New wines to try this summer
Naked Wine sommelier and Gordon Ramsay alumnus Ray O'Connor spills the grapes on why he won't pay thousands for wine, what's in his cellar - and how to dodge hangovers.
What was your path into being a sommelier?
Well, I studied wine in Dublin and soon realised that London was the capital of the wine world (that was back in 2006). So I made a bee-line across the water to work here. I started off doing a trial at Jamie Oliver’s 15 restaurant at Old Street, which was fun, but I knew if I was going to progress I needed to push myself so accepted a role at Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred restaurant Maze.
Wow. Some big names there. Was there a wine that sparked your love affair? What was the first wine you ever drank?
I can’t even remember what wine I drank yesterday! But I do remember the bottle that changed the way I thought about wine forever; Domaine Huet, Vouvray Le Haut Lieu 1989. It was a wine with some natural sweetness to it but the most amazing concoction of flavours. I was working in a wine shop in Dublin at the time and insisted everyone who came in tried a little bit. I may have been a little more excited than they were!
Do you collect wine? If so talk us through your cellar
Not really. I appreciate the youthful flavours of most wines. I have aged some German and Austrian Rieslings, which taste great with time. Also, a good collection of vintage Madeira, which is pretty much timeless!
Describe Gordon Ramsay in three words
Tall, blonde… chef
How very discreet of you! Which Naked Wines do you love most and why?
I love wines that give a great generosity of fruit like the wines from Beaujolais. I’m not talking about old school cheap plonk, but the various independent villages that make top class stuff, like Fleurie. I personally love the Saint Amour and Julienas villages which should be back on the Naked shelves shortly. In a similar style, and a bit eclectic, is Sabatico, a beautiful red wine from Chile which tastes of raspberries, pomegranate and almost ripe strawberries. A real summer crush!
Now you’ve got me reaching for a glass. Tell us something surprising we don’t know about being a sommelier
In the best restaurants, after you present the chosen wine to the guest, you take the bottle back to your ‘station’ , open it, smell and taste it for any defects, and then serve. The customer should not be served a faulty wine, ever.
That’s a lot of wine to drink! Apart from the constant tipples, what’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
Easy. Sitting around the kitchen table with the winemakers and their families around the world. Last time I was in Marlborough New Zealand, I was treated to a tasting menu of homemade ice cream as Ted, son of award winning Sauv Blanc producers Bill and Claudia Small, rolled out his latest experiments on me. Yum! By chatting into the night, and with every additional glass you share, you manage to get beneath what drives these independent winemakers and it’s largely passion rather than profit.
Curate your own dream case of Naked wine for summer
Hmmm, so much choice, so little space to share! Italy may be known for quality reds but they also produce fantastic lesser known grapes like Grecanico, a crisp, fresh and fruity white that is perfect for summer drinking. A New Zealand Sauv Blanc is hard to overlook and it’s easy to be persuaded when it has been made by one of the world’s best winemakers, Rod Easthope. I would definitely include a rich and smooth red from the Southern Rhone like Le Chêne Noir made from the same grapes as neighbouring Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For something with a little more oomph you couldn’t go wrong with La Orphica Monastrell from Muricia, Spain. Densely concentrated dark fruits; it’s a bit of an indulgence.
What’s the most expensive wine you’ve ever tasted (and was it worth it?)
I used to serve the same wine to a regular who came into a famous restaurant I worked in each time he and his entourage came in. Château Haut Brion 1989. £2,800 a bottle! Was it worth it? No way! No wine is worth that. Once you get past the production costs of maximum £20-35 you’re paying for prestige or scarcity. Naked works on a cost plus basis with lots of our winemakers, so everyone can see what the cost of grapes, barrels, bottles and then the profit for the winemaker without any of the unnecessary marketing and sales costs.
Well, that’s a relief to hear I’m not missing out. What are the new trends in wine?
Boxed wine is coming back with a vengeance which is great to see as the absence of glass offers convenience in where you can bring the wine, lighter weight meaning fewer CO2 emissions and you can drink to have a glass or two without opening a whole bottle. Watch this space for some of our Angel favourites landing on the site soon. Also, Naked Angels (our customers) are going nuts for the amazing quality of wines from Lebanon. Beautiful boutique style winemaking there.
I’m inspired… But, help us out, would you? What’s the wine least likely to give us a hangover this summer?
It’s probably less about the wine and more about what you do around the wines….. I try and sink a few glasses of water in between all the wine and then before bed I add milk thistle drops (from a health store) to a glass of water – I’m told it helps metabolise the alcohol through the liver, but I’m no doctor so this is not medical advice!
Want a taste? We’ve teamed up with Ray to curate three cases of 12 Naked Wines for summer, at prices exclusive to Muddy readers. Nab our Muddy Mixed case or Muddy Red case for £50 (RRP £140.88) or our Muddy Luxe case for £75 (RRP £202.38).