Sommelier Cathryn Bell is on a mission to help open our eyes to the great wide world of wine.
Originally from Wales, Cathryn Bell is one of the country's very best sommeliers. Having honed her craft at Michelin-starred establishments like Ashford Castle, Chapter One and Aimsir, Bell was named our Sommelier of the Year at the 2019 Food&Wine Awards and in the two years since then, she's gone from strength to strength and has even started her own business, Wine Rover.
Wine Rover offers a curated a wine experience that helps its users to expand their palates and update their preferences - think of the service as a sommelier in your pocket. Once you sign up, you explain your budget and preferences, then leave the rest to Bell.
Wine Rover has been so successful that Bell is currently at capacity and can't take on new clients right now - however, she has partnered with Damien Grey of Liath in Blackrock to curate the Potions section of his The Chef Supper Club project.
The Potions series will see Bell host incredible tastings with under-the-radar wines and unique winemakers from around the world. Starting this Thursday, October 14, the series will run for six weeks with sessions available to book individually or in three- and six-week packages. Each session will be a mix of live tastings, interactive elements, pairing recommendations and stories directly from the winemakers.
Only 50 places for this incredible series are available: the six-week course includes 12 bottles of wine, tasting notes from Bell and admission to the live sessions, and costs €650, while individual sessions cost €100 each. To book, click here.
Ahead of her upcoming Potions series, we spoke to Bell about all things wine, her plans for Wine Rover, and much more. Read on to hear what she had to say.
Wine Rover is an exciting idea, why did you decide to set it up?
"The idea to set up on my own kind of came about organically during the lockdown because it was very obvious that the industry as we knew it was going to be changed. It was an opportunity really consider how I wanted to be a part of that new industry and I found that, during the lockdown, people started to reach out to me through different mediums because they needed help finding different wines. They were at home and they didn't know what to drink, or they were cooking or doing at-home box experiences and they didn't know how to match things so they up reached out for help. It was then that I realised that maybe there was a service I could provide and then that organically became Wine Rover. For some, it's a one-off, ad hoc experience, but for others, it has become quite a close-knit community.
Out of that, I have naturally been doing quite a lot of consultancy and collaborations with different chefs, restaurants and projects, just for people that need a bit of guidance in terms of putting together a wine list of matching up food and wine. I think now that restaurants have reopened, they have realised they need to change their game and survive. For many, that might mean that beverage revenue will be extremely important so they know they need to redo their wine list or retrain their staff, which is where I come in. In some cases, it's been initial help while with others I've formed a long-term partnership where I am sort-of the resident sommelier.
It's been really fun and has really allowed me to learn and grow. I'm so busy but it has been the most productive time in my career in terms of adapting and applying myself."
What wine trends should we be looking out for over the next while?
"Well I'm definitely trying to start a trend about how we experience sparkling wines. I noticed in restaurants and with Wine Rover too that people would always tell me whether they liked red or white wine, but then I would have to ask them about sparkling wine. Most would say 'Oh, I don't like Prosecco' or 'I can't afford Champagne' but there is a whole world of sparkling wines out there that cost just as much as the red or white wines that we offer with Wine Rover, so I would encourage people to experience them.
On the restaurant side, sparkling wine should be drunk as a food wine too, we're totally useless at drinking sparkling wine with food in this country - we tend to drink them one glass of it on its own and that's it. I really try to advocate for sparkling wine in a food context because, at the end of the day, sparkling wine is just wine and if we drink them with food we will enjoy them more. Champagne with fish and chips, come on, it sounds so good! Any Champagne with greasy food will change your life."
So The Chef Supper Club is obviously a big project for you going forward, tell me a bit about how that came about.
"Last Christmas, a corporate client wanted me to create a really special wine experience for their staff instead of the usual Christmas party they would normally have had. To me though, the most special wine experiences happen with food, so I asked them if we could create a food and wine experience instead. I reached out to Damien Grey, who was doing his takeaway boxes at the time, to collaborate on something and it turned into a really incredible experience. I chose the wine and he created a tasting menu around it, which was very different from how chefs usually do it.
I really enjoyed working with him. Damien is very formulaic and linear, while I'm on the other side of everything, trying to explain wine in terms of shapes and colours, so it was an unlikely pairing but it really worked.
Then, in spring, he reached out to me about The Chef Supper Club and once he explained it to me, I couldn't believe how good of an opportunity it sounded. The face that I would get to play with the wine pairings to go with so many different chefs' menus was so exciting so I immediately said yes. It's been a lot of fun and I'm really excited about it.
The concept behind it is that the food and drink experiences are as important as each other, so the wine pairings really have to marry well together and be equally loved."
You're also doing masterclass-type sessions too, not just pairings for the restaurant experiences, so tell me more about that.
"So Potions is the platform for all things beverage-related and I'm doing the first six weeks of that. It's not a wine appreciation course because it's not supposed to just be an educational platform, there have been enough of them during lockdown. It's more of an opportunity for me to use this platform to bring people into my own experience of my world of wine. It's really about storytelling.
There are a few significant people, that I call living legends, who have really affected what we drink today, so I want to go back to their stories and look at them and their wine. I'm going to be looking at lots of different people, so like the game changers are part of the first session and I'll be talking to Dirk Niepoort, who has selected the wine himself for the session that really tells his story. I still can't believe that he will be part of it!
So many people have been really interested in it and have decided to take part and give up their time to talk to us. Each week has a different name, like the mavericks, the diaspora, the guardians, and each looks at the different incredible people that are involved in the wine world. It's going to help these people connect directly with the wine drinker and it has really shocked me that in most cases we'll get to have the story straight from the horse's mouth. To say I'm a little bit excited is an understatement!"
Only 50 places for this incredible series are available: the six-week course includes 12 bottles of wine, tasting notes from Cathryn Bell and admission to the sessions, and costs €650, while individual sessions cost €100 each. To book, click here.