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Q&A: Christopher Delalonde MS, The Dorchester

Published:  16 March, 2020

Jo Gilbert catches up with the straight-talking former Sommelier of the Year about The Dorchester’s new wine vault, keeping abreast of five wine lists and why Gordon Ramsay is the best boss he ever had

Wine vault elevator pitch: 30 seconds. Go!

Took three years to build and holds 1,000 bottles, which are the crème de la crème of the hotel’s lists.

Historically, the Dorchester has had a bit of a Middle Eastern clientele who don’t drink. But having this space for tastings and private dinners is a way of bringing people together and working out what they like.

It also links with the new refurbishment of The Grill upstairs where Tom Booton is the youngest ever head chef at The Dorchester at 27. We’ve had to adjust a bit from being more traditional to maybe a bit of a younger – and maybe not as wealthy – crowd. So you have to take that into account.

Not many other hotels in London have this kind of facility though.

Is this attention to detail what drew you to The Dorchester?

Before The Dorchester, I was a beverage manager at Bleeding Heart Yard in Farringdon. I dealt with everything, which was a challenge and exciting. But I got bored, as I always do. I’m a fast learner, so once you learn all the tricks, you ask: “What’s next?”

The Dorchester was the icing on the cake. I also wanted to bring a bit of a legacy of wine into the hotel. It was there, but it was lacking. It didn’t have the energy or the push from high up management.

It’s been a challenge, but from a positive angle. Especially as when I started I thought, let’s do this and see if I can fit in, because me and politics are not the norm.

You’re a perfectionist?

I’m worse than a perfectionist. I’m an extremist.

Does that mean you find yourself on the wrong side of people?

I’d say I speak “English”. I’m French, obviously, but I put things in black in white.

Not a bad way to be. What about when you’re dealing with customers? What advice do you give to prospective Sommelier of the Year entrants when you’re judging?

I’d say I’ve learnt. At The Square, I once had an American customer who asked if they could have a red Chablis. He was adamant. I said: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He chose something else, but at the end of the night, he grabbed me by the arm and said he was going to go home and send me a bottle of wine from his cellar.

Ultimately, it’s easy to be the knowledgeable guy, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about reading people – listening – and finding out what’s going to help them enjoy the evening with their boyfriend or girlfriend. If the customer leaves thinking the somm was rude, you’ve lost. In a restaurant, it’s not what happened; it’s how you deal with it. It’s like theatre.

I’m still waiting for that bottle of red Chablis, though.

What was it like working with Gordon Ramsay?

Honestly? Lovely. He knew what he wanted, but we never had any issues. Actually, back in 2001, I had a bit of an accident. I had an amazing flat with my girlfriend at the time with a bathroom that had a marble floor. I walked in one night with the lights off and it was wet. I flew. I literally flew. I couldn’t walk for 12 hours, which was scary. But it was Christmas, so I hobbled in and stuck mainly to the cellar. When Gordon came in, he went crazy. He took one look at me and said: “What are you doing here?” He sent me home with the number of his personal doctor.

What’s your go-to wine?

I would probably start with Pinot Noir, then move to Syrah and finish with Nebbiolo. I believe in a crescendo, to protect your palate and build up.

Customers come to me and say “we’re having fish and we want Amarone”. Amarone is a brilliant wine, but there’s nowhere to go after that. It’s a bit didactic, but that’s part of our job. We need to be able to sort of educate people – not in terms of schooling them, but steering them on the right path.