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- Thursday, 12 March 2015 08:53 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
1. Tesi: Serena, you head up the wine business of the prestigious auction house, Sotheby’s, and people talk about you as the “Grande Dame of international wine.“ Can you tell me more about yourself, your daily work, and your love for wine?
Serena: I have been fascinated by the taste of wine since I was young, ever since my grandfather gave me a tiny sip of Veuve Clicquot when I was six! I loved it and have been enthralled by wine all my life. Wine conveys so much in terms of history and intellectual interest, as well as the sensual aspect. I started out in another career as a translator and interpreter, but I knew I needed to follow my real instinct and passion. So, I changed my career and passed my Master of Wine examination.
Today, I am head of Sotheby’s International Wine Department, with auctions in London, New York and Hong Kong. We also have our Sotheby’s Wine retail business in New York and Hong Kong. I love sourcing great wine collections, a universe of marvellous, sometime iconic wines – it is always exciting. Another part of my job that I love (Serena is smiling here) is tasting, whether in the wine regions or at big, retrospective tastings. Each one reveals unique elements – this is a job that is different every day.
2. Tesi: Think back to the first moment when you recognized that wine meant something special to you. What was this moment like? When did you decide to start a career in the wine business?
Serena: I have drunk wine pretty well every day since I was 17! French wines were my first love and where I worked in vineyard and cellar and I still count France as my ‘home region’. Then came Italy, Germany and Spain, followed by the ‘New World’ and, obviously, I have kept uptodate with what happens in California as that is part of the American auction scene.
3. Tesi: Tell me more about the wine in your private cellar. What are the bottles you are most proud of, and what’s a hidden wine treasure you’d want to share with others?
Serena: Our own cellar majors on France, but we also love wines from countries like Austria and Greece which have seen so much improvement in the last decade. We like playing around with wines from our cellar, comparing and discussing and sharing with wine-loving friends. You are always learning – for instance, the other day we drank Margaux 1999 and 2000 and were surprised that the less-vaunted 1999 was so delicious while, obviously, the 2000 was terrific but needs more time.
4. Tesi: Wine drinking has grown enormously in the last 20 years, but some prices have gone very high. Where will the market be in five years?
Serena: People often say that only the very rich can afford to drink Bordeaux, but that is simplistic because, although the top classified growths are very expensive, there are hundreds of other châteaux that are producing excellent wines at very reasonable prices. Wine education is important and Lafite is doing a great job sponsoring competitive university tastings each year – students can learn very quickly and then they have pleasure and joy all their life in drinking wine, even if they follow another career.
All of us in the wine trade have a responsibility to open the eyes, or noses and palates, of young people to help them find and choose really interesting bottles. One should keep an open mind and look forward to discoveries.
5. Tesi: What does good food and wine means to you?
Serena: I love the combination of food and wine – the vast majority of wine is made to go with food, although I adore a good Riesling from the Mosel as an aperitif and I prefer a superb Sauternes on its own, as a liquid dessert! Food does not have to be complicated – a wonderful, fruity Fleurie, for instance, with sausages and mash is divine! But then one can experience something like the marvellous Japanese food at Umu in London and see how glorious it is with Pinot Noir. I cook a lot of Italian food which is my idea of ‘comfort food’ and it is a terrific background for any good wine. The other night we went to a Punjabi restaurant and drank a spot-on Indian wine, Sula’s Sauvignon, and a great time was had by all! Roast chicken is probably the best base of all when drinking the world’s most fabulous wines, whether it is La Tâche or Haut Brion!
Matthias Tesi Baur
Biography Serena Sutcliffe, MW:
Serena Sutcliffe passed the Master of Wine examination in 1976, at her first attempt, and has been a member of the Education Committee, the Examination Board, and was Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine. A renowned taster, writer and lecturer, she is head of Sotheby’s International Wine Department and is on Sotheby’s European Board. Sotheby’s Wine auctions take place in London, New York and Hong Kong and are celebrated for selling great collections of perfect provenance.
A Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Serena was elected to the Académie Internationale du Vin in 1993. In 2002, she received the New York Institute of Technology’s Professional Excellence Award and in 2006, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Society of Bacchus America. Serena was awarded the title of Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur in July 2006 - the first person in the British Wine Trade to receive this honour.