Eric Zwiebel is one of the most admired and award winning master sommeliers in the UK. He has also found a friend and kindred spirit in Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones who both share a love, and in Zweibel’s case a past, with Alsace wines. Here Jones pays tribute to Zwiebel’s career and skills as a sommelier.
How Eric Zwiebel continues to inspire and be inspired by sommeliers across Europe and the world.
Eric Zwiebel was born in Alsace in France and his affection for wine began at an early stage as his parents owned a restaurant, and he very quickly realised the benefits this had. I was delighted to accompany him on a trip to his beloved province of Alsace earlier this year, and inbetween the punishing wine tasting schedule and late night bar hopping managed to get an insight in to why he is so committed to the UK and being part of the sommelier hierarchy.
But first of all I asked him why did he want to become a sommelier? He explains: “Having spent my summer holidays at my grand mother’s farm I wanted to become a farmer, but my father was against this career move, then I thought I could become a professional footballer, but this had skills that I did not possess, so the kitchen called, however I soon realized that the grumpy unfriendly set up was not for me and graduated to the front of house, where I immediately fell in love with the magical feeling of looking after guests”.
Zwiebel is one of the senior organisers and judges of The UK Moet Sommelier of The Year Competition, run in partnership with The Caterer magazine and the Academy of Food & Wine Service. This cut throat yearly competition is no place for the faint hearted. I have been privileged to sit on the judging panel for the last two years and this is certainly the SAS of the sommelier learning curve, and a stepping stone to the European and world competitions.
Zwiebel arrived in the UK, after a stint working at Le Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre in Paris, in 1999 to broaden his knowledge of not only wine but the English too. He was admitted to the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2001. In July 2004 he became the cellar master at the award-winning Grade II Listed Summer Lodge Country House Hotel in Dorset, the epitome of a luxurious five star country house, where he still presides today.
He believes the UK is the best breeding and learning ground for sommeliers as it gives them such vast opportunities to taste and learn.
In order to stay abreast of the developments in the wine world, he constantly participates in competitions and trips to wine regions of the world and represented the UK in the world finals of The Sommelier of The Year Competition held in Mendoza, Argentina in April. Thus following in the Anglo-French footsteps of Gerard Basset MS MW, who also represented the UK and won the world final in 2010.
As Zwiebel says himself he has been lucky to have Basset as his mentor throughout his career in the UK which has also seen him work at Cliveden.
Zwiebel proved he is one of the leaders of his profession by winning the UK Sommelier of the Year competition in 2004. In 2006 and 2008, he achieved third place and second place respectively in The Best Sommelier of Europe competition. In 2007, he participated at The World’s Best Sommelier Competition where he was a runner-up and in 2013, was placed fourth.
He once likened the skills needed to compete in such competitions as appearing on ‘Dancing on Ice’.
Alsace at heart
It is evident having visited Alsace that Eric shares the charisma and passion that these wine folk have, the friendly open mindedness and love affair with so many regal wine verities.
His passion certainly passed on me to as he was able to teach me about the numerous expressions of terroir and wine varieties that Alsace produces. Especially highlighting the quality of aged Muscat and Gewürztraminer, not to mention some pretty superb Pinot Noirs.
Although having spent 19 years in the UK and representing the Queen at the world stages of the Sommelier Awards he is very much Alsace’s favourite prodigal son, and continues to highlight the jewels from this region as well as his French accent.
I very much like his philosophy and outlook on business, where he strives to make his guests feel special by developing their tastes by not only encouraging food and wine matching, but introducing new unique wines to their palates. At Summer Lodge he has worked with chef, Steven Titman, to create an impressive number of Wine Dinner events showcasing both the talents of the kitchen and the wines collected in the cellar.
Zwiebel’s Summer House list has received the prestigious ‘Best of Award of Excellence’ from Wine Spectator, every year since 2005.
With the European Sommelier Championship being hosted in Austria in May 2017 and the World Championship in Belgium in 2019 these awards will be very much on our radars.
Zwiebel says he is keen to develop his already vast knowledge and is looking to visit and extend his knowledge of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in particular.