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Profile - Sommelier of the Year Laura Rhys on what makes her tick

Published:  19 May, 2009

Laura Rhys, a sommelier at Gerard Basset's Hotel TerraVina, has just won the Sommelier of the Year competition. Here she tells us just what it takes to be the best.


Laura Rhys, a sommelier at Gerard Basset's Hotel TerraVina, has just won the Sommelier of the Year competition. Here she tells us just what it takes to be the best.

What first got you interested in wine?
While at university I took the WSET Intermediate and Advanced wine courses. They sparked my interest for wine. I started buying wine books and couldn't put them down. I was always curious about the job of a sommelier, so when I graduated I decided to give it a try and haven't looked back!

How did you end up in your current job?
I was working at Hotel du Vin in Winchester and contacted Gerard Basset, original co founder of Hotel du Vin, for some career advice. We spoke about many different options that I could consider, one of which being his new venture, Hotel TerraVina. I decided that I couldn't miss the opportunity to work with Gerard so I joined in July 2007, a month before the hotel opened.

Do you have a wine world hero? If so, who is it - and why?
Honestly, there are so many people I admire and look up to in the wine world; it would be very difficult to narrow it down to just one.

How much training did you put yourself through for the Sommelier of the Year competition? And what form did that training take?
I started preparing in earnest in January. As well as lots of studying, I often asked both Laurent (the assistant sommelier at TerraVina) and Gerard to prepare blind tastings of all the classic grape varieties and classic spirits. There were also general training sessions with both Laurent and Gerard, as well as outside help from other sommeliers that I knew, who were kind enough to offer their time and expertise.

What makes a great wine list?
Essentially, I believe that a great wine list is a well-balanced list that suits its surroundings, with reasonable prices.

Is there any kind of wine you wouldn't want on your list?
I would not want to put a poor quality wine on my list, regardless of its price. We also try not to have too many very well-known wines on the list. It makes the list more interesting to have lesser-known wines listed alongside the big names. It gives guests the chance to explore a little.

How much emphasis do you attach to matching wines with food - and what's the best way of helping customers steer their way to appropriate wine choices?
Different guests place different amounts of emphasis on it, so for me, it really depends on the guest. When recommending wines, I like to choose two or three different wines initially and see which ones excite the guests, then I know where I can go from there.

What's the oddest request you've ever had from a customer?
I'm not sure that any request is really odd; it just depends on what the guest wants. Someone once asked me to chill their Shiraz in ice... He enjoyed it, so I was happy!

What do you drink at home?
It depends on the mood I'm in but I especially love Riesling and Syrah at the moment...

What would be your desert island wine?
A Riesling Spätlese from Egon Muller

And what would you want to eat with it?
Whichever fish I caught from the sea, barbecued on my homemade campfire. (Although I would probably have finished the bottle before I caught the fish!)