Unfiltered: Szabolcs Menesi
The head of wines for The Dorchester talks to Douglas Blyde about starting his vinous career in what was Hungary’s only French wine shop, his mission to bring quality English wines to discerning diners, and the “limitless creativity” of head chef of The Grill, Tom Booton…
What is your vintage?
I was born in Hungary in 1983, and have spent the past fourteen years in England, Hong Kong and France. I have tried quite a few wines from this vintage, with the most memorable bottles including the extraordinary Château d’Yquem, exemplary Château Palmer, and, being a very big fan of the Rhône Valley, Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert Paul Jaboulet Aîné. One of my regular guests in Hong Kong also shared a Château Margaux 1983 with me when he found out that it was my birth year.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
I have loved wine since the moment I first tried the Cabernet Franc from Villány, Hungary. Although the bottle was not in itself particularly inspiring, the Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain 1988 continued to fire my passion for wine.
Where did you work before The Dorchester and how did those positions shape you?
I started my career working in wine retail in Hungary, in what was the only French wine shop at the time. I was very fortunate to work with lots of beautiful wines from different regions in France. Back then, it was very difficult to find any wine from other countries so I learnt a great deal, including that in order to learn more I would need to travel to get to know the world of wine. I moved to the UK and worked at the Hotel Du Vin, Brighton where I learnt how to be a sommelier. Then, I moved to London and worked for Gordon Ramsey at Maze, where I learnt how to manage a team of sommeliers. My next step was Shangri-La London and then Hong Kong, where I learnt a lot about the fine wine market and how to manage a larger operation with multiple outlets. While here, I was lucky enough to work with mentors such as Arnaud Bardary MS and Yohann Jousselin MS.
What does your role at The Dorchester encompass?
It is such a multi-dimensional hotel. Throughout the years, there have been several sommeliers who have made their mark on the wine programme. My role is to continue their legacy while making sure our pedigree wine philosophy is continually translated to the guests through our lists. The other side of my role is more educational – to make sure everyone at The Dorchester has a strong foundation of wine knowledge. We also have a wine ambassador programme which helps our colleagues build their knowledge, and we will soon be starting in-house WSET courses.
Describe your list at The Grill?
The Grill’s list is a playground: this is where we experiment the most. We try to allow our guests to discover more unusual regions and varieties alongside wines from more traditional regions. We began working on a section for grower-producers in Champagne and also started to develop a larger selection of English sparkling and still wines. Since moving back to the UK and rediscovering some of these local producers, it became my mission to share them with our guests. They are truly remarkable and deserve more attention.
What are standout producers?
I am proud of everything we have on the wine list and we have added quite a few bottles since my arrival in September 2021. Some of my highlights would be: Franck Pascal, Fluence (I love the purity of the wine and the fact it is dominated by the Pinot Meunier grape), Château Quinault L’Enclos (a hidden gem of St-Émilion), Moric Blaufränkisch (an Austrian superstar available by the glass), Oremus Mandolás Furmint from Tokaj (one of my favourite Furmints) and also a small vertical of Château Mouton-Rothschild. We are also extending our Petrus collection.
What is your most seductive pour via Coravin?
Large formats. This is what we started recently and when I say large, I mean six-to-nine litre bottles!
How many references are there in total now?
What has been a standout wine pairing with a dish by Tom Booton?
Raw scallop, fennel, clementine and chestnuts with Furmint, Oremus, Tokaj 2019. I love pairing Furmint with raw seafood. They just naturally connect. Remarkable freshness works very well with the texture of seafood and in this case the exotic characteristic of clementine within the wine. Acidity is just so important to elevate flavours and build a bridge between the dish and the wine.
What is he like to work with?
I personally love working with Tom due to his limitless creativity and it is always great fun to choose wines to match his dishes. It results in great things when his passion for food combines with my passion for wine. He is very open-minded and likes trying new things and learning more about wine. It is great to work with a chef who understands the importance of wine pairing.
What does he enjoy drinking?
He enjoys his beer, but would not say no to a nice glass of English sparkling wine.
How does the setting of the restaurant enhance the enjoyment of wine?
The environment is very important, adding another dimension to the experience. How many times has it happened that you have tried a specific wine in a winery and you loved it so much you bought a case and when you opened it at home you just didn’t understand why you bought it? Creating the right ambience is very important for the wine to shine.
Which table at The Dorchester is the best in the house?
The chef’s table is marvellous. And just right next to it we have our Wine Vault where we keep some of our most treasured wines. We also host tastings and masterclasses there. This is probably my favourite place to be at the hotel.
Is your list available throughout the guest rooms and suites?
The master wine list is available throughout the hotel.
What misconception might guests have of sommeliers?
An excellent sommelier can find the right wine for the occasion, the food, the mood and for any budget. Sadly, some guests have the misconception that a sommelier would always suggest their guests have the most expensive wine. Luckily, at The Dorchester, there is mutual trust between us and the guests, so this is not an issue.
What was the last moving film you saw?
“House of Gucci”.
How do you take your coffee?
Black and strong.
What is your favourite spirit?
It must be gin.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
I don’t like beer.
And… is it true you’re planting a vineyard in Hungary with partner Ben Picart (of Oxeye)
Yes! We are just looking for the right location in a small region in Somló.
The Grill at The Dorchester – 53 Park Lane, London, W1K 1QA; 020 7629 8888; dorchestercollection.com