The CellarSpace team were fortunate enough to spend a diverting afternoon with Laurent Rospars, the Head Sommelier at Little Prince Wine and CellarSpace curator. Over a long lunch at the Prince Hotel in St Kilda, we sampled Laurent’s 6 must-try wines from Little Prince Wine and learned about his fascinating background as a sommelier and the secret to selecting and enjoying great wine.
A life in wine always seemed like a natural choice for Laurent. Growing up in the Loire Valley, he was immersed in the industry from a young age: “in my family, we have always been passionate about wine.” He recalls “bottling Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc when I was 10 years-old with my Grandfather in the cellar” and even trying wine from a young age. “I know, you should not say that, but it’s France, it’s allowed.”
As a young man, he began training to become a chef, a career path that would keep wine within his orbit. “The passion for wine just comes naturally with food,” he says. It was through his role as a chef for the Hyatt that Laurent came to live and work in Australia ‒ “the Hyatt in Melbourne was opening in 1986, so they sent me.” Since then, Laurent has enjoyed a long and enviable career working in kitchens and dining rooms around the world, including his own restaurant in St Kilda as well as led teams in several other high profile Melbourne venues. “I saw all the opportunities this country had to offer - all the diversity of the wine industry and the tremendous food ‒ and 35 years later, I’m still here,” Laurent laughs.
For the last 16 years has been the head sommelier for Little Prince Wine, where he brings his years of experience to the masterful wine list. But more than just a sommelier, Laurent is a storyteller whose playful character and impressive knowledge bring wine to life and encourage palates to go where they may not have been before.
When asked what he looks for when selecting wine, Laurent says “I don’t really look for something specific…it's about what you like, what I like, what that guy likes. It’s all about a matter of taste and food, if you’re going to have food with it.” In this respect, Laurent views his role not as an arbiter of taste, but rather a guide. He says “there are things I prefer, of course, and sometimes you're guided by your nostalgia…but I'll always look for what the customer likes and choose an appropriate bottle.”
From the other side of the exchange, his best advice for wine lovers who want to drink well is to go to wine shops and restaurants and speak with the sommelier. That and, follow your budget. “You can spend $16 on a bottle of wine and there is nothing wrong with that.”
And for wine enthusiasts who are looking to learn more about wine and perhaps start their own cellar? Drink widely and with curiosity. “The best thing to do is start travelling, and stop when you pass by a winery. Sometimes you might be surprised, good and bad. But, if you really like something, just buy what you like.”
Laurent certainly maintains the attitude that life is too short to drink wine you don’t love. So, naturally we were curious to know what counts among his favourite wines from Little Prince Wine. With some difficulty, he narrowed it down to 6 must-try wines.
“A lot of people probably think my favourite wine would be red, but I think my favourite wine is probably a white. A few years back, I was in Beechworth, visiting a winemaker I know at Giaconda’s vineyard [...] We went down to that cave and we tried the 2013 in the cellar of the Giaconda Chardonnay. Now, I’ve tried a lot of wine in my life. Lots! And I reckon that's the best chardonnay in the world.”
Another favourite is the Huet Le Mont Vouvray, a classic chenin blanc that hails from Laurent’s native Loire. A fantastic wine with some sentimental ties, Laurent said he would pair with his last meal if he were on death row: “if I had to choose, I would love a plate of langoustine, with some homemade mayonnaise with a glass of Huet Vouvray.”
In terms of red, Laruent identifies the Mount Mary Quintet from the Yarra Valley as “the best representation of Australian Bordeaux blend you could have.” At the more expensive end of the scale, this is a modern Australian classic and is best enjoyed with good food and good company. From the other end of the spectrum, he recommends the Ochota Barrels Fugazi Grenache, a new-wave grenache from Taras Ochota in Adelaide Hills. Laurent describes Taras as “possibly the best grenache maker in Australia. Top bloke too.” Sadly, Taras passed away in 2020. “I'm fortunate enough to have a few bottles of his last vintage.”
For something that offers incredible value for money, he’s quick to single out the Moric Blaufrankisch Reserve. You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with this native Austrian variety. Stylistically, it’s similar in weight to a pinot noir, with plenty of spice and darker fruit. According to Laurent, this is a great expression from an iconic maker Austrian red.
And his final must-try wine? Mitchelton Print Shiraz. “With autumn coming in, I’d have this wine with an omelette, mushrooms and a bit of a liver parfait. Perfect. That's what I’m enjoying at the moment.”