Julio Tauste

‘You need to wake up, study – and always be improving…’

After nearly seven years in the UK, Orrery’s Julio Tauste is dreaming of attaining his CMS Advanced qualification

Brought up around Alicante, where his family had several restaurants, Julio grew up literally surrounded by hospitality, making the move to the UK in 2015, where he joined the D&D group. After several years at Launceston Place, he has been head sommelier at Orrery since just before Covid in 2020.

What experience did you acquire in Spain?

I always worked in the family restaurants, but in 2007 I decided to move on and became Food and Beverage manager at Huerto de Ivancos in Valencia. I then joined Akellare in San Sebastian in 2009. It’s a very well-known restaurant with a high-profile chef – three-star Michelin. It was high pressure – tiny details on every single matter. But that didn’t bother me. When you have the skill – it’s like riding a bike – you know what you are doing.

The three-star food at Akellare – ‘Tiny details matter’ says Julio. Pic: Kent Wang, Flickr

Why did you leave Spain to come to the UK?

After two years at Akellare, I joined Metro group – they are a big company supplying the on-trade with thousands of wines to restaurants all over Spain. I got my WSET Level 3 in 2015, and I realised that if I wanted to go further I had to move countries, because it wasn’t possible to do the Diploma there. The sommelier profession isn’t so well known in Spain.

Who did you work with at Launceston Place?

At various times Gareth Ferreira MS, Agustin Trapero and Piotr Pietras MS. It was an amazing team! I became head sommelier at Orrery in January 2020.

Julio with some of the ‘amazing’ team at Launceston Place

So you’ve stayed within D&D…

You need to be a bit loyal to the company. Then they trust you when it comes to buying a wine or doing a pairing. I think I’ve become more skilled at F&B as well.

In what way?

D&D have a big list of suppliers, and we work very closely with them. We need to be able to trust them – that when a wine is put on by the glass they’ll have stock, for instance. Particularly with Brexit when there are problems with the borders, we have to play a lot with the wine list, with things going out of stock.

What about personal development?

We’re very involved with training – with new educational materials, with competitions. It’s important to be always learning. I’ve got my CMS Advanced exam in June.

It’s really tough because you need to pass all three parts at the same time.

Which is the toughest bit?

The blind tasting! Always! The hardest one for me to spot is Sancerre because to me it’s close to Chablis. I often get them mixed up on the nose. But I think Chablis has more cleanness and slightly different flavours on the palate. That’s how I pick it. Spanish styles are the easiest for me – Albarino and Rioja.

Tell us about the list at Orrery.

We’re a French restaurant, so we need to focus on French appellations. We’re very big in Bordeaux and Burgundy, red and white.

Fine dining and elegance at Orrery…
… where Julio is head sommelier
Hoping for a busy terrace this summer

Is it hard to sell alternatives?

Some guests do ask for different appellations than Bordeaux, so we have places like Marcillac or Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. And Cahors Malbec too is very good value wine. Full-bodied and rich, it does the same kind of job as cru classé Bordeaux, but much cheaper. They’re useful when people want to have two or three bottles of wine. We need to look after the guest.

How are you set for Burgundy, with the upcoming shortages?

We’re fine at the moment. They allowed a new appellation in 2017, Bourgogne Cote d’Or, which is pretty good value wine. Also places like Marsannay, Maranges and Rully red – these places are less well-known but are good value. We might not be able to get Vosne-Romanée without spending big money, but we should be able to find these.

Any substitutes from outside France?

Our customers are ok with Bordeaux-red substitutes – Napa, Australia, even Chile. For red Burgundy we have alternatives from Pisoni Estate (Sta Lucia Highlands), and Williams Selyem (Russian River) and Errazuriz or Montes from Chile. For white Burgundy, I’d look to Kumeu River (New Zealand), or Mayacamas on Mount Veeder in Napa.

Vineyards in the Hemel and Aarde Valley
And the dramatic coastline of Hermanus, Walker Bay – one of Julio’s favourite regions for Pinot

Where, for you, are the most exciting wine regions?

Walker Bay in South Africa [above]  – amazing Pinot Noirs. I also love Sherry. It’s very good value. Also Hawkes Bay Bordeaux blends. Whenever I recommend that the guests love it because they’re expecting a Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc [from New Zealand] and this is something different. It’s a great substitute for Bordeaux.

What do you think is the most important thing in hospitality?

To be humble. You always need to live for the guest. Guests in the UK are very high profile. You need to wake up, study and always be improving.

What do you do in your time off, Julio?

My son is 13 now, which is a difficult age, so the most important thing when I have free time is to spend it with him. We play football, handball and basketball.

Julio with partner Nuria. Making the most of family in his time off is important to him

A somm’s guide to bordeaux’s ‘place’

If you’ve ever wanted to know how Bordeaux’s wine trading marketplace – La Place – works, then the best way is obviously to have it explained to you by a top German-born sommelier. Jan Konetzki shuffles us onto the history bus for a tour of a wine world institution.

Explain La Place to me in two sentences

La Place de Bordeaux is a Medieval distribution network used to distribute the wines of Bordeaux globally. Wines are sold from the châteaux to Bordeaux negociants (via a courtier) before being sold on to individual wine merchants around the world and then on to the consumer.

Chateaux I understand – but tell me more about negociants and courtiers

The negociant system has been around in Bordeaux since the early 1600’s and is one of the major reasons Bordeaux became the world’s most important and collectible wine region. And mostly we’ve got the Dutch to thank for it.

As well as draining the swamps (Haut-Medoc, was a swamp in case you did not know), they were some of the first negociants – merchants who may have grown some wine of their own, but mostly bought it, labelled it, shipped it and promoted it inside France and abroad. They were also responsible for producing custom blends ordered by clients.

The modern-day negociant system can be compared to a pre-arranged group of wholesalers who get rewarded by being able to buy (and sell on) a percentage of a château’s harvest every year. Interestingly, the negociants all pay the same price on the same day at close to the same time. They are supposed to sell the wines for the same price, with the same mark-up, though in practice the laws of the market exert a strong influence and this doesn’t always happen.

So if château owners grow the grapes and make the wine, and negotiants sell it, what do courtiers do?

This is a historic trading system that originated in the Middle Ages, and it was set up to prevent France’s elite from having to do anything so uncouth as having to work for a living. These aristocratic owners of wine châteaux did not want to deal directly with the merchant classes. They thought it was common to engage in such commercial activity themselves.

And that’s where the courtiers came in.  They acted as go-betweens for the châteaux and the negotiants. Think of them as Personal Assistants or Messengers – though a very well paid one.

Courtiers typically charge 2% on any deal that they broker and it is one of the most difficult jobs to get into in Bordeaux. You need to pass a series of exams and blind tasting tests, coupled with a minimum of five years of training before you can become a licensed courtier. Kind of like learning to train to be a black cab driver. 

Fun fact: courtiers are by law allowed to own châteaux and vineyards, but are forbidden by law to own, or act as a negociant.

I get that it made sense hundreds of years ago. But why is it still the established route to market today?

This is a good question.  After all, the world of communications and selling has changed out of sight, while the aristocratic owners are now often replaced by banks, insurance companies or wealthy individuals. Yet the system is still going strong. 

Most questionable, for Place-sceptics, is the continued existence of the courtier, since business and communication are now immediate and there is no more royal-class.

Yet fans of the system say they still have a role. The courtier, after all, is a useful buffer between buyer and seller (a bit like an estate agent) and can keep the sometimes heated conversation cool. It’s a big advantage if you are trying to make a deal.

Negociants, meanwhile, have literally created the demand for Bordeaux, its châteaux and appellations since as early as the 1620’s, and they still have great connections and power in the world of wine.

It’s the reason why even wineries from outside Bordeaux (like Super-Tuscans, and estates from Napa Valley and Argentina) are now signing up to the system, in order to find distribution.

The Place might be an old system, but there still seems to be plenty of life left in it.

Jan Konetzki is Director of wine at Ten Trinity Square – Four Seasons and Private Club; Ambassador (UK and Germany) for Château Latour and Artemis Domaines Ambassador UK/Germany; Social Media manager and UK strategic advisor, Niepoort.