As part of our exclusive behind the scenes interviews, Judith Sloane, Deputy Manager of Meet Cambridge, meets wine expert and Deputy Catering Manager at Sidney Sussex College Steve Borbas.
At Meet Cambridge, we’re fortunate to have experts on hand to help with all aspects of event organising. One frequent area of concern for organisers is choosing drinks, and selecting wines in particular. We recently spoke with Steve Borbas, a sommelier at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge and asked him to dispel some of the mystery that surrounds choosing wine, to get some tips for pairing wines with different foods, and to find out how much wine is the right amount for an event.
How did you get into this career and what’s your background?
I have been in the food and wine trade for 25-plus years. I grew up within it. I have numerous awards, including a diploma in wines and spirits.
What are the popular wines that you supply?
People are tending to ask for wines that are more approachable than the very dry white wines that were popular a few years ago. New World Pinot Noir, from places like New Zealand, is a red wine coming into its own, as well as lighter styles coming from the French regionals.
Do any of the wines have connections to Cambridge and the College?
Red Bordeaux (Claret) is associated heavily with the Colleges in Cambridge, as well as Port.
What’s the best tip you can give us for wine and food matching?
Trust the venue that you’re at, they have experts who are going to be able to assist you. Do your own research but speaking to the staff in the conference and events office at the venue will no doubt unearth some pearls of wisdom you might not have considered.
What is the most difficult food to pair with wine?
It all depends on the type of food that you are serving, for example oily or flaky white fish can be difficult to pair with wine. It is also hard to pair desserts as simple dessert wine does not suit all palettes.
How do you work out how much is enough/ too much for an event?
You have to know your guest list – if you know you have big drinkers, for example if a rugby team have been invited over for a dinner, you may want to increase the amount you order! The rule of thumb is half a bottle per person. So three courses would be a glass per course; however, as always, it is also down to budgets.
How are the wine industry and your venue sustainable?
We work well with 60-plus suppliers to ensure we only order when we need to. We look for wines that are shipped via the most direct route to and bottled in the UK to lower the carbon footprint and reduce emissions.
What is the most common mistake event organisers can make when ordering wine?
I think it is a mix of not knowing their guest list, ordering too little or not ordering the right sort of wine. Not all wine is suitable for everyone’s allergens or intolerances, likes and dislikes.
What do event organisers need to bear in mind regarding dietary requirements?
Some organisers assume that all wine is vegetarian or vegan. We always ask about vegetarian or vegan guests; some organisers are surprised to learn that wine is clarified using milk proteins, isinglass, which is made from fish bladders, or egg whites.