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A drink with… Daniel Stojcic

Austrian-born Daniel Stojcic is head sommelier of one-star Michelin restaurant The Dining Room at Whatley Manor and has been named Chianti Classico’s first UK ambassador. He talks to James Button about his favourite wines and what inspires him.

Daniel Stojcic was born in Austria and worked in tech before switching to a career in hospitality. He passed the Court of Master Sommeliers exam in 2019 and since then has won several sommelier competitions, including Best Sommelier in Ireland 2020. Most recently he has been named Chianti Classico’s first UK ambassador.

‘After working in tech for almost a decade, I decided to switch careers and in 2013 started working in a restaurant with no prior knowledge of this field. That’s when I was first introduced to wine.’

‘I have worked in several Michelin-acclaimed restaurants in the past, such as Noble Holywood in County Down – winner of a Bib Gourmand award – and the three-star Michelin Geranium in Copenhagen.’

‘During my time at Geranium, I became aware of the role and the work undertaken by a sommelier. That’s when I decided that I want to give it a try and signed up for the Court of Master Sommeliers, passing the introductory exam in July 2019. From that moment on, I was hooked and believed I could become a sommelier.’

‘I think it is the opportunity to interact with the guests on their libationary journey that makes being a sommelier so fulfilling. Many guests put their trust in you and, in return, you try to make sure the guests have a memorable experience.’

‘I am currently working as the head sommelier of Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa at its one-star Michelin restaurant The Dining Room. It’s an exciting role with an ambitious team spearheaded by chef Ricki Weston.’

‘I am fortunate enough to have opened and tried many iconic wines over the last few years. One that stands out was a 1961 Château La Mission Haut-Brion. It was the first wine from the 1960s that I got to open. It’s also my mother’s vintage – so I thought of her when I poured and drank that wine. It had so much fruit and life in it: tremendous.’

‘When it comes to white wine, I like to drink Chardonnay from Coteaux Champenois AOC, as well as Austrian Riesling. I believe our versions of Rieslings are still flying a little bit under the radar and are of great taste.’

‘Luckily, I’ve had no major wine-related embarrassing moments – yet! The closest thing to a disaster was when I was talking with a guest about Sauvignon Blanc from all over the world: Loire, South Africa, New Zealand… She eventually settled with one from Styria, Austria. I had a Pouilly-Fumé available by the glass which was in my ice bucket, and as I was topping up the guest’s glass I realised I was pouring the wrong bottle. I apologised immediately, but she laughed it off and said I’d done nothing wrong because I was still giving her Sauvignon Blanc. She took it with humour, which helped me not to get too mad at myself.’

‘I have been blessed to have won a number of competitions in the last two years, including Best Sommelier in Ireland 2020, the Gérard Basset Travel Scholarship 2021, IWSC Emerging Talent in Wine Hospitality 2022 and the ASI Gold Diploma 2022 (highest score in the UK). I will take the Advanced exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers this year which is high on my personal agenda to obtain.’

‘These accolades have not only reinforced my knowledge of wine but have encouraged me to continually push myself to develop and grow as a sommelier.’

‘Last September I won the contest to become the first Chianti Classico UK ambassador. It’s a great honour to represent such a historic, iconic and dynamic wine region. I am very much looking forward to visiting Chianti Classico to find out more about the region and its producers – and how I can help to spread the word (and wine) of Chianti Classico within the UK.’

‘One of the reasons I applied for the Chianti Classico UK Ambassador competition was that I love drinking wine from that region. It is of high quality and good value – and it works with a lot of dishes I like to cook myself, such as pasta, steak and pizza.’

‘I get inspiration from many sources, be it music, books or people. In the sommelier industry I get a lot of inspiration from people that stay in the profession for a long time. People like Eric Zwiebel MS, Isa Bal MS, or the legendary Serge Dubbs [World’s Best Sommelier 1989]. I hope that one day I can inspire the next generation of sommeliers to dream and go for it, like they did.’

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