Mandarin Oriental, Paris' Head Sommelier, David Biraud, was named Vice-Champion at 2016's Best Sommelier in the World competition. Here, he talks about blind tasting spirits, fashionable wines and why he doesn't have a favourite drink
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David Biraud, Head Sommelier at Mandarin Oriental, Paris
What is the best part of your job? My relationship with clients, winegrowers and chefs. It is like being in the middle of a triangle – and it's a good place to be. Wine is my life and I am so happy to speak about my passion with them. I try to visit one winegrower per month
The Sur Mesure wine cellar
What is on the wine list at Mandarin Oriental, Paris' two-Michelin-starred Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx? When we opened in 2011, the cellar was empty and I filled it with 8,000 bottles. Because we are in Paris and so many guests want to taste French wines, those make up 80 per cent of the cellar. The other 20 per cent is wine from nearly 20 other countries. Mandarin Oriental, Paris is modern, so it is important that we can offer very good wines from around the world. It's also interesting for me, professionally, to be able to offer such a global selection.
Sur Mesure's interior
How does wine complement chef Thierry Marx's dishes? I taste all the dishes so I know the ingredients and the exact spices that go into each one. Then I can think about all the different wines that go perfectly with the food. Of course, when we talk to the client about the wine pairing, we ask what style of wine they prefer. The most important thing is the happiness of the client.
What are the most popular wines? In Paris, at this time, wine from the Rhône Valley and the South of France is very popular. Wines from the Loire Valley are also fashionable and, further afield, we have lots of success with wines from South Africa, the USA and South America.
A vineyard in the Rhône Valley
You were Vice-Champion at the 2016 Best Sommelier in the World competition. What did competing in the contest involve? In the quarter final, there was a very difficult in-depth questionnaire to test my knowledge on all liquids in the restaurant: water, herbal tea, liquors, aperitifs, spirits and wine. I had to demonstrate that I know everything about them, from their history to regulations and production. To follow there was blind tasting of spirits and a short technical exercise, similar to a service in the restaurant. For the final, three of us did blind champagne tasting on stage in front of an audience and jury.
Do you have a preferred wine? No, because for me the wine you drink depends on the friends you have with you at that particular moment, the season and the dish you want to eat. The best wine is the best selection at the time. It's about sharing a good bottle with friends.