Top UK young sommeliers: part 4

In the fourth part of this series, we profile one of several young female sommeliers making her mark on this traditionally male profession.

Erika Laler of Benares

Erika Laler, 27, from Benares, London

Was there a particular wine or wine “epiphany” which made you choose this career? A friend of mine did a blind tasting for me and I couldn’t believe it when I found out what it was: a Liebfraumilch from 1945. It was still drinking so well. I was fascinated that a wine could develop in that way, and the way wine is a living thing that changes daily. From that moment I knew I wanted to work in wine.

Are there any parts of your current list that you’re particularly proud of?

I was really proud of our Pinot Noir and Riesling selection at Texture. The chef doesn’t work with any cream or butter, so the wines, like Wittman Riesling from the Rheingau, lend themselves to the food. They’re two of my favourite grapes too, especially Riesling. I love its diversity of flavours from bone dry to sweet. I’ll be looking to work with Riesling a lot at Benares as it pairs so well with spicy food.

Which wine styles or regions are exciting you at the moment and why?

My tastes are seasonal, so moving into autumn, I’m getting into reds again, particularly those from north-west Italy, like Nebbiolo and Barbera. Piedmont wines are always interesting.

What’s the key to being a successful sommelier?

You need to have an approachable personality and be able to adapt to the person you’re assisting. A curious nature is also really important – sommeliers need to have an insatiable curiosity for trying different grapes and ingredients in order to be able to persuade people to try different things. You also need to be charming; it’s a bit like acting. Above all, you need to make the experience fun for everyone – it’s easy to be stiff, serious and uptight, the trick is to be fun.

Are there any wine-related ambitions you would still like to achieve?

I’d like to be a Master Sommelier one day. I’d also like to visit all the major wine regions of the world.

What do you drink on your days off?

I’m getting into wheat beer from small breweries at the moment. If I’m at a bar, I’ll order a Vodka Martini, or if I’m feeling virtuous, then perhaps an artisanal tea. I’m developing a tea menu at Benares, which is a learning curve.

What made you decide to come to the UK to pursue your sommelier career?

There’s no better place to be a sommelier than the UK. London is a great city to live in; it’s so cosmopolitan, with so many different restaurants. It’s a melting pot, and also a fabulous place to try wines from all over the world.

What is the one wine you are desperate to try before you die?

DRC Romanée-Conti 1990. I’m patiently waiting for that experience.

Who is the most famous person you’ve served and what did you serve them?

Gordon Ramsay. Fortunately, he was very open-minded. I recommended an FX Pichler Riesling from the Wachau with salmon gravlax. He loved it.

What’s the oddest request you’ve ever received from a customer?

When I was at Texture, an American customer ordered a bottle of Château Haut-Brion 1996 and asked for a can of Coke on the side. My heart bled when I saw him mix it.

The full collection of sommelier profiles appeared in the drinks business October on-trade report, Eat.Drink, or you can click the options below to see who we’ve profiled so far:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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