Home News > December 2019 > A few sips with Elena Serban

It’s not every day a Swiss-themed restaurant with a serious wine list opens its doors – at least outside of Switzerland. So, we were naturally intrigued when Heritage launched earlier this year in London’s Soho, with the wine team headed up by none other than SWA judge, Elena Serban.

We caught up with the former Hakkasan senior sommelier to uncover how she got to where she is now and how to craft a wine list with personality.

Firstly, congratulations on your new role as Head of Wine at Heritage. And congratulations on winning the Gosset matchmakers competition, run in association with Imbibe. What does it mean for you and your restaurant?

We were newly open when I briefed the staff on participating in the competition; back then we didn’t have working fridges and were still missing bits and pieces so it was a big challenge.

For the competition we took the time to preserve grape leaves and pickle chardonnay grapes from the Champagne region. Chef Piero used these ingredients to wrap the wild Turbot fillet and steam it in an aromatic mixed fish jus combined with a beurre blanc sauce with a pickled green grape garnish.

Pierre, our sommelier, prepared the presentation but unfortunately one day prior to the competition got stuck in Bordeaux. Therefore, overnight Oscar the junior member of our team replaced Pierre.

Whilst somewhat unexpected, receiving this level of recognition is a testament to the work the team here at Heritage have undertaken. We’ve established a clear vision and culture within our restaurant and it has helped us to gain confidence to progress and develop it further.

How did you approach the process of compiling your wine list?

I joined Heritage on 21 May 2019 and by 7 June I was required to develop a wine list for the website. I dedicated a lot of time to researching wines, meeting suppliers, dealing with account forms and setting up systems. At times I did feel that I was getting behind, however things are now getting much better.

The new autumn list went live on 1 September, and I already have a selection of magnums and jeroboams ready for the Christmas period. I’m also working on a few exclusive wines and preparing a slightly different layout for the spring list.

Why did you divide your wine list by grape variety?

Grape varieties are fundamental to wine production. For me the grape variety is like a ‘Forename’, and the place, climate and soil is the ‘Surname’, both which are determined by the winemaker and their unique vision.

Do you think the UK lacks in alpine region wines? What advice would you give to sommeliers wanting to add these to their list?

There is an increase in availability of alpine region wines in the UK and I think it is up to us as sommeliers to go out and look for them. Wines that are made from humble or forgotten beginnings, unique to a specific area or region, or varieties revived by a dedicated producer are worthy to be selected and given the opportunity to stand out in a list with other better known grape varieties.

Are there any wines on your list from the Sommelier Wine Awards?

Yes! More than a few: Dreissigacker, Morstein, Riesling 2014, Rheinhessen, Germany (£40.02, Liberty Wines, Gold) and Egon Müller, QBA Riesling 2017, Mosel, Germany (£31.98 Top Selection, Gold) two outstanding Rieslings. We also serve San Felice, Il Grigio, Chianti Classico Riserva 2015, Tuscany, Italy (£13.10, 70cl, Boutinot, Gold) an old friend of mine which we serve at the restaurant as a magnum.

Where did you start your career?

Almost 12 years ago in Calabria, South Italy behind the bar of Borromeo.

How long have you been a sommelier?

I was lucky to come to London 5 years ago. It was initially for a couple of months work, but then 3 and a half years ago I started as a Junior Sommelier. Now I am still here and still learning.

What did you study?

WSET Level 1, 2 and 3 in wine and spirts and I’m currently on the level 4 Diploma

WSET Level 1 and 3 in Sake

SSI Kikisake-shi, Master of Sake

California Wine Institute, Level 1

What would be your advice to young sommeliers starting out?

Make a plan and stick to it as much as you can but don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way!

What is your advice for female sommeliers in the industry?

Listen and never stop learning! Stand up for what you believe in and when things are not great remember we have so many fine examples to look up to; they have already set the path, all we need to do is follow.

Who do you aspire to? Look up to?

Jose Mujica taught me how to live and SWA’s very own head of judging, Christine Parkinson, showed me who I could become.

 What are your favourite wines?

I’m very fond of champagne, Manzanilla [sherry] and Riesling, predominantly from Nahe and Rheinhessen. Then I love old Bordeaux, Nebbiolo and Mavrotragano.

Wines such as Fendant from Valais by Cave Jean Rene Germanier and Humagne Rouge or Pinot Noir, which we both do by the glass are fantastic wines. Also wines by Mathis Bastian from Luxembourg and Château Béla Riesling from Slovakia – most of the guests do not expect that these wines will taste as good as they do.

What are your favourite wines from SWA?

Laurent-Perrier, La Cuvée, Brut NV, Champagne, France (£41.5, Bibendum, Gold)

Casata Mergè, Sesto 21, Frascati Superiore Riserva 2017, Lazio, Italy (£20.92, Casata Mergè, Silver)

Lucien Arkas Bağlari, Meandros, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Marselan/Merlot 2016, Aegean, Turkey (£18.42, Lucien Arkas Bağlari, Commended)

Are you planning on judging for the Sommelier Wine Awards 2020?

Yes! I participated in 2019 for the first time. Despite it only being for one day it was by far the most enjoyable group tasting I took part in. I have already booked in 5 days in 2020.

Click here to view Heritage’s wine list