My favourite sommeliers are the opposite of what the old French sommelier is meant to be. People who love to chat and laugh, and think about the food you've ordered and get excited about you being there, rather than trying to squeeze you for every pound you’ve got. In no particular order, Gareth Ferreira at Core by Clare Smyth is fantastic. Core is the best restaurant in the country in my opinion and Clare herself is a mind-blowing talent – an iconic human being. The two of them have great taste and are a perfect team. Then there’s Beatrice Bessi at Chiltern Firehouse. The restaurant is a crazy place – theatrical, over the top, noisy – it's all going on and she is this perfect moment of calm. Then there’s Katie Exton, the owner of Lorne, which is one of the best restaurants in London. At Lorne, you wouldn’t call her a sommelier – even though her history is as a sommelier at Chez Bruce and The River Café – as she runs everything and knows every single molecule of detail about the wine list and the menu. She’s probably one of the best all-rounders in the UK – maître d’, restaurant owner, wine expert, perfect host. I invite her to all my important tastings.
My most memorable drinking experiences boil down to two things. They’re either a very expensive wine in the right setting, or simply drinking manzanilla dry sherry in a town square in Sanlúcar with the sun beating down and a plate of clams. Nothing gets more beautiful than that and it costs nothing – it's almost cheaper than going to McDonald's. Those moments are so life affirming and joyous because anyone and everyone can experience them. However, my favourite wine moment was sitting on the top of a little hill behind the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ in Champagne with François Billecart, drinking a bottle of 1959 Billecart-Salmon champagne with him. I was in the middle of his vineyard, overlooking the little town where he makes the wine, just pinching myself and thinking how lucky I am. Perhaps less than a dozen people in the world have ever done that with that wine, with that person, in that particular place. Several years later, I found out that vintage was voted the finest champagne of the 20th century in a massive panel tasting. It still gives me the shivers telling the story today.
I don't believe you need to spend a fortune on glassware. In fact I almost believe the opposite – if it's a perfect shape and it's cheap, get it. Then it doesn't matter how many you break. The best ones I’ve found are the Vina round red glasses by Schott Zwiesel. I buy them from WineWare.co.uk, a company that sells to the trade, but also to private clients. The shape of this particular glass is perfect – you can pour champagne, beautiful dry whites, cabernets, pinots, sweet wines, fortified ports… It’s the one glass shape that does absolutely every style of wine and it's the one glass we have at home.
We rented our house for a long time before we bought it, and at first I didn't realise it had a wine cellar. Underneath the carpet in the hallway, we discovered a Spiral Cellar – a really early one, unlike the flash ones it makes today. It’s the best way of putting a cellar in your house, as all you do is dig a hole in the middle of your kitchen, tank it, then fill it with booze and shove a lid on the top. Ours fits 800 bottles. I've got a wine fridge in my office – a Euro Cave – which I’ve had since 1997 and it's still going strong. It fits about 150 bottles – more than enough for any household. It cost a lot, but like those shoes I was talking about earlier, it’s lasted almost 25 years.
My favourite drinking companion is my wife. Without a shadow of a doubt. She has a brilliant palate, she's great fun, she loves a drink, she works in the wine business, and she loves food. We love talking about wine together.