Meet up with Gwilherm de Cerval, the sommelier who breaks the rules

In this interview, we chat with French sommelier and wine journalist Gwilherm de Cerval about his remarkable career and best wine-tasting tips!  

Gwilherm Cervall portrait

In France, Gwilherm de Cerval needs little introduction: this stylish, well-connected sommelier has rocked the food world through his work as a wine journalist and author, as he endeavours to render this intimidating domain more accessible and fun.


Portrait of a Sommelier

Gwilherm de Cerval began his career as a sommelier at distinguished culinary institutions such as the Hôtel Ritz Paris and the Relais Louis XIII restaurant before joining the Hôtel Royal Monceau Raffles Paris in 2010. This refined gourmet with an Instagram following (@gwilherm_de_cerval) is part of the team at the Guide Lebey, which chronicles the best restaurants and bistrots in Paris and beyond, as well as a board member of the Association des Sommeliers de Paris (Paris Sommelier Association).

As if that’s not enough, Gwilherm also works as a freelance wine journalist, who has contributed to a number of publications, including Le Journal du Dimanche, L’Express, Marie Claire, and Bon. Having worked alongside highly esteemed food critic François-Régis Gaudry since 2017, de Cerval frequently appears on the "Très Très Bon" television programme and contributes to the various "On Va Déguster" (We’re Going to Taste) books.

In 2019, he was awarded the Prix Curnonsky for his book “Le Petit Livre du Sommelier” (The Sommelier’s Little Book)  and in 2021 he released his board game “Le Petit Quiz du Sommelier” (The Sommelier’s Little Quiz). In May 2023, he joined music producer Caroline de Maigret, actor Manu Payet, and food journalist Zazie Tavitian to create a food guide to Paris, titled  "La traversée de Paris" (Our Paris by Dish).

As you can see, Gwilherm de Cerval has a busy schedule, but we were lucky enough to get some time with him to discuss his career as a young sommelier and get a few of his expert tips for tasting wine.


Can you explain what exactly a sommelier is and what their main responsibilities are?

A sommelier is someone who serves the customer, so they need to have a sense of friendliness and service. They need to be able to advise their customers on all beverages, whether alcoholic or not, and serve them in the best possible tasting conditions, such as good glassware, the right temperature, etc. The job- and this is often forgotten- also involves discovering wines, and managing one’s cellar (meaning always knowing what’s in it) to be able to give the best advice.


What’s a key moment from your career?

A customer once came to the Royal Monceau, and asked me to put a very famous and expensive red wine in an ice bucket, and serve it in a stemmed glass with a straw. Many people wouldn’t have accepted his request, but I did, because what was important was his pleasure, however he wanted to enjoy it. That’s the most important thing to me: that others have a good time.

They Make Naked Wines
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Many people think being a sommelier is only for the elite. What do you think? How would you encourage people to explore wine and appreciate its subtleties without feeling intimidated by its complexity?

There can be a lot of snobbery in wine, because there’s something very traditional about it. There’s a noble, prestigious, luxurious side to it that’s part of French heritage. And yet, everyone drinks wine! But nobody dares to talk about it. My advice is to listen to others but feel free to have a different opinion. It's ok to say you do or don’t like something, because what’s good for you might not be good to others.


Do you think there are any preconceived notions people have about wine expertise you’d like to correct?

Absolutely! Make the distinction between a sommelier and an oenologist. An oenologist is someone who makes wine, like a chemist. A sommelier, on the other hand, serves the wine.


What advice would you give to someone who hopes to enter the world of wine?

We always hear people say, "I drank a Saint-Emilion, it was so good" and to that I respond “From where?”. First and foremost, learn the name of the estate and remember it. Because with the name of the estate (the winemaker), a sommelier will be able to establish the region, the appellation (how a country categorises its wines by geography), the cuvée, and the grape varieties. These are the 4 essential pieces of information for determining flavour and proposing equivalent products.

Quality wines are often associated with high prices. How can you enjoy wine without breaking the bank?

Find an appellation you like, a winemaker that’s popular, and pick up their “petite cuvée”. There will be just as much love in it, a little less work in the cellar with ageing in large containers rather than oak barrels, but the wine will be just as good!


What are the key skills that every wine lover should know to fully appreciate a tasting?

You have to find the right balance between alcohol, sugar, and acidity. And you also need to pay attention to texture.

Listen to yourself and use your own words to describe what you taste. A good sommelier should be able to adapt to the person in front of them, to ensure they enjoy themselves.


Are there any useful resources to help beginners learn more about wine?

Tasting evenings organised by wineries and restaurants are an excellent opportunity to taste different wines with guidance.

Thanks to Gwilherm’s tips, perhaps you’re interested in learning more about wine? If so, head this way to discover our beginner’s guide to French wine.

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