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Published:  23 July, 2008

Mark van der Goot Chef sommelier, The Flying Pig Restaurant at the Stonor Arms, Oxfordshire Interview: John Stimpfig

Why the move from metropolitan London to leafy Oxfordshire? A combination of factors. First, it was a good time to move on because we'd got to the level we were aiming for at the Greenhouse. Second, because this was a great opportunity for personal and professional reasons.

What's different about the Flying Pig? One difference is undoubtedly the Australian' service and style factor, which I call fine dining without the faff. That means trying to achieve less formality without compromising the technical service or quality. Then there's our fantastic food and cellar, and the way we match the two.

How do you put together your food and wine recommendations? What we do is break down the dishes into the prominent flavours and look at things like spices, acid or cream. Then we try to complement those flavours with components in the wine, such as sugar, tannin or fruit. I work closely with chef James McLean and the boys in the kitchen, and we talk about which wines work well in terms of accentuating the better points of the dish.

You've got 1,200 wines on the list. Wouldn't 600 suffice? Are you kidding? That's like telling my wife she only needs three pairs of shoes. Wine is my passion, so more is obviously better. A big list is important around here because there are a lot of people with big cellars who know their wine. Another reason is that we're aiming for a Wine Spectator Award.

What's the local catchment area? Probably a radius of 10-15 miles. But we have rooms too, so we get some London weekenders. Also the corporate market is coming back a bit, with companies booking dinner and accommodation one or two nights a week. It requires a bit of marketing, but there's a spend of around 30-40 a bottle and they tend to drink a lot. And often they come back with their wives afterwards.

What's the average cover spend on wine compared to London? It's about 18 a head here and it was 26 a head at the Greenhouse. So I'm very happy that I don't have to charge London prices. Ironically though, the hidden overheads are just as high. The problem in the country is that here you pay for all your deliveries and you get charged for having your waste picked up. Plus you're still paying council tax. So there's a lot of pressure on restaurant businesses like us outside London.

Is such a large cellar difficult to manage? Not if you really know your cellar and your job. I'm down there a lot and I build up a picture in my mind of exactly what wines I've got. And because I'm so into it, it's not hugely taxing.

What are your current wine passions and are they reflected on the list? Over the summer I was heavily into Germany and Austria. But now it's winter, I'm going back to New World reds. My father just sent over a few new Australian wines, which look very exciting. And California is coming back on the radar since prices have come down. Now you can find some really interesting things at an accessible level.

Where's the best value on the list? Obviously, I want the top end of the list to be accessible because there's no point in having these wines if they don't sell. But I want value all the way through. That's why I spend more time looking for wines under 20. Anyone can buy great wines. To me, the real challenge is finding wines under 20 that you're really happy with and that offer absolute value for money.

Such as? The Sartorelli's 2002 Marche Verdicchio. Or Orvietos, Madirans, Bergerac Secs and Albarinos from better producers. They're usually provincial wines from Europe like Touraine Sauvignon Blancs, which would outpoint a lot of pricier Sancerres.

Where are you strongest? In the New World, we're very good on New Zealand Pinots, Australian Shiraz and Cabs and Californian Cabernets too. In the Old World, we're good on Burgundy, South West France and the Rhone. And we're pretty punchy in Italy and Austria. But the list is evolving all the time.

Why have you grouped the wines by varietal rather than region? I always found it frustrating working a list by region because the Old World always goes at the front. And with a big list people just lose patience and never get past page six. Also, people don't always have a good knowledge of grape varieties and regions. This gets round that without causing embarrassment. So it's a good and practical way of showing the range as well as introducing new wines.

Your list has 92 pages. Any short-cuts? Yes. People can flick to the Sommelier's selection, which is a flight of six whites and reds with tasting notes. It's very practical and extremely useful. Probably about 10-15% of customers use it as a short-cut.