Charles Pashby-Taylor is Head Sommelier at Dabbous in London. We caught up with him to talk wine, restaurants and perfect pairings.
What got you into being a sommelier?
It was a hobby more than anything. When I was growing up I learnt a lot about wine from my father who was a wine buyer back in the 1970s and I was always a kid who was asking, “What’s that? What does that taste like?” Later in life sadly I needed to have a job. And I thought well if I’m going to have a job it may as well be something that I enjoy and wine was something I really had a passion for.
Whereabouts did you start?
So I started as a bartender when I was 18 up in Chester at a bar called The Living Room. Then I moved to Gaucho and learned an awful lot about Argentinean wine. Then when Dabbous opened I came and opened the bar here and before long was in charge of the wine program.
So what’s your idea of a perfect wine?
I think the perfect wine is overthought by a lot of people. People think the perfect wine has to be the best vintage of DRC or the best vintage of Petrus. The perfect wine for me is a wine that has a memory attached. For instance a Sauska Cuveé 13 Rosé, a Hungarian rose from Villany, that I sat and drank with my girlfriend the first time we went to Hungary together. We sat outside on the street, the weather was beautiful. That was one of the best wines I’ve ever drunk because of the memory. I can say the best wine I’ve drunk is ‘86 Grand Echezaux from DRC or 1990 Haut-Brion, which are all fabulous wines but sometimes there needs to be more than what’s in the glass and I think that’s very important.
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
It’s convincing people that it’s a real job I think. There’s a lot of that. I do get to travel round the world and rather unfortunately the wine growing regions of the world tend to be the more beautiful parts of the world but there’s a lot of paperwork and there are a lot of early mornings so most days are 13 or 14 hours in the restaurant.
What’s the wine that you drink most?
I drink a lot of Riesling. I’ve always had a big love of Riesling. When I learned about wine was growing up, Riesling was still this Liebfraumilch taboo subject. In recent years Riesling has become a much bigger thing. I think it’s a very versatile wine. You can have it with food or you can sit on the sofa and drink some. You can sit on your balcony and drink a bottle, you can drink a bottle in the park. There are so many different styles that there’s almost a Riesling for everybody’s taste. And I think in the next 5 years people will suddenly come round to the fact that Riesling isn’t just sweet.
Do you think that people in London are starting to forget about the rubbish styles?
Yeah. I think there are still a core group that remember. You’re not going to be able to change their minds which is fine. They don’t want to drink it. But now we do 31 days of Riesling which they do in New York as well. As well as Stockholm. I don’t think it’ll become this hipster coffee movement which I think is a good thing so it doesn’t die out. I think we just need to sustain this sort of small amount of education every year. I was in Germany a few years ago, even for me who drinks a lot of Riesling, it was such an eye opening experience. Even the producers hate the fact they’ve been branded as they only make sweet wine. They’re very proud of their dry wines.
Would you ever make your own wine?
I think if I was going to do it any way round I would somewhat more enjoy owning a wine estate and employing somebody who knows more than me to make the wine. I think a lot of people go off and make wine because they’ve fallen in love with wine and the product is not so good. I think if ever I was going to do it, I would buy the land, invest in the equipment but then employ someone. Because I think it’s unfair on the grapes to have someone like me jump up and down on them and butcher them completely.
How does someone who drinks wine for a living relax?
Gin, normally. It’s funny, when I started I probably drank a lot more wine in my spare time than I do now. But because I’m tasting so much, when you get home at the end of the night I don’t want to drink anything at all but when I do have a moment to relax then I’ll go and have a beer or G&T.
In Dabbous, how do you help people choose wine if they’re not sure?
It’s normally a fairly medium length conversation. It has to be a conversation because you have to be able to get inside the customer’s mindset. You’d ask them what they like to drink normally. Some people say I don’t normally drink wine and that’s fine. I have no prejudice against people ordering a £1000 bottle of wine or a £25 bottle of wine. I’ll treat them exactly the same. I was in a position when I could only spend £10 on a bottle of wine, maybe I’ll be in a position when I can spend £1000 on a bottle. Again we have to be honest with somebody, if they say they only really drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and then you know what the right answer might well be we’ve got a really lovely New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Sometimes the answer isn’t to give someone something different. It’s just making people feel comfortable in the environment. A lot of people come here from out of town it’s their day out in London and they’ve found a nice restaurant to come to and they just want something that’s comfortable. That’s absolutely fine with me, I’ll happily pour them what they want. Some people say they normally drink Sauvignon Blanc and that they’d like to drink something different, you’ll be surprised how many enjoy a glass of Riesling.
Is there a food and wine match that you always recommend?
My favourite one at the moment is one of our signature dishes. It’s a coddled egg. It’s a very slow form of scrambling with a lot more butter involved. We do it with toasted mushrooms and with smoked butter as well. And one of the best pairings I’ve come up with is Pinot Noir from Germany. The original guise behind it was oeuf au vin which is simply eggs poached in wine. And it’s my slightly more obscure take on it. I love German Pinot and it’s always nice to throw in a few wines that people are surprised about.
What’s one of the more underrated food and wine matches?
It’s not necessarily wine but Guinness and oysters is one of those massively underrated things. It’s very old and especially sort of London tradition. It’s that stout or London porter not necessarily Guinness and oysters works really, really well. When we do the wine matching we don’t necessarily use the words wine pairings. It’s not always wine, it’s more of a drinks pairing. I’ve done gin with some courses and beer with others. There’s also a sort of new thing about London mead which is often slightly hopped and fizzy and nowhere near as sweet as the medieval recipes that some people recreate. Things like mead and cheese work really well. Flavours are down to your perception.
Has that whet your appetite for experimenting with new wines? Read 5 ways to improve any wine