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Take Five with our Resident Sommeliers

Have you ever wondered about the journey to become a Sommelier?

What even is a Sommelier? ….Well, a Sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine dining restaurants, who specialize in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing.

And it just so happens we have two expert Sommeliers at Dromoland Castle bringing their A-game each night at our signature restaurant, Earl of Thomond at Dromoland Castle.

When it comes to knowing your wines, let’s face it – most of us have a type of grape, or a country of origin we like, but often still wonder how best to navigate a Wine Menu.


Take Five with Ian and Lily to learn more about a Sommelier’s interesting trade….


Lily could we start with exploring your journey – can you share your journey of becoming a Senior Sommelier at Dromoland Castle and how you cultivated your expertise in wine?

I started in Dromoland Castle in 2021 as an assistant sommelier. I had previously worked in London, Italy and France, mostly in cocktails before I developed an interest in wines when I moved to Burgundy and started working in fine dining.  Dromoland supported my education and I successfully obtained the WSET level 2 before I left to be part of the opening team of the Cashel Palace Hotel, where I further developed my skill set, alongside obtaining the WSET level 3.  Being very fond of the West of Ireland and, of course, Dromoland Castle, I returned as a Senior Sommelier in June 2022 and started the Diploma a bit later that year.


And Ian, for you, how did this fascinating journey with wine begin?

For me, it all began on family holidays to Europe. We would stay near vineyards and try the local cuisine and the local wine that the restaurant servers would recommend.

Then once I got to Dromoland I did a restaurant and bar management programme which had a WSET wine course in it which I really enjoyed. Once I had started the course an opportunity to join the Sommelier Team came up and I asked the Restaurant Manager at the time Tony Frisby could I try my hand at the job, that was 22 years ago!!


Lily – For wine enthusiasts looking to deepen their knowledge, what advice would you offer as the most effective learning approach?

I think there is so much out there, it really depends what works for them. Social media content, vineyard visits and/or wine tastings, books, e-books, podcasts and a more formal approach with wine courses. I would cover the classics first and then try the lesser-known styles and regions but again there is no hard rule. Tasting is just as important as learning and so is travelling to the vineyards.


And Ian what is your take?

Depending how involved someone would like to get, visiting the region of the wines you like and immersing yourself into the Country. Try wines and keep notes of each wine you try while looking at the map of the region. There is only so much you can learn from a book but to try the wine and you can make your own opinion about it. It stays in your mind much better this way I think.



Could you highlight an unexpected and successful food and wine pairing that you’ve discovered at Dromoland Castle? 

Lily: A 2007 Colheita Port with a pumpkin tart for our Thanksgiving tasting menu, such a treat for the start of last year’s festivities.

Ian:  Salted caramel chocolate tart with caramel ice cream paired with Anejo Tequila or Passionfruit Creme Caramel and Yuzu Sake !!


Lily – Which vineyard visit stands out as the most memorable for you, influencing your selections for Dromoland Castle’s wine list? 


My first visit of “La route des Vins” in Burgundy. It was some time before I got seriously into wines so I had a very simple approach to the visit. I walked into a few cellars, tasted a few wines and had a nice meal in Beaune in the evening. I had cycled from Dijon but had bought so many bottles I had to travel back on the train!   What I remember the most is how incredibly passionate the people were. How they wanted to talk about their wines, how they are made, why they made it this way, share a vision, a craftsmanship and their own definition of what wine is. To this date, to share, to transmit and to innovate is still my vision of what wine is about and the few years I spent in Burgundy greatly influenced the wine professional I am today.


Lily, for those starting their wine exploration journey, what foundational advice would you give to navigate and appreciate wines better? 

Don’t do it on your own. Avoid buying in supermarkets, go to your local wine shop and ask for advice. A tasting group is a good idea or a few friends who also have an interest. Once you know what you like, go a step further and think about why you like or don’t like what you are drinking!

Ian:  Get a wine aroma box and a wine notebook, it helps train the brain and gets you thinking of the depth of flavours found in wine. If there are local wine clubs or societies in your local area definitely join up as it is a fun way to learn from people already in the trade.


Looking ahead to 2024, what innovative additions or changes do you aim to introduce to Dromoland Castle’s wine list?

Lily: My secret dream is to bring the wine list back to the 800 references it had in the 90s! It will probably take another while so, in 2024, I hope to extend the selection of Spanish, Italian and American wines as I have been guilty of bringing a lot of French references over the last couple of years!!

There will be a few Irish winemaker’s wines joining the menu and we will host a wine dinner later this year to introduce some of the new wines to our guests.   I really want to keep focusing on sustainability and support wineries that are making changes, as I feel this is important for the future of both the hospitality and wine industries.

Ian: For me, in 2024 it might be a bit more of a whiskey trek, as I hope to bring in some whiskey class tastings into the rotation of guest offerings. I am sure at some stage we may do the same with wine tasting and some wine dinners in the coming season.

Ian – give us an insight to some great choices from our current offering.  Are there any hidden or lesser-known wines on Dromoland Castle’s list that you believe guests should explore?

White Choices

Sancerre Raffault – very well made and clarity of flavour is amazing.

Stéphane Ogier, Condrieu, La Combe de Malleval, Rhone Valley, France

Wild Idol, Sparkling Rosé – Non Alcoholic

Red Choices

Caveau de Bacchus, Cuvée des Géologues, Lucien Aviet

Carpineto Farnito, Camponibbio, Tuscany

Ridge, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains

Lily: The Assyrtiko Wild Ferment by Gaia is one of them. It is a lovely white wine, complex enough and an excellent food companion, a must-try as an introduction to Greek wines!

Have a special occasion coming up?  Book in to Earl of Thomond or the Fig Tree Restaurant to experience Dromoland’s finest wine and food pairings this Spring & Summer. 

Open to non-residents/guests also pending availability and pre-booking. 

Book Earl of Thomond here:  Earl of Thomond | Fine Dining Restaurant in Co. Clare | Dromoland Castle

Book Fig Tree Restaurant here: The Fig Tree Restaurant | Gourmet Dining in Co. Clare | Dromoland Castle


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