Sommelier Diaries - Lisa Jenkins at City Wine Shop

By Dan SimsSommelier Diaries - Lisa Jenkins at City Wine Shop

From The Wine Guide

The City Wine Shop is certainly a high quality melting pot and breeding ground for some of the most passionate and level headed young sommeliers going around today. Mrs Lisa Jenkins is no exception.

It makes sense really, as when you walk through those doors there is wine virtually everywhere, with welcoming faces to boot. Joining the team when the wine program was under the astute supervision of Ms Sophie Otton (now at Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney), Lisa has certainly found and developed her own wine space and voice, though always with approachable humility; and let's not forget some considerable wine talent as well.

As an inaugural Sommeliers Australia Scholar, Lisa quickly found herself on the proverbial wine radar with the judges (of which we were two of five) who were all impressed with her positive approach and engaging communication skills. From there, associate judging positions at some of the most respected national shows followed and then, last year, she joined an elite list of scholars by being accepted into the Len Evans Tutorial for 2011. It seems young Lisa Jenkins has most certainly arrived.

So what's next? It seems more wine show judging is on the cards for Lisa 'The Keeper' Jenkins (keeper for catching the golds that may have slipped through), and then...? We will have to wait and see.

Over to you young lady ...

How 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 have been working as a sommelier for the last 5 years. However, my interest in wine began about 8 years ago. In 2002 I completed my chefs apprenticeship and moved to London soon after to explore Europe. I soon realised there was more to life than just stovetops and beer!

Upon returning to Melbourne after 2 years living abroad, I decided that kitchens were pretty tough places and it wasn't for me. I then embarked on a new direction leading me straight into the world of wine. I have always been passionate about flavours and textures with food, so it seemed only natural to be drawn towards learning about wine.

In 2008 I was lucky enough to be a part of the Sommeliers Australia Inaugural Benchmark Tasting Program, which sparked my enthusiasm to become a professional sommelier.

How long have you worked at City Wine Shop? Tell us briefly about it.

I have been managing The City Wine Shop for the last 5 years. It is a unique spot in the Melbourne food and wine scene as it wears many hats. Firstly we are a wine bar that offers 36 wines by the glass, secondly a retail wine shop and thirdly we are a restaurant offering rustic, honest food. Our wine wall doubles as our wine list and our retail shop offering a range of boutique wines from Australia and around the world.

Briefly describe the philosophy of the wine list you manage/work with? How big is it? Highlights? Philosophy?

The wine shop has over 1000 different labels. We try to offer something for everyone -covering wines at different price points and styles. Our philosophy is to have the highest quality and diversity within the range. Often the wines we buy will be from smaller, more boutique producers. Also, we are very lucky to receive allocations from some of the world's most sought after wines. A recent shift I worked, I discussed and served a number of fantastic bottles. Afternoons like this one confirm for me what a brilliant place I work in:

1997 Salon Le Mesnil

2001 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc

2008 Comte de Vogue Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru

1990 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Saint-Vivant

2002 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo

When choosing wines by the glass, what are the key factors you look for?

Balance is the key. Looking for balance in the weight of the wines, the varieties and the diversity of where they come from. Also a range in price points is very important too.

Is there one wine style/variety that sells the most on your wine list at present?

Our biggest sellers through summer have been lighter aromatic whites, such as riesling and sauvignon blanc, with lighter reds such as pinot noir and gamay also selling well. Recently the weather has taken a turn and I am seeing customers dive straight into richer more full bodied reds.

What's your favourite food & wine match on the menu at the moment and why? And any tips for beginners?

We are currently serving a garganelli pasta dish with braised rabbit ragu. This dish is so hearty and it reminds me of cooler autumnal evenings when you can't wait to take cover from the wind and rain, warm up with a bowl of pasta and drink a glass of great sangiovese.

We have a Rosso di Montalcino on by the glass and these two go hand in hand. A good place to start when matching food and wine is look at the origins of the food, and match it with a wine from the same region.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, right? Is there a wine region/country in which you struggle with when studying?

I think exposure to wine regions helps to build knowledge, and North America is a weak spot for me due mainly to my lack of experience to taste these wines in Australia.

Is there one wine book you can't live without? What's your favourite?

'The Oxford Companion to Wine' by Jancis Robinson. I have a copy at home, work and on my phone! My favourite book that I enjoyed reading when I first got into wine was, 'Adventures on a Wine Route' by Kermit Lynch. In a similar vein to Kermit's book, 'Palmento' by Robert Camuto. It's about discovering the beauty in Sicilian wines, and I now really want to go back there!

What wine/region/country is exciting you the most at present?

Living in Melbourne, I feel pretty lucky to be surrounded by wine regions. I am excited by a younger generation of wine makers in Victoria who are pushing the envelope to produce interesting wines.

What was the last bottle of wine you tried? Where were you?

2009 PSI Tempranillo Ribero del Douro Spain At home enjoying dinner on a Sunday night with my husband.

What's the most exciting Australian wine you've tried recently and why?

There is a lot happening in the Australian wine scene right now, so I'm excited in general about the quality and diversity of the wines that Australian winemakers are producing. If I have to pick one, I would say Andrew Marks' 2010 'The Wanderer' Pinot Noir from the Upper Yarra Valley. This wine has expressive beauty and a lovely harmony and length that made me wish the bottle hadn't finish so quickly!

Have you an all time favourite wine and/or region? Was it a 'light bulb' moment?

It's a tough question, because I feel like I'm always discovering new and brilliant wines that keep me searching for more. If I were pinned down to pick a favourite region it would have to be Burgundy. There is something so ethereal and magical about the great wines of Burgundy. My first experience with Burgundy was at the Melbourne Wine Room in St.Kilda about 8 or 9 years ago. I drank a bottle of Dujac with a good friend. Yes, I was hooked….

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the restaurant/hospitality industry at present?

The economy has really had an effect on hospitality; however, I think positives can come from adversity, so restaurateurs need to adapt and become clever in how they attract consumers.

How can a guest get the most out of their wine experience?

The City Wine Shop can be a daunting place if you have never been there. I would recommend chatting to the staff and letting them guide you, you never know where you may end up. Possibly somewhere you never expected! Keep an open mind.

Where was the last place you had dinner?

Hu Tong Dumpling Bar in the CBD. Best dumplings in Melbourne……(drool) & BYO!

Favourite lunch spot? Favourite luncheon wine?

I love the original Movida in Hosier Lane in the city for lunch…. It's cosy and tucked away. I will often drink the recommended wine match, most likely something delicious from Spain.

Funniest/most embarrassing moment working in hospitality? (And you don't have to name where!)

A good girl never tells!

Career highlight so far?

I get a buzz out of selling amazing wine to customers who completely dig it, that is a highlight for me. However my greatest achievment so far was being accepted into the Len Evans Tutorial last year the most important wine scholarship in Australia.

What's the single most important piece of advice, on wine, you've ever been told?

Remember don't just analyse it, ENJOY it!

Finally, do you have any tips/advice for budding young sommeliers looking to get into the industry?

Tap into Sommeliers Australia. Look into wine courses that are available. (WSET, CMS). Go to as many tastings you can. Start a tasting group up with your peers. Visit wineries and talk to the winemakers. Read wine books.