Conversations with IWBS – Stephane Soret, Sommelier

Stephane SORET is a name to be reckoned with in the world of sommellerie. He is a man with decades of experience and one who honed his skills across continents and cultures. Today, based out of Singapore, he heads the F&B operations for the prestigious Raffles. In his time there, he has hosted some of the most iconic wine events this side of the Greenwich. Here, with us today, for #ConversationsWithIWBS, he talks wines and reminisces about his days spent working in India.

What first attracted you to wines?

I was fortunate to grow up in Southern Rhone where we have a strong wine culture. I would always work part-time during harvest with local family friend wine producers.

What are the 2-3 most important things to consider while evaluating a wine (blind tasting)?

Why I don’t like it and why my guest might like it? I call this palate optimization which consists of making all my guests happy and forgetting about the self-centred French Sommelier syndrome! This is possibly the best rating a wine can get in my opinion. So my guest can be happy because they experience a great discovery/value wine for the money or because they want to splurge and impress with more commercial labels. A good wine list must have all of it.

What drink do you generally like to unwind with at the end of a workday?

I love a good single malt whisky, neat, with water on the side.

What are your thoughts on Asian cuisines (in plural) and wines? Are they compatible, and how should we approach it, generally speaking?

Asian cuisine is broad and complex and our challenge is to develop Asian Sommeliers who will NOT recommend the most expensive bottle on the list (anybody can do that). Instead, we should adopt a gentle, more educational approach in order to generate repeat business. Table by table, it’s a hard job but the Sommelier must do so. In Asia this is as important as the chef’s job if we really want to be serious about wines. It’s also important to make it affordable, all the way from producers, right to our clients in the restaurant. At the Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel, I pour M/S by-the-glass and also by bottles ( from Fratelli in Akluj Maharashtra) and we have developed a great Indian Sommelier called Kutty Krishna Nair. I also really love the Tempranillo Reserve from Charosa, a wine that I wanted to bring exclusively to Raffles prior to the pandemic.

What do you miss about India and especially the local food and drinks scene?

I miss my all-time favourite:  Chicken Tikka Masala from Defence Colony market, of course, best paired with Chateau des Tours, the pure Grenache from Cote du Rhone by Chateau Rayas, with minimum 6 years of bottle age.

Is there a wine caveat that we should be aware of?

The concern I have is there is way too much bad or fake wine produced and this is why time and education is so important. I would rather drink a great Prosecco than a bad Champagne. Also, you cannot learn wine in a crash-course, it takes years to develop your own palate and philosophy. And travelling to visit producers is a must, obviously not in 2021, but in general.

Any advice to aspiring F&B professionals in India?

I try to stay away from wines that aren’t telling the truth (see above). In vino veritas and that’s all that matters.

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