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Unfiltered: Tara Ozols

The buyer and head sommelier of the acclaimed SOLA, Soho talks to Douglas Blyde about what it meant to win the “Oscar of Wine Awards”, her USA-led list, and the designer of her signature eyewear…

Tara Ozols

What is your vintage?

Surprisingly to all, it’s 1978! A year from which I’ve enjoyed some memorable Champagnes, though E. Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie La Mouline represents the bar of my year.

Is Manchester, Connecticut, where you were born, rich in wine culture?

It’s a cute place, Manchester, but definitely not known for wine. The richness of wine came from my stepmother, Donna’s back deck. And the deck is still one of my favourite places for a glass of wine.

What was your first job?

Washing dishes at my parents’ pub in Florida, which I don’t miss. I do have massive respect for anyone who does that job. A kitchen is nothing without its porter. A fucking hard job.

What other formative roles have you undertaken?

I came to the UK from NYC almost nine years ago. I wanted to move into wine after working in other front-of-house roles. I connected with Michael Deschamps who went on to mentor me. He always said, “Taste, taste, taste.” I will never forget that. It’s fundamental as a Somm. Following working at restaurant Marcus with Michael, I became a wine sales rep and wine buyer for Whole Foods. My chef-patron, Victor Garvey of SOLA poached me from there – and I’ll be forever grateful for his American forwardness.

What did it mean to win this year’s Michelin Sommelier Award?

The Oscar of Wine Awards? Even after a month and a half it still hasn’t settled in. I found myself daydreaming for weeks, wondering “How? What? Why?” But I guess it came down to… I was deserving of this award and I’m owning it. I am beyond grateful. I have a small boutique wine programme and I work hard every week to source the best cool American wines for our guests. I don’t have massive budgets or ambassadorships to make my job easier. It’s just me loving wine, our guests, and my job and I’m beyond appreciative I was recognised for that. It’s a massive honour full stop.

Tara Ozols

How do you keep your wine list unique?

We have the only American wine list in Europe in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Also, we are not classically American. I source smaller independent wines over classic iconic styles. I get the best of on-trend wines that land here. My best experience to date was when I met Maya Dalla Valle and Axel Heinz for the release of their “DVO” project. SOLA was one of the few restaurants to gain access to their limited release and it was mind-blowing. The kind of wine you should age, but the excitement overtakes.

What has been a particularly successful drinks match at SOLA?

My favourite pairing to date was a pét-nat Merlot from Channing Daughters in The Hamptons with our foie-gras cherry blossom dish. It was tits really. I really enjoy a sparkling at least once in our pairing and this one was perfect.

What is Chef Victor like to work with?

He is a great person and has always given me tremendous freedom and respect. And he drinks well. Always red. Always requests my recommendation. But he’s not a cheap date.

What is your favourite grape or style?

Classic, I guess: Riesling and Pinot Noir.

And which one don’t you get on with?

Again two: Glera and Sauvignon Blanc.

Do you have an interest in sake?

Yes! I have recently fallen in love with TOKU from Hokkaido. Best of, really…

How many guests use the chopsticks provided with certain dishes?

If I had to guess, 35%, based on recent dining.

How does the design of SOLA’s interior enhance a diner’s mood?

It’s cosy and California love in there man. SOLA has THE vibe. We also always have a killer playlist.

Are you excited by the new cheese cart?

I love a cheese trolley. Tops the night off!

What has been an embarrassing service mistake?

I’m known to break a glass or two…

Whose voice do you listen to?

Stevie Nicks

What can the wine trade do better?

Diversify, Respect, and Chill Out. Tip of the iceberg.

Are you planning a standout wine-related trip?

I really looking to the harvest in Lanzarote this year. I love the Canaries and am keen to see these wacky vines.

Who designed your signature eyewear?

Ha! Cubitts. Full disclosure, they are cool, but very heavy on the face. I typically give up by Saturday and squint.

What is your motto?

“I was born ready.”

Tell us something surprising about yourself?

I’m freakishly strong.

Would you rather have lunch with Al Gore, Lady Gaga or Tiger Woods, and what would you drink with them?

No doubt, Tiger as I’m also a great golfer. Whisky probs? I love a long convo over whisky.

Finally, who would depict you in a Netflix drama?

Dushane Hill – Top Boy.

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