The Sommelier Diaries: Stacey-Lee Edwards, River Cafe (London)
Stacey-Lee Edwards (Photo by Kirsten Edwards)
Now, we have to admit we're a little proud of this young lady. We've witnessed first hand the evolution of her career from our first meeting at Taxi Dining Room
, some 6 years ago, when we both worked there. From those early days, to her most recent post as Head-Sommelier at the famous River Café
in London, Stacey-Lee is yet another example of how Australian Sommeliers hold their own internationally.
From those early days at Taxi, post abandoning a career in science, the want, need and eagerness to learn was apparent from the very start. An early thirst and passion for Sake was quickly quenched seeing Paul Mathis encourage her to develop one of the most exciting Sake lists in the country (at the time) just as we were 'all' learning about this exotic Japanese drink. Wine still remained the key passion with regular study and tutelage clearly paying off.
After a brief stint at Punch Lane, post Taxi, she heading to Rockpool Bar & Grill – Melbourne
before making her 'right of passage' trip to London. It was here, you could say, things really took off where after working with fellow ex-pats at the Thomas Cubit
for a period, she was offered a position on the wine team at the legendary River Café. When hearing of the move, we couldn't help but think it made perfect sense considering her love for Italian wine (I may have encouraged that a little – DS).
Work, knowledge and experience followed with inspiration being drawn from trips to Italy and beyond which reinforced her passion for all things 'vino italiano'. The hard work paid off as 2 years ago she was offered the Head-Sommelier position at the River Café; not just any job, but a big responsibility.
Literally only just returning home to Australia, permanently it seems, the next logical question is 'what & where next'? Well, with experience of this caliber, we have no doubt her name and presence will again be felt in the Australian hospitality scene and we'll all no doubt benefit from it. Any restaurant takers?Here are a couple of short videos of some River Café dishes with wine matches by Stacey. Warning, it make you a little hungry … and thirsty.
River Café Episode 40 – Vignole
River Café Episode 2 – CrabHow long have you been working as a sommelier and what compelled you to travel along the wine route? What made you want to be a sommelier?I made the leap from a career in science to full-time hospitality in 2004. A year later I moved into a sommelier role. I had always enjoyed restaurant work while at university and after a couple of years working in laboratories I decided to make the change. Science wasn't for me. Once fully ensconced in the restaurant world I gravitated towards a sommelier role because I knew I would never get bored. It's a job that is dynamic and creative, you're always learning and it can take you to some of the most beautiful places in the world. How long have you worked at The River Cafe? Tell us briefly about it.I have just finished working at The River Café in London after 3 and a half years. I was running an almost exclusively Italian wine list (the only exception was a small selection of Champagne) and matching it to wonderful Italian food in one of the most beautiful restaurants; its garden in summer had to be the best place in London. I was fortunate to have worked with Rose Gray and Ruthie Rogers, two industry legends and all round great chefs whose knowledge of Italian food was unparalleled. Briefly describe the philosophy of the wine list you manage/work with? How big is it? Highlights? Philosophy?The wine list at The River Café was about 300 bins long. The brief I had was to make the best Italian wine list possible. We would try and balance the classics with upcoming regions, producers and styles, along with some lesser know varieties for fun. The wine list was tweaked each season so that it was most relevant for that season's ingredients. As Head Sommelier, I traveled to Italy about 3 times a year which helped us keep our finger on the pulse.
The River Café had long relationships with many of the great producers in Italy and maintaining these relationships was one of my roles. They also had a great cellar that was started in the late 1980's. Wines were bought and aged for the list, a rare facility, even by London standards but it gave the list great depth. Buying for and maintaining the reserve cellar was great experience and really set the wine list apart. Highlights from the reserve cellar had to include 1985 Sassicaia, 1989 Granbussia from Aldo Conterno and all the great Brunello's from the 1990's. I loved as well that the cellar included more introductory wines like chianti classico's from great producers (Felsina, Fontodi and Isole e Olena) that had been cellared for 10 years. These wines were so beautiful and offered amazing value on the list.When choosing wines by the glass, what are the key factors you look for?It's a balancing act of style, price and region which also has to be appropriate for the food.Is there one wine style/variety that sells the most on your wine list at present?I found in London that the general knowledge of customers regarding Italian wines was almost non-existent. This meant most customers were often a blank slate when they walked in and we could offer and sell more than just Pinot Grigio. Varieties such as Friulano, Fiano and Nerello Mascalese were always received really well and they worked beautifully with the food.
For the customers who knew a little about Italian wines, they tended to gravitate to the names that they were familiar with such as Brunello, Barolo and Chianti which were always a pleasure to talk about. What's your favourite food & wine match on the menu at the moment and why? And any tips for beginners?The River Café was starting to receive the first of it's spring vegetables when I left. Dishes like Risi e Bisi (Pea Risotto from the Veneto) and a glass of good Soave and Asparagus with Fonduta matched with Timorasso were definitely highlights.
When matching Italian wine and food the best place to start is with to look regionally. Wine and food from the same region often work well together; sometimes there's no need to re-invent the wheel when hundreds of years of trial and error have done the work for you. This parochialism is extended to restaurant wine lists in Italy, and for good reason; when in Tuscany is there anything better than Sangiovese with your Bistecca Fiorentina?We all have strengths and weaknesses, right? Is there a wine region/country in which you struggle with when studying? I think I'm with a lot of sommeliers in Australia when I say USA and South Africa are weaknesses. We really don't have good access to these wines here and as a result I have a blind spot. Perhaps I need to organize a trip…..Is there one wine book you can't live without? What's your favourite? It would have to be Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch. Everything he said so many years ago still holds so true.
I also love The New France by Andrew Jefford, ultimately the most readable reference book I have come across.What wine/region/country is exciting you the most at present? I LOVE Italy and I have constantly been surprised by what's available. You always find new gems when visiting. I am really excited by the wines of Mt Etna. The combination of many pre-phylloxera vineyards and their altitude should create icons within our lifetime.