Sonal Clare

Head Sommelier, The Wilderness

Sonal Clare. Wine is his playground and he intends to have fun with it

Sonal Clare, 37, is head sommelier at the The Wilderness, Birmingham, and GQ’s sommelier of the year 2018. Sonal is a seriously cool guy, who doesn’t take wine or himself too seriously, and because of that, he does have one of the best jobs in the world.

At the heart of it Sonal is a West Londoner, but he has spent over 20 years in Birmingham, following his career path. It was his mother’s cooking that opened his eyes to the culinary world; her Indian dishes were so scrumptious, that it drove him to choose a career in the food industry.

At GCSE, he admits he wasn’t the brightest spark at school but excelled in food tech and achieved a grade 9 (which old school students like Sonal would have known as an A*).

Sonal went on to attend UCB (University College of Birmingham) to study Hospitality and Food management for four years, in the hope of becoming a chef, while learning the ins and outs of the whole industry. Sonal went on to achieve a 1st class honours, but he didn’t stop there. His mind was like a sponge, soaking in as much information as he could and wanting to learn more. While at UCB, he completed a level 2 WSET (Wine & Spirit Educational Trust) qualification- something most sommeliers gain during their careers.

Ironically, as a younger man, the taste of wine wasn’t immediately to his liking. “I remember trying four different red wines and I was like ‘they all taste the same, they all have this muddy, earthy, horrible flavour’. I guess when you were younger you do prefer sweeter things, I was a Malibu and pineapple or Southern Comfort and lemonade kind of guy at university.”

Sonal’s advice to those just entering the world of wine, would be ‘read’ and ‘taste’. Read magazines, articles, books and get to know the industry. Then get to know your palette, get to know the stories behind the bottles and taste as many different styles as you can. Whether that’d be, at a weekend, getting to know a bottle and stretch your budget and spend £15 on a decent wine, then the week after, grab a cheaper bottle from Aldi or Tescos and be serenaded by that.

“Learn as much as you can, but don’t stress yourself out too much because in wine you never stop learning. Even the guests teach you lessons. It’s like Takeshi’s castle, one door opens and then another one opens.”

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