Interview With A Sommelier – Pauline Reith
6th November 2023
The World of Wine is beautifully showcased by an army of talented Sommeliers, who help the consumer discover their next favourite bottle, understand the different regions and pair a delicious meal with the right Glass of Bubbly.
In this feature, I speak with a woman who has helped many people to discover the vast world of Wines and Sparkling Wines, her name is Pauline Reith, and let’s find out a bit about her life as a Sommelier.
Tell Us About Yourself
“My passion for Champagne can only be called ‘instinctive’ as, despite coming from a Scottish family that never drank wine of any sort, I called for it, even as a sorbet flavour, from the age of 16.
I studied with the London Sommelier Association and attained a Sommelier certificate, after 35 years of spending most of my free time visiting wineries across 4 continents and seeking out every wine tasting opportunity – all paid for by my international career in civil engineering.
I am a huge fan of sparkling wine with English, Italian and South African ones being my top 3 sources.”
Do You Remember Your First Experience With Sparkling Wine? When It Was And What Kind Of Wine It Was?
“In Scots’ culture, especially at Hogmanay, everyone has their own bottle (of alcoholic beverage) and demonstrates kinship by offering it to one and all – it is a great insult if it is declined.
When my father, was about to leave on his annual, Hogmanay trip to the off-licence to purchase spirits, he asked what I wanted for my own bottle. On impulse, I answered “Champagne”. Clearly, he was advised that there was a cheaper alternative, so my first ‘Bottle’ was Veuve du Vouvray!
Following the Bells, I offered it to my family members (none of whom had tasted wine, ever) and they were obliged to accept – but every single one of them spat it out!! Consequently, I had the bottle entirely to myself.”
What Inspired You To Become a Sommelier?
“Discovering that the whole wine world comes to London I took advantage of the myriad opportunities for wine tasting of every variety and country, in addition to attending wine-and-dine clubs. This vastly increased my knowledge, awareness and the nuances of how wine/food pairings can change the mood.
I became adept at tuning into others’ taste preferences. I truly enjoyed encouraging them to push their boundaries – by accepting new varieties, dismissing their prejudice, and experiencing the enhancement that goes with good food pairing.”
How Often Do You Recommend English Sparkling Wine?
“Latterly, I’ve adopted the status of self-appointed English wine ambassador, on a mission to give those that are still reticent, the only test on which to base an opinion. I hold tastings for the curious, the infrequent wine drinker, and visiting international winemakers alike.
We explore the range and diversity of English wines of high standard. I’m happy to present how often one can find good wines at surprisingly affordable prices – even on the supermarket shelf.
My good friend, Pete Pedrick of The Champagne Collection, was one sceptic who I convinced about the many English sparkling wines that are of a similar standard to some Champagnes.
Another was my local wine bar manager who, hailing from Italy, didn’t believe that there was any such thing as good English wine. Subsequently, he listed Number 1 from Essex by the glass in the wine bar – a real coup!
On my most recent trip to visit Western Cape wineries, I took a small selection of English wine which they didn’t know ‘is a thing’. They were impressed, as well as bemused, because they had never heard of the grape varieties, Sylvaner, Solaris, Bacchus, and it left them literally speechless i.e. without a vocabulary to describe what they were tasting.”
During Your Time As A Sommelier, What’s The Most Surprising & Interesting Thing You’ve Learnt?
“My certificate was attained 5 years ago, and since then I’ve realised that there are several associations which offer qualifying courses but there is no universal standard for sommelier education. In practice, anyone can set up a ‘school’ or teaching platform and create their own syllabus. These could have truncated content or inaccurate teaching guidelines. Hence, the ‘certificates’ issued relate solely to their own particular style – whose credibility is related to the esteem in which the organisation itself is held.
I very recently met an Italian lawyer, Edi Della Sala, a legal consultant in the wine, food & beverage sector, a wine specialist, and an international sommelier. He has written an article lamenting the lack of a training body.”
What Advice Would You Give Inspiring Sommeliers?
“A person with a good palate can judge wines or give a detailed description of them but may not be successful as a sommelier. A wide knowledge of wine variety and vintages is only the basis to be achieved. That can be accomplished by taking every possible opportunity to taste wines wherever you are and under a variety of conditions.
The differentiating factor is being able to predict what someone else may like, even when knowing that they have unwaveringly drunk nothing but a single type or brand. Listening to what they say, and what they don’t say, is key to overcoming their barriers.”
If You Sat Down For A Quiet Dinner, What Dish And Sparkling Wine Would You Choose To Enjoy Together?
“A vintage Champagne – my favourite is Hubert Paulet from Bouzy – would balance a dish of roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, breadcrumbs, thyme and parsley accompanied by simple and sparse vegetable accompaniments.”
Thank you, Pauline, for sharing your words, knowledge and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!
Images belong to Pauline. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission, to use them.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.