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Profile - Ronan Sayburn

Published:  09 February, 2009

Ronan Sayburn quit his job as Gordon Ramsay's head sommelier to go and travel the world. Now he's back in London, heading up the wine team at The Greenhouse. He tells us how his twin inspirations are Hugh Johnson and Gérard Basset, and why a wine-mad restaurateur makes a great boss for any passionate sommelier

What first got you interested in wine?
My father was always interested in wine and I remember reading one of his books, Hugh Johnson's Wine: the first page alone is wonderful, and this inspired me to learn more.

How did you end up in your current job?
I spent 12 years working in Michelin-starred restaurants for Raymond Blanc, Tom Aikens and Gordon Ramsay. A couple of years ago I decided to take a break and went travelling around Asia with my girlfriend. With the wine list being the biggest in the UK, The Greenhouse seemed the most interesting place to work at this stage in my career. The owner here, Marlon Abela, is very passionate and knowledgeable about wine, so he gives me a lot of freedom to buy what I want and develop the list as I wish. This freedom is rare in the current economic climate.

Do you have a wine world hero? If so, who is it - and why?
There are a lot of great winemakers and sommeliers that I respect, but Gérard Basset is exceptional. He's a successful businessman and the most high decorated/qualified sommelier in the world.

What makes a great sommelier?
Open mindedness, humility, being highly organised and willing to work hard, self disciplined and a good motivator. All these are very important.

What's your proudest professional achievement?
Passing the Master Sommelier exams: there are only about 180 MSs in the world.

What makes a great wine list?
Wine lists should always be up to date and accurate and reflect the style of the restaurant and its cuisine. As long as there are sensibly chosen wines that are fairly marked up, the wine list can be great.

Is there any kind of wine you wouldn't want on your list?

How much emphasis do you attach to matching wines with the food you serve - and how do you help customers steer their way to appropriate wine choices?
With the size of our wine list we always have a sommelier on hand to offer advice or guidance. Food and wine matching is obviously considered, but usually on a table of, say, four people they will take a huge variety of dishes, so exact matching is not always possible. We also do a tasting menu matched with glasses of sherry or wine. Our chef is very accommodating, so often people will ask for a dish to be created to match a specific wine. This can be very interesting.

What's the oddest request you've ever had from a customer?
Belgians asking for chilled Lynch-Bages.

What would be your desert island wine?
A good St-Emilion or Pomerol, such as Château l'Eglise Clinet.

And what would you want to eat with it?
Côte de boeuf cooked slowly over vine cuttings.