Home News > March 2024 > Q&A: Lucas Reynaud Paligot, assistant head sommelier at Hélène Darroze, The Connaught, London

Q&A: Lucas Reynaud Paligot, assistant head sommelier at Hélène Darroze, The Connaught, London.

Born in Lyon, superstar sommelier Lucas Paligot joined the team at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in October 2019. With a passion for service and wine that borders on the fanatical, Paligot was elevated to the position of assistant head sommelier in 2023. Yet he is something of a polymath: cigars, a good Negroni and literature are among the sommelier’s many passions. James Lawrence gets the lowdown.

When did you first set foot in a working kitchen?

In the early days of my hospitality journey, I was working in the kitchen for a fine-dining restaurant in Isère, where I grew up. However, I understood very early on that being a chef wouldn’t be a career for me. Being in the kitchen, especially working with pastry, was what I enjoyed doing when I was a child. None of my family are part of this industry, so you can imagine the reaction at the beginning.

What other career choices tempted you as a young man?

I have always had an appreciation for fashion, architecture and the arts. I was a very good personal shopper for my mum and she always took my advice when it came to decorating the house. So I considered a career in interior design, however, I was born colour blind and this held me back a little. But perhaps I can combine my passions one day and design wine bars. I guess we'll have to see what the future holds.

What grapes/styles/regions are on trend in 2024?

There is a growing interest among wine drinkers in exploring local and indigenous grape varieties. Consumers are gaining interest in lesser-known regions and the New World, appreciating the value they offer. Greek wines, particularly those made from Assyrtiko and Xinomavro grapes, have been gaining popularity, as have wines from Hungary's Furmint grape, which I believe is a great alternative to Burgundian whites.

A great wine list can make or break a restaurant. What would be your advice to someone who is starting from scratch when assembling a list for a fine dining venue?

First it is important to understand the target audience and the cuisine offered at the restaurant. This will help in selecting wines that complement the menu and appeal to the customers. Second, research and educate yourself on different wine regions, grape varieties and styles to ensure a diverse and well-rounded selection on the list. Consider including a mix of popular classics as well as unique and lesser-known options to cater to a variety of preferences. Additionally, establish relationships with reputable wine distributors and conduct tastings to sample and select wines that meet the quality standards of a fine-dining establishment. Pricing and profitability should also be taken into account when setting prices for the wines on the list. And finally, regularly update and refresh the wine list to keep it current and exciting for customers. By following these guidelines and staying informed about the latest trends in the wine industry, you can create a successful and appealing wine list for your fine-dining venue.

So what are the common mistakes and pitfalls that people should avoid?

Some common mistakes include: a lack of variety, poor pricing strategy, neglecting trends and adequate staff training. Indeed, it is important to offer a diverse range of options to cater to different tastes and preferences; setting prices too high or too low can also deter customers. Therefore, it's essential to strike a balance between offering value for money and maintaining profitability. Meanwhile, not staying updated on current wine trends and customer preferences can lead to a stagnant and unappealing wine list. Keep abreast of industry developments and adjust the list accordingly. By avoiding these common mistakes and taking a thoughtful approach to creating the wine list, you can create a compelling and successful selection for your fine-dining venue.

In the 20th century, many consumers automatically equated the term “fine wine” with France. Do you think more people are more willing to look beyond Bordeaux/Burgundy in 2024?

We have customers who are interested in discovering other parts of the world such as Barolo, Spain and New World areas. Our wine list is classified by grape varieties from lightest to fullest – this gives the guests the opportunity to look beyond French labels and to try other wines within their preferred palate. With that said, at least 60% of the wines we are opening are Burgundy/Bordeaux, including some very mature vintages.

What do you think of natural wine?

Natural wine has gained popularity in recent years among consumers who are interested in sustainable and organic practices in winemaking. Advocates of natural wine appreciate its unique flavours and characteristic which can result from the minimal-intervention approach.
It is important to note that opinions on natural wine can vary, and some critics argue that the lack of additives and intervention in the winemaking process can lead to inconsistencies in quality and taste. However, whether one enjoys natural wine or not is a matter of personal preference.

Finally – how do you unwind?

One of my favourite pleasures is sitting in neighbourhood bars sipping a Negroni and reading a book. If London weather permits, I like to walk through Regents Park with my coffee, the perfect way to clear my brain after a long and intense week at work.