Romain Audrerie, the global wine director for hip hotelier André Balazs, is proud to be Chiltern Firehouse’s longest-standing employee.
Over lunch there, which we begin with an ornate Langham English fizz, he tells me he discovered a love for wine while studying political science in Bordeaux and working in catering jobs such as the leaving do for the winemaker of the top-tier château, Haut-Brion.
Despite Audrerie’s self-confessed fear of hangovers, our lunch is an ode to Bacchus. He pours esoteric Listán Blanco from the Pico del Teide mountain in northern Tenerife. Although it could be termed ‘natural’, being free from chemical intervention, it is far from ‘cloudy, funky, mousy or an unhelpful cobweb in the mouth’, says Audrerie. Like a red, the big, textured white needs time to breathe, and feels as mineral-rich as the periodic table because of the volcanic basalt its roots dig into.
Audrerie reveals he dreams of owning a small vineyard on Santorini. He generously opens his last bottle of Mavrotragano, an exotic grape saved from extinction by the perfectionist Haridimos Hatzidakis before his death. Despite 2015 being hot, the result is racy, ‘with a perfume of herbs and dried cherries cooked in hay’, says Audrerie.
As he pours the final wine, a sweet, spicy, inky, blackcurrant-like Bulgarian Mavrud from the Zagreus winery, he laments that many guests harbour a fear of sugar, with ‘an obsessive habit of checking if a wine is sweet’.
Audrerie puts the same care into his wine selection — which also includes small-scale producers from Georgia and Kazakhstan — as the Firehouse’s head chef Nuno Mendes does with ingredients — such as the lurid, bumpy pumpkins that were delivered in the blanketed boot of a vintage limo…