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Sommelier Secrets UK: Sonal Clare

Sonal Clare, wine director of The Wilderness and GQ Sommelier of the Year 2018, shares his Sommelier Secrets.

Describing itself as ‘Rock and Roll fine dining’ in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is The Wilderness, where Sonal Clare is the wine director.

‘We serve tasting menus of bold, playful dishes influenced by international flavours that reflect the cultural melting pot that is Birmingham. We attract a very diverse audience and try to demystify the fine-dining experience and make it more accessible through the space, our dishes, the drinks programme and in our style of service.

‘The room is intimate, just 22 covers, and we play loud rock’n’roll. The thing that unites our guests is a desire for a good time – we try, above all, to have fun.

‘We have just over 100 wines on the list, which is very editorial in style. Our approach is brought to life with playful photography – there are shots of me pouring Montes Alpha’s Carmenère over myself, as well as images of our chef director Alex’s pug, among many others.

‘We have a major focus on France, I love Burgundy and Champagne, especially, but we have wines on the list from around 20 different countries. I list from light to full bodied to give the guests a framework to navigate the list easily if they wish to do so themselves.

‘For the more adventurous guest, we also list a selection of “hacked wines”. These are wines our drinks director, Robert Wood, and I have manipulated to show unique characteristics using our combined skills as bartender and sommelier. We might, for example, manipulate a wine to express the characteristics of a now unavailable vintage. It’s a bit of a controversial approach, but it is fun and removes some of the assumptions guests might have about the world of wine. These are wines you won’t find anywhere else.’

Top Tip:

‘Be adventurous with food and wine pairings at home. I’m of Indian heritage and I’m always looking for cool and interesting wines to pair with that style of cuisine – there are no rules about what styles, varieties, or price points you should experiment with. My mum’s samosas, for example, pair exceptionally well with a glass of Champagne.’


‘I’m colour blind, and on more than one occasion I’ve accidentally poured white wine into a rosé glass. Obviously, it hardly makes you look the most professional, but in my defence, some of my favourite rosés are very, very pale!’

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