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Shana Dilworth, Orrery, the sommelier's view

Published:  07 July, 2011

Having been in London for a few years now I can look back on my decision to leave San Francisco


Having been in London for a few years now I can look back on my decision to leave San Francisco with the knowledge that I made the right choice. As much as I loved the Bay Area and being so close to the wine regions of California, the experience of working within the wine business in London has been unsurpassable. As diverse as London itself, the wine trade offers the sommelier as well as the consumer a worldly selection to choose from. Being located so close to the continent and with such strong ties to many of the other important winegrowing countries - Australia, New Zealand, the US - London really is the epicentre of the wine world. All this being said, for a wine buyer the UK still has some challenges to offer.

I have always thought it an easy task to develop a fantastic list based on some of the world's best wines; the hard part is finding best value for the guest. Of course, value depends on many things but the most important question is: has the guest been well served in terms of quality and value for money? It is difficult to develop a list that is free from retail or off-licence wines, and it is impossible when it comes to Champagne.

With a large, neighbourhood Waitrose just down the street from my restaurant, I find myself walking the aisles to see which wines I have also listed, and realise there will always be a few that we share. However, at my next pub meal, I'm disappointed to realise that high street brands still dominate in small neighbourhood pubs. For example, one readily available Rioja is charged at £15 in my local pub, but I can buy it in my neighbourhood shop for £6.99. Incidents like this remind me that I have to work a little bit harder and spend a little more time choosing what I put on my list.

The UK is fortunate enough to have organisations such as the WSET to ensure the majority of wine representatives are knowledgeable in their subjects. In fact, it seems most wine companies prefer to have WSET credentials of their hired staff. Establishments without dedicated wine staff should feel more comfortable using the expertise of wine companies they use, to wade into the vast pool of wine that is available to us as restaurateurs. We should be more confident in our selection of lesser-known regions, look to emerging areas of production, and embrace a more adventurous approach to finding the value-for-money wines the guests desire and deserve.