the £7 to £15 retail price bracket. Sommeliers will vote for their favourites, and the top six will feature in the following month's 12-bottle consumer case, priced at £125 and supplied with food matching advice.

But don't get your credit card out just yet. Walsh and Kampanaos are sensibly building Sommelier Cru's professional membership - it already includes more than 40 respected names, a quarter from Michelin-starred restaurants - and ensuring good links with suppliers before reaching out to the public.

The first case is likely to be offered at the end of the summer, but it should be worth waiting for. Watch this column for more details.

If all goes well, Sommelier Cru will offer even more to wine lovers - invitations to the tastings are one possibility, with that investigating bottles from celebrities' vineyards the likely first choice.

It's all an encouraging prospect for better sommelier-customer relationships, extending beyond the restaurant table. "Who better than the sommeliers from top restaurants to select some of the world's most interesting wines and to help consumers choose them for the right occasion," argues Richard Weiss, who with fellow sommelier Eric Artières sparked the project.

His enthusiasm proved infectious: "Discussion became very creative after the third bottle.

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