Returning as Imbibe Live’s Wine Ambassador for a second year is the inimitable, ever charming Xavier Rousset MS. The restaurateur and entrepreneur with three restaurants to his name with Blandford Comptoir, Greenwich Kitchen and Cabotte has pulled together a stellar line-up with top-notch tastings and seminars.
Former somm and king of Pinot Raj Parr is flying all the way from California, while attendees will also have the chance to sample Taittinger’s riches. And did someone say – whisper it – Château Margaux AND Ornellaia?
Imbibe caught up with him to find out how he did it…
Welcome back for a second year, Xavier! What is the appeal of being an Imbibe Live ambassador?
I get to use my connections with those top wine estates in the world, and I can showcase them to everyone, not just the sommeliers.
[What I enjoy] is that the show brings a more relaxed environment. It’s approachable, making the wine less stiff, less pompous, which is a good thing, and it brings it to the younger generation as well. The average age at Imbibe Live seems quite young. I’ll be one of the old ones there!
You’ve got an amazing line-up for the Winemakers’ Cellar…
Yes, those are the heavyweights of the wine world and they were quite happy to come and discuss with every sommelier on every level to showcase their wines. Ornellaia is one, [Chateau] Margueax is another – those are the guys that every sommelier would be happy to taste and meet the guys behind, because you don’t get to see those guys often, especially when you’re a junior sommelier.
There’s an open-pour Beaujolais tasting at the show. Why have you decided to include it?
Customers are keen to discover it more. It’s the drinkability of it. It’s soft and easy, good acidity, not too much oak, and, with Pinot Noir being more expensive, I think Beaujolais is a good – not replacement – but category to look at. Any villages from The Côte de Nuits is going to be quite pricy, but maybe for a half or a third of the price, you get a lovely, very soft Beaujolais.
With Pinot Noir being more expensive, I think Beaujolais is a good – not replacement – but category to look at
I am producing a Beaujolais myself, I’m blending with some friends in Beaujolais as a small project for a bit of fun. The first vintage was in 2015, and I’m blending the 2017 next week, so I’ve got three vintages. It’s good fun, but I’m not like Raj [Parr], this is not my full time job.
The wine programme for this year’s show is a real cross-section of ‘what’s hot’ at the moment. Which trends in particular are you excited to see included?
The market for rose is strong and it’s been strong for a while now. English wine is also a trend and it’s not going anywhere. It’s something I’m keeping an eye on, especially sparkling. I am concerned about the volume being produced, however, and the effect that’ll have on the market.
What do you think are the main challenges facing your sector?
Staffing, we can’t get the people. It means that we employ anyone and everyone and the knowledge is not always there. That’s the issue. Shortages of people and shortages of knowledge as a result.
What are successful restaurants doing at the moment to weather the tough trading conditions?
I think you have to offer value, and you have to be on top of your game with food, service, pricing. That should be enough, but it’s never guaranteed. I think you need to be very alert, that’s for sure.
Why do you think Imbibe Live is important for sommeliers to attend?
The trends and what’s going on in the bar world and the wine world. I think Imbibe Live is good for two or three days of highlighting what’s going on in our world. I think it’s a good thing to attend to see what the trends are.