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LUXURY CHAMPAGNES, WINES & SPIRITS

Closeries: Stéphanie Watine & Gwilherm de Cerval

Born out of the imagination of our Founder and CEO, Stéphanie Watine, Closeries is all about encounters.
Closeries is a series of rare encounters between an outstanding personality and a bottle that is just as much.

In each chapter of this series, Stéphanie Watine brings to light her guest through a sensory story and an unforgettable tasting experience. Inspired conversations over exceptional wines.

In this chapter of Closeries, Stéphanie Watine welcomes Gwilherm de Cerval in the private salon of the gourmet restaurant Plénitude at the Cheval Blanc hotel in Paris. Gwilherm de Cerval is a multi-facetted talent: a sommelier, a wine expert, an author, but also a TV and radio columnist.
Stéphanie and Gwilherm meet over the tasting of a bottle of Ao Yun 2017, a rare wine elaborated in the foothills of the Himalayas, not far from the legendary city of Shangri La.
This exceptional tasting is the opportunity for Gwilherm to share his expert opinion, as well as to talk about his experience, his work and unveil some of his future projets.

 

Stéphanie Watine

Hello Gwilherm de Cerval. A few words to introduce you briefly. You are a well-known name in the sommelier world, but you are also a familiar face since you are part of the “Très très bon” TV show, and a well-known voice as you have taken part in numerous radio shows and podcasts.
And I was about to forget! You are also a member of ASOM: the Association for the Protection of Egg Mayonnaise.

Gwilherm de Cerval

Not only a member… I am co-founder of ASOM. And co-founder of the 1st World Egg Mayonnaise Championship that we launched in 2018.

Stéphanie Watine

Wonderful, I am myself a big fan of egg mayonnaise!
The idea behind this series is to pair an outstanding personality with a wine bottle that is just as much. For this Closeries chapter, we have chosen an Ao Yun 2017 named The Rebirth. “Rebirth”, a name that suits pretty well someone who keeps reinventing himself, don't you think?

Gwilherm de Cerval

I think it's always interesting to try new things and to create. Even if it means experiencing failure every now and then, but that's how you learn. And that's what gives the adrenaline rush in one's quest for happiness. Reinventing yourself, doing things, meeting people… this allows you to approach life with a smile and to meet beautiful souls.

Stéphanie Watine

Have you ever had the opportunity to taste this wine before?

Gwilherm de Cerval

Never! That's why when you sent me the invitation, I was very happy to have the chance to discover this vintage. I had heard of it but never tasted it. I can't wait …

Stéphanie Watine

This wine was born in 2008 out of a somewhat crazy dream: create an exceptional wine in China. A wine that would be capable of competing among the best in the world. Ao Yun is the first winery established in Himalaya. Some of Ao Yun vines are located at altitudes up to 2600m.

Gwilherm de Cerval

I can imagine it makes perfect sense in the context of global warming.

Stéphanie Watine

Yes indeed… As for the grape varieties, the Ao Yun vineyard grows 95% of Cabernet Sauvignon, associated with other Bordeaux grape varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
You may know that the originality of this nectar lies in its blend, made from the vines of four villages located in "Upper Mekong Valley", where 120 families of winegrowers work and live.
Each village has very different specificities, whether it is soil, altitude, sunshine, proximity to the river ... This gives a very peculiar aroma to this wine. I told you that this bottle is a remarkable feat!
Gwilherm, do you often find yourself surprised when you open a bottle?

Gwilherm de Cerval

Always…. First of all, a bottle of wine is genuinely the person who made it. Then of course there is a terroir, grape varieties, a story... but it is first and foremost a human story. An encounter with someone, with what this person wants to offer us, wants us to taste. A bottle of wine is an invitation to discover a winemarker's universe.
So even if you know a winegrower well, even if you know his wines well and you are used to tasting them, depending on the vintages and even the bottles (whether they were bottled at the beginning of the barrel or at the end barrel), you can always be surprised. You can recognize the style, the personality of the wine. But it always remains intriguing. There is always an emotion tasting a bottle. And if there is a story behind it, then it magnifies the whole experience.

Stéphanie Watine

You have worked as a sommelier at the Ritz, but also at the Royal Monceau in Paris. You must have tasted a number of great wines. What are the criteria that make you choose a wine?

Gwilherm de Cerval

My job is my passion. I wake up in the morning thinking about wine, I go to bed in the evening thinking about wine. For me, wine is first and foremost a human story. Therefore, it is key for me to know who made it. Do I know this person or not, or have I heard of them ... And then I want to know the terroirs ...
Here we have a complete new terroir to me ... a Chinese wine ... I have never tasted this. I can’t get my head around this wine yet... really looking forward to discovering it.

Stéphanie Watine

Now, let's see if this Ao Yun 2017 will surprise you ...
Look at its colour. Can “Gwilherm the sommelier” tell us about it?

Gwilherm de Cerval

Of course ... the colour is very intense, a garnet red, with reflections of black cherry. It is limpid, lustrous, it makes you want to discover its nose …

Stéphanie Watine

What about its nose?

Gwilherm de Cerval

Its nose is very expressive… I smell aromas of black fruits… but rather fresh fruits, not overripe fruits. I smell a black blackcurrant-style fruit, also freshly juiced blackberries... It's very nice. There are lots of spices too, I didn't expect that at all. Leather notes, a cigar box notes...

Stéphanie Watine

Shall we taste it now?

Gwilherm de Cerval

What I really love about this wine is its texture: smooth, velvety. As if one bites into a fresh fruit… It has a lot of personality and complexity. The aging in oak barrels is very well mastered ... a little too oaky but this is normal because the wine is still young. Very beautiful wine, a wine which is almost sufficient on its own ...Of course we could find nice food pairings for it. But right now, I only think of one thing: to be in the countryside, sitting comfortably in a Chesterfield armchair by the fire, and drinking this wine for what it is ...

Stéphanie Watine

You probably know that the altitude and the lack of oxygen, among other things, disturb the perception of flavours and aromas.

Gwilherm de Cerval

I don't doubt it for a second ... As for the altitude, I understand that. For the lack of oxygen, I admit that I have never wondered about its impact on the vines and the grapes. But it must necessarily influence ripening, harvesting ... There are more and more good results growing vines in mountains. With global warming, it makes perfect sense to try to slow down ripening. There is also a lot of wind at higher elevations. This allows good ventilation of the vines and therefore prevents diseases.

Stéphanie Watine

The dryness of the air increases the concentration of tannins and impairs the perception of aromas.
For all these reasons, the Ao Yun team has been blending their wines at sea level since the 2016 vintage. What do you think about that?

Gwilherm de Cerval

So this wine experiences altitude and sea, salty spray ...
We can perceive the know-how of the house behind this wine. In particular we can find Bordeaux-like notes. I doubt that I would have mentioned a terroir in the Himalayas or in China during a blind tasting! The ripeness of the grapes is superb and the aging in oak barrels is there but not too present. All of this savoir-faire is very well integrated in this wine. I have the feeling of traveling ... you tell me about mountains, the sea, the villages, the 120 families ... a whole story in itself.

Stéphanie Watine

In terms of food and wine pairings, what would you recommend to let all its richness express itself?

Gwilherm de Cerval

I immediately think of my favorite dish, which is the "lièvre à la royale" (hare à la royale) … A dish which requires a very French and complex know-how. Very few chefs cook it these days. But there is also a "Lièvre à la Royale" World Championship which takes place in Romorantin. It is organized by chef Thomas Boullault from the wonderful restaurant L’Arôme. The flesh of the hare is soft, smooth... You can add foie gras, alcohols to the dish ... and the sauce is thickened with blood. This soft and smooth texture is similar to that of this wine. And the spicy notes of the wine will mirror the spices of the recipe. I think it could be a perfect match.

Stéphanie Watine

Let's go back to your personal journey, please. It seems that it all started with an epiphany in a pizzeria ... can you tell us about it?

Gwilherm de Cerval

We rarely went to restaurants with my parents. But once, in a pizzeria, I saw the ""ballet"" of waiters almost dancing from table to table… It captivated me ... they were Italians who speak loudly, who speak with their hands... I started to help my mom to cook ... My parents came home late at night, so I used to make dinner...
When I was 14, I wanted to go to a culinary school. My intention was to have a restaurant one day, and be the chef of that restaurant. My parents first said no. They did not know this field, it scared them a bit. At the time there were no Top Chef, Master Chef TV shows… It was not in fashion. Today you can quit your job as an engineer to become a pastry chef and everyone will find that great! Culinary arts are awesome crafts. After completing this culinary program, which is both theoretical and practical, I had the opportunity to have one year extension to study “sommellerie”. I thought it would be a good addition if I had a restaurant. And that's when I met a fantastic teacher who passed on his love of wine to me ... and I never left “sommellerie”.

Stéphanie Watine

You then entered the world of winegrowers and became an agent. Is this relationship to the "terroir" important to you?

Gwilherm de Cerval

Very important. It is how one can connect to life. It would be good if we talked more about our relationship to the land in schools. If kids could learn to cultivate a garden as an example - even if there is pollution in the city. It is important to understand where the food comes from, seasonal food... Putting things in context so that things can go a little better in our world.

Stéphanie Watine

You spread your love of good wine on L'Express online magazine, but also in the show "Très très bon", in books... and I certainly forget some. Do you feel that your work tends to make the knowledge of wines, grape varieties and winemaking more accessible?

Gwilherm de Cerval

That’s my goal indeed. I wrote a book in 2019 called "Le petit livre du sommelier" (the sommelier‘s little book), published by Éditions Marabout …

Stéphanie Watine

It seems to me it was even translated in Chinese, right?

Gwilherm de Cerval

Yes indeed! Much to my surprise! I wrote this book initially for my friends and my relatives who do not work in “sommellerie”. So that they stop asking me for my opinion on wines at dinners ... We tend to ask someone for their opinion before listening to ourselves. What is great about wine is that everyone has a say because it is a matter of taste. Someone will like a wine, another person won't. As long as we respect everyone's work, it's all a matter of taste. So whatever medium I am asked to speak or write, I try to use the simplest words possible. To be understood by as many people as possible. I don't want to limit “sommellerie” to a world that is too elitist. You certainly need some knowledge to be a sommelier… but like in all fields. You need basic knowledge, but you can never learn everything. It’s scary and exciting! There is always something to learn...

Stéphanie Watine

Yes it’s endless: terroirs, people, grape varieties, winemaking methods …

Gwilherm de Cerval

Yes, it's changing and evolving all the time. Once I was in Italy in Piedmont. One morning I go to Marco Parusso who owns a wine estate in Barrolo. He works a lot in the vines but also a lot in the cellar. He does a lot of testing by aging his wines in new barrels. He puts the wine in new barrels for 4 months, then in other new barrels for another 4 months ... and so on. He tries a lot of things. And when I left, I said to myself ... It tasted divine. And that same morning, I went to see Andrea Sottimano in Barbaresco. He has a totally opposite vision. He works a lot in the vines. But he does not touch anything in the cellar. His oak barrels are several decades old. Opposite visions but two divine wines. Two winegrowers who are a few kilometers from each other. This was a huge a slap. I said to myself: wine is above all a man's savoir-faire. How the wine is made is important, but so is the result.

Stéphanie Watine

Do you have projects or desires you would like to share with us?

Gwilherm de Cerval

I have quite a few projects indeed. Coming from the restaurant business, I have been used to working 18 hours a day. When I left, I was able to enjoy the weekends again but I couldn't understand that the working day ended at 5pm. So I started to do other things. Without being hyperactive, I work constantly… during the weekends, the holidays…
Among all my projects, I have in particular a board game around wine. Once again, I worked with Éditions Marabout and Jean André, who was the illustrator of my first book. We will release it in October 2021.

Stéphanie Watine

Perfect timing for Christmas presents!

Gwilherm de Cerval

The idea is to appeal to everyone through this game ... Even my parents can win against me! It's a game for all, very interactive. A game to have a great deal of fun ... and also to learn some tips on wine.

Stéphanie Watine

I can’t wait to play it!

Gwilherm de Cerval

We will play together!

Stéphanie Watine

Gwilherm de Cerval, thank you for sharing this Closeries chapter with us.
It was a pleasure to discover what lies behind the astonishing Ao Yun 2017, The Rebirth, with you. Perhaps you will write a column about it one day soon?

Gwilherm de Cerval

Why not? Thank you so much Stéphanie.