John Power is a legend on the Scottish hospitality scene. Thirty years experience in the business, he is proud of high Scottish standards and not following the pack.
He became head sommelier and wines buyer for the James Thompson group of Edinburgh restaurants, in 2008, which comprises some of the best dining in the Scottish capital including The Witchery, and Rhubarb at the five-star Prestonfield hotel, where he is based.
Q: What are the do’s and don’ts of being a sommelier?
JP: Don’t write a wine list for yourself. Selections should always fit around the tastes of your clientele and the food being served. It’s hard to take your own tastes out of the equation, but you need to avoid choices or omissions based on dogma. Keep an open mind and listen to your guests.
Q: Any top tips for people joining the business on how to get ahead?
JP: Get to know your peers. You can get some strange ideas and go down some dead ends if you work in isolation. Talk to other sommeliers and the people you trust in the trade.
I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for wine and food with my guests and others working with wine. Over the last thirty years or so I’ve made a good number of friendships that still endure.
Q: How has the role of a sommelier developed/changed since you started?
JP: The role has remained largely the same but, how you go about it has changed hugely. The explosion of information and commerce that the internet has brought to all our lives has been inestimably vast. Any wine on earth is pretty much a click away, which is as applicable to me as it is to my guests. This translates into better informed consumers with much higher expectations.
Q: Do you think there’s any difference between being a sommelier in Scotland to any other part of the UK?
JP: As I’ve only ever worked in Scotland, I can only tell you that I’m fortunate enough to work with chefs who have access to Scotland’s natural larder. Working in Edinburgh gives me a choice first class of merchants and suppliers.
Q: What are you recommending to drinks, or that you feel is on trend, at the moment?
JP: I’m the wrong person to ask what’s on trend. As for recommendations, I’m advising guests to enjoy our fairly vast selection of Burgundy while the prices are only steep rather than jaw dropping.