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Sommelier Laura Rhys' award-winning wine knowledge
Laura Rhys
Laura Rhys won the UK Sommelier of the Year Award

Laura Rhys from the New Forest has just returned from a trip to the Champagne-producing capital of France - her reward for becoming one of the country's leading wine experts.

Her knowledge of wines and her highly-trained nose has propelled her to the top of her chosen profession - and to victory in the UK Sommelier of the Year award.

She has built her career running the supplies, ordering wine and drawing up wine lists in some of the region's most prestigious restaurants.

A career in wine

Laura, 28, studied for an International Hospitality Management degree at university in Cardiff and completed various wine courses before entering the highly specialised elite world of the sommelier.

Laura Rhys
The compatition tasks included 'blind' wine tasting

Building up enough knowledge about fine wines to encyclopaedic levels to a point where she is able to recommend wines to diners in exclusive restaurants has taken a lot of dedicated study.

Laura explained: "Once you get to a certain level, it becomes very competitive. There's a huge amount of knowledge required to reach that level. There is a lot of self-study and I learn a lot from people like Gerald Basset who I work for.

"And then there are competitions and exams which push you to learn more.

'It grabs you'

While most people have a favourite bottle of 'plonk', what is it about the world of wine which made Laura take that to another level?

She said: "It's one of those things that grabs you, and once it has you that's it. The huge expanse of varieties of grapes and wine in the world - there are no two wines the same."

But after working with fine wine all week, Laura admits to buying a bottle for herself can be complicated: "It's much easier to choose for guests than to choose for myself - it's a tricky one!"

Working days are taken up providing the wines for lunch and dinner services at Hotel Terravina at Woodlands near Netley Marsh in the New Forest - doing everything from recommending a choice of wine to accompany a guest's meal to ensuring the glasses are well enough polished.

Laura said: "You tailor wine for the guest - it's not essential that the wine is tailored to the dish. You need to match the weight of the wine to the dish and the different textures and flavours of that dish."

"I love the contact with guests, and that feeling with guests when you really pick them a great bottle and see the look on their face when you know they love it."

Sommelier of the Year

Laura was crowned UK Sommelier of the Year in April 2009 at London's Tate Modern after beating Yohann Jousselin from the Hotel du Vin Bistro in Winchester, and Christopher Delalonde of London's two-Michelin-starred The Square.

Pouring champagne
Laura was tested on pouring Champagne to exacting standards

Her tasks included 'blind' tasting, wine and food pairing recommendations and correcting errors on a wine list.

She also mastered the daunting task of pouring a single magnum of Champagne into 16 glasses, ensuring that each glass was equal, no glass was revisited, nothing was spilt and the bottle ended up empty.

"It's given me a lot of confidence for my career."

Along with the title, her reward was a trip to France as the personal guest of Régis Camus, head winemaker of Champagnes Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck in the heart of France's Champagne region.

Laura said: "It was fantastic, two days of tasting very good champagne. It was tasting for fun. It's really good to meet with the wine maker and get a full sense of the wine and I got to taste the still wines before the second fermentation. A very eye-opening experience."

Despite the stiff competition between sommeliers, Laura says there is still plenty of camaraderie and conversations over glasses of wine.

She insists: "It's a good unofficial club, meeting up with other sommeliers - there is an endless supply of wines to talk about."

"I'm not the youngest by a long stretch, but there is a still an awful lot to learn."



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