If, like three-quarters of the population, you choose your dinner wine by surreptitiously running your eye down the price column of the wine list, you need expert help more than you know. Unfortunately, getting advice on what wine to choose is virtually impossible in Dubai.
For starters, there are no tasting tips or reviews to read in any local magazines. Even if advice were available, it has to be tailored to every occasion. You will not enjoy the benefits of a great wine if you drink it with the wrong food.
Fortunately, help is finally at hand with the appointment of Anthony Caron, who has been tempted to Dubai from the famous La Tante Claire restaurant in London to become head sommelier at Verre. Being asked personally by Gordon Ramsay to make the move was one motivation for Caron, but the lure of Dubai as a city was also crucial in the decision.
‘I was approached by Gordon, who was a regular guest at La Tante Claire, and he offered me the position here. So I went and bought a book about Dubai to see where in the world it is and after reading it from cover to cover my mind was made up.’
Caron arrived a month before the opening of Verre to set up the cellars and begin intensive training with his team. He works closely with Ramsay, also a wine buff, and with the chefs doing tastings and matching wines to new dishes.
Inviting a sommelier to your table for advice may seem like financial suicide in a restaurant that serves wines such as a 1975 Petrus Premiere Grand Cru Exceptional at Dhs34,500 per bottle.
But Caron is keen to stress that his job is to suggest the right wine for every dish that has been selected and, most importantly, at a price that helps guests enjoy their meal (anticipating a bill in excess of Dhs50,000 will not suit every palate).
‘Until people feel comfortable with their surroundings and have confidence in me I cannot begin to do my job well. I need them to put their trust in me allowing me to match up their preferences in wine with the food they have ordered and of course their budget. We always talk about price,’ he stresses. ‘An unpleasant surprise at the end of the evening when the bill arrives is a sure way to chase clients away.’
Caron also challenges Verre’s reputation for only serving expensive wine. ‘Starting at just Dhs95 per bottle, we have excellent wines at reasonable prices too,’ he explains.
But Verre, quite rightly, has become a magnet to people looking for a little more than house plonk. The restaurant has developed a loyal following of regulars who enjoy sparring with Caron over his wine advice. Caron is always right, of course.
Born in France in 1974, a meteoric rise through the ranks to his position of head sommelier at just 28 is remarkable. He has worked at an impressive selection of Michelin starred restaurants, but his success is also due to his upbringing in Vienne, in the heart of the Rhone Valley vineyards.
From a very young age he was encouraged to understand and appreciate good food and wine. When I asked if as a child he was always given a glass of wine with his Sunday lunch, he responded, ‘Oh no, not just on Sundays, always on Saturdays too.’ And as for his favourite meal? ‘Great saucisson, some Roquefort cheese and a glass of San Marcelin.’ Try it.