There must be times as a leading sommelier that you are as much in demand as all the latest movie stars sitting on Graham Norton’s sofa. Be it in the restaurant and the time needed to work behind the scenes to have the right wines for customers to buy, and then the time to get out, taste, discover and find new things to list. Which is why The Buyer’s new Sommelier Workshop concept is designed to give sommeliers an insight into a key emerging country in 90 minutes. Which is what we would look to deliver with our journey into the wines of Hungary and what varieties, styles and price points are right for premium UK restaurants.
By bringing sommeliers, restaurant buyers, importers and producers together The Buyer and Wines of Hungary’s Sommelier Workshop proved an ideal opportunity to delve deep into what has fast becoming one of the newest and oldest wine countries on restaurant wine lists.
With so many tastings and events in the wine trade calendar it can be hard to stand out enough to make key buyers, sommeliers and influential voices come along to see what you are doing. Which is why for The Buyer’s first sommelier workshop we wanted to do something different. By teaming up with Wines of Hungary in the UK we were able to work together on a programme that provided a 90 minute Hungarian wine tasting experience that was part panel debate, part Q&A, and also included a mini tutored tasting and general open pour session.
The idea was to give sommeliers and on-trade buyers the chance to hear from their peers how they are working and having success with Hungarian wines in their restaurants. It was an opportunity for them all to share their own experiences as well as then taste benchmark Hungarian wines that are successfully being imported into the UK market.
Over to the panel…
The event started with an open panel debate, hosted by The Buyer’s Richard Siddle, with restaurant and wine consultant, Peter McCombie MW, who has worked closely with Wines of Hungary over the last couple of years, Rémi Cousin, head sommelier at Le Gavroche and Freddy Bulmer, buyer responsible for Hungary, and other East European countries at The Wine Society.
Here the emphasis was very much on setting the scene and exploring which styles of Hungarian wine are already doing well in the UK. What hooks can other buyers and sommeliers put wines in their wines lists on. Which, for McCombie meant being as brave as possible. Yes, Hungarian wines are always going to be best suited to a restaurant with a dedicated sommelier than can help hand sell them, but he has also had good success with shorter lists where Hungary can offer something different, new, bold and exciting for those customers willing to experiment.
Both Bulmer and Cousin agreed. Cousin said it was important to go into working with a country like Hungary with an open mind. Taste the wines and decide on the ones that are right for your customers rather than think if it is Hungary then I need to be listing a Tokaj and not much else.
Bulmer said it had a two prong approach with its customers when introducing wines from an emerging, but traditional country like Hungary. For those willing to spend £10 to £20 and more on a bottle of wine then it is usually enough to proudly tell the story about the wine and why it is so special. For more conservative and less ambitious customers Hungarian wines are ideal for showcasing what they can do when they send out pre-selected cases of wine.
The panel also looked at:
- What Hungarian wine styles and price points are right for different restaurant wine lists.
- What lessons you can take and use for other exciting, emerging, dynamic wine markets.
- What price points are working well for Hungary in the UK.
- What challenges you need to keep in mind.
Kelvin McCabe, head sommelier at Adam Handling Group, said he was surprised at how knowledgeable many of his customers were about Hungarian wines and rather than see them as being a risky purchase are actually very willing to understand more about them. Jonathan Kleeman at the Twister Cellar agreed and said it was all about having the confidence to list the wines in the first place and then use them as points on the list to highlight how different and interesting your wine list is.
Miranda Fang, wine buyer at Red Squirrel Wine, said that although the specialist importer did not have any Hungarian wine yet the debate and tasting had reconfirmed our desire to do so “as there was so much quality” to enjoy.
When pressed what it was about Hungarian wines that stood out, and made them difference McCombie said it as their “structure, and backbone”. Yes, they have the fruit and, some have the freshness and acidity, but the one common theme throughout is the textured, structured approach that made them so memorable.
The event also included the opportunity for the guests to both take part in an open tasting as well as hear McCombie, Cousin and Bulmer take them through selected wines from the four main producers present.
Each producer was being represented by their UK importer which included:
- Zsirai Winery which has recently been taken on by Jascots Wine Merchants.
- Barta Winery that is being distributed by Corney & Barrow.
- St Andrea Winery from Matthew Clark.
- Kovacs Nimrod Winery that is part of the Boutinot portfolio.
- There will be a full report on the Sommelier Workshop on The Buyer in the coming weeks.
- If you would like to hear more about Hungarian wines in the UK or are interested on going on a buyers’ trip to the country then please contact Lilla O’Connor, head of Wines of Hungary UK on firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Buyer would like to thank the team at M Victoria for hosting the event and all the support before, during and after.