Described as 'genuinely humble' and 'an absolute gem of a man', Decanter Man of the Year 2013 Gerard Basset is widely credited with transforming the perception of sommeliers around the world.
Despite the many letters after his name – MS, MW, MBA, OBE – and his status as World’s Best Sommelier, Basset’s peers are as keen to talk of his personal attributes as to enumerate his many achievements in the latest issue of Decanter.
The owner of Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest and co-founder of the Hotel du Vin business has spent as much time mentoring young sommeliers and restaurant professionals as he has building successful businesses.
‘What I love about Gerard is that he demonstrates the same humility and curiosity today as he did when I first met him when he was a junior wine waiter at Chewton Glen in the early 1980s,’ says Jancis Robinson MW OBE.
Meanwhile, Etienne Hugel of Hugel et Fils describes Basset as ‘an absolute gem of a man whose heart is bigger than the sum of all his impressive titles’.
Of his role as a mentor to young sommeliers, Basset tells Brian St-Pierre in Decanter: ‘You have to give back as much as you have taken, after all.
‘I totally believe in education, for my team and my proteges of course, but also continually for myself.’
Those proteges are a roll call of sommelier excellence, including Xavier Rousset MS (co-owner of Texture), Matthieu Longuere MS (La Trompette), Ronan Sayburn MS (The Dorchester) and Eric Zweibel (Summer Lodge).
Born in St-Etienne, France (he remains a fan of the town’s football team), Basset finished school without any particular qualifications, and was lured into the world of hospitality by working in a restaurant after he came to Liverpool for a football match.
He learned the ropes as a chef, restaurant manager and sommelier, rising to prominence as head sommelier at Chewton Glen, the luxury spa-hotel in Hampshire, which he joined in 1988.
The establishment of Hotel du Vin in a former Winchester mansion followed in 1994, its success built on a philosophy of quality, service and a relaxed, unstuffy approach – which has endured with Basset’s current venture, TerraVina.
‘If you want to sell it well, you have to be the one to buy it in the first place, to capture and retain your enthusiasm,’ says Basset.
‘In the end, we sommeliers are in business, but the quality of that business is important: the balance of the right price and the right aesthetics.
‘And sommeliers are also ambassadors – of the restaurant, of the wine producer and certainly of wine itself.
‘We are selling wine, in every sense.’
Read the full interview in Decanter magazine, on sale Wednesday 6 March.
Decanter Men and Women of the Year, 1984-2012
2012 Paul Symington, Portugal
2011 Giacomo Tachis, Italy
2010 Aubert de Villaine, Burgundy
2009 Nicolás Catena, Argentina
2008 Christian Moueix, Bordeaux
2007 Anthony Barton, Bordeaux
2006 Marcel Guigal, Rhône
2005 Ernst Loosen, Mosel
2004 Brian Croser, Adelaide Hills
2003 Jean-Michel Cazes, Bordeaux
2002 Miguel Torres, Penedès
2001 Jean-Claude Rouzaud, Champagne
2000 Paul Draper, California
1999 Jancis Robinson MW OBE, London
1998 Angelo Gaja, Piedmont
1997 Len Evans OBE AO, Australia
1996 Georg Riedel, Austria
1995 Hugh Johnson OBE, London
1994 May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, Bordeaux
1993 Michael Broadbent MW, London
1992 André Tchelistcheff, California
1991José Ignacio Domecq, Jerez
1990 Prof Emile Peynaud, Bordeaux
1989 Robert Mondavi, California
1988 Max Schubert, Australia
1987 Alexis Lichine, Bordeaux
1986 Marchese Piero Antinori, Tuscany
1985 Laura & Corinne Mentzelopoulos, Bordeaux
1984 Serge Hochar, Lebanon
Written by Richard Woodard