MARSHALL Bass, head sommelier at Glasgow restaurant Ubiquitous Chip, fell in love with wine early in his career.
While working in a restaurant in his native Kentucky, Marshall – who was named Wine Personality of the Year, in association with Inverarity Morton, at last year’s SLTN Awards – began taking a keen interest in the different drinks available at the venue and in the local area, starting with bourbon and progressing into beer and then wine.
A couple of regular customers would always order a bottle of nice wine with their meals, and Marshall would find himself discussing their wine choices with them.
Every kind of customer you can imagine comes through here.
“It got to the point they’d come in and split a bottle of wine and give me a glass to try it,” he told SLTN.
“We had a decent wine cellar and I think that’s what started it.”
The interest grew into a full-blown passion after moving to New York, where Marshall worked for an importer initially specialising in Italian wines before expanding into products from around the world.
He said: “There was a lot of opportunity to taste stuff I probably would never have had the chance to taste – stuff I’m still struggling to find now.”
A move to Glasgow was next, where Marshall joined the sommelier team at the Chip.
Despite initially being intimidated by the Chip’s famously robust wine list, he soon got to grips with it, rising to become head sommelier in 2014.
He now leads a team of five sommeliers, as well as curating five separate wine lists – the main restaurant list (with over 250 wines) as well as smaller lists for the brasserie and each of the Chip’s three bars.
It’s a sizeable venue, with a broad cross-section of customers – something that suits Marshall and his sommeliers just fine.
He said: “Every kind of customer you can imagine comes through at one point or another.
“In the restaurant, specifically, you get just as many people who know exactly what they want and don’t want to talk to you about it, you get people who want your opinion between a few things they’re thinking of, or my favourite kind of customer who can tell you what they usually like and then put themselves in your hands.”
The team is more than qualified to advise customers on their wine choices. Each sommelier is accredited to at least WSET Level 3, with Marshall having completed his WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wine.
While Marshall has the top job, however, his sommeliers are also involved in the development of the Chip’s ever-evolving wine lists.
“I’ve always considered the wine list, particularly the main wine list in the restaurant, to be a living document,” said Marshall.
“It’s constantly changing, but one of the things I love about having five sommeliers is you have a lot of opinions and a lot of opportunities to get feedback from customers on things they think we’re missing.”
To avoid frightening the less adventurous, the opening section of the restaurant’s wine list is designed to be self-contained, featuring house wines and those offered by the glass as well as some recommendations.
Can the wine list itself ever be too big? I don’t think so.
More intrepid oenophiles can than venture deeper into the list, where wines are split by country and region.
It’s a wine-lover’s dream, featuring hundreds of different bottles from vineyards across the globe.
Curating the selection is a big job.
“Can the wine list itself ever be too big? I don’t think so, although the owners might disagree with me,” said Marshall.
“But can there be too many Italian wines on a list? There can. Stylistically, you can have too many Sauvignon Blancs on your list, you can have too many Pinot Grigios on your list, even if they’re all from different areas.
“You can have too many Italian reds that are made with Sangiovese, that sort of thing.
“But if we ever got to the stage when we thought we had the perfect wine list and we never had to touch it, someone’s not doing their job right. Because there’s always something else out there.”
Evangelising about wine has long been an important aspect of Ubiquitous Chip’s offer, and Marshall and senior sommelier James Macduffie have continued the venue’s long-running wine club, which is now a bi-monthly wine-tasting evening with food, as well as a regular staff wine club for the team at the Chip and sister venues Stravaigin and The Hanoi Bike Shop.
And Scotland’s wine-loving pub customers are luckier than they might think, said Marshall.
Having started his own wine journey in the States, he reckons the UK is a better location for sampling a wide range of different wines than his home country.
“That’s one of the things I love about living in the UK,” he said.
“Because if you go to France and drink wine, it’s French wine. If you go to Italy it’s Italian wine. When you go to the States it’s Californian wine and then whatever state you’re in, with maybe a few from elsewhere in the world.
“In the UK you go into a restaurant and it’s wines from everywhere.
“You can get your hands on everything in the UK.”