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Interview with Deniz Hardman, Royal Mail Restaurant

By Alex Hunt MW |  November 29 2020

Located within the Royal Mail Hotel, Royal Mail Restaurant serves high quality locally sourced nature-based cuisine. The vast wine collection which has been developed over the past 40 years is overseen by Head Sommelier Deniz Hardman. The wide selection and ideal storage conditions in the hotel’s temperature and humidity controlled cellar sees the wine list regularly awarded internationally. Deniz Hardman tells us more.

Congratulations on being featured in The World of Fine Wine Awards 2015. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?

I’d like to thank the WOFW for recognizing the hard work and dedication of our team. It is always nice to be recognized for the efforts to maintain a list of this size and it can’t be done alone. It’s also a testament to our owner’s dedication and collecting prowess.

Where did your love of food and wine originate from?

Growing up in Turkey, I was around Turkish food and what would be considered American fare on military bases. I don’t think I had Chinese food until after moving to Boston. It instilled in me a curiosity and desire to try new and different cuisines through food. Eventually, that focus transferred to wine when I started experiencing them together, witnessing synergy in my mouth. That led to me spending my time of work studying wine. I mapped out vacations focused around fermented grape juice. Luckily, my girlfriend doesn’t mind tagging along or being the designated driver, which is always helpful.

Was it always your intention to work with food and wine?

I’ve worked in restaurants since college, where I would have “boo-jolais” with leftovers from a night’s shift or the wine mentioned in the song Body Movin’ by Beastie Boys during line-up (Chateauneuf-du-pape). I quickly fell in love with the dynamic nature of service on the floor of a bustling restaurant. Experiencing a wine match at Per Se inspired me to study for the Intro of the Court of Master Sommelier program, as I wanted to orchestrate that same feeling for people of a great wine accompaniment.

Having the cellar here at the Royal Mail to be able to tap into is truly humbling. There’s so much breadth in our collection that I don’t get nervous when our garden produces a staggering amount of asparagus, brussels sprouts, and artichokes, or when Chef Robin decides to put all of those elements together in a dish.

What is the secret to your success?

I’ve taken risks a few times, moving to foreign parts of the world. It’s been a tremendous and rewarding learning opportunity, and I wouldn’t have that had I stayed put.

What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?

Accessibility and ease for the guest. As much as I may enjoy taking someone out of their comfort zone and introducing them to something they may not have had before, I have to broach that in a delicate manner. Selling someone something that I love can backfire, as sommeliers may be excited by quirky drinks over crowd-pleasing drinks. We are, however, satisfying a need based on people’s perception and preferences, and I have fun deciphering what kind of experience the guest is after during a limited exchange.

What trends are you seeing in Australia at the moment?

There seems to be a focus on bio-dynamic wines and whole-cluster fermentation. I’m also happy to see the craft beer movement occurring in Melbourne. In fact, we’ve collaborated recently with Temple Brewing Company to have our season harvest – a Bavarian wheat beer with pink peppercorns and lemon verbena from our garden.

What do you predict for the next 5-10 years for the food and wine industry?

I think there will be a move towards vegan/vegetarian fine-dining with an emphasis on environmentally friendly restaurants, so more sommeliers are going to have in their back-pocket what wines are vegan/organic/biodynamic. In the US, many restaurants are “going green,” a trend I think will continue. I also see Coravin appearing in many more restaurants, pushing for more creativity in wines by the glass across many different venues.

Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?

I’ve always been a fan of Haden Fig coming out of Willamette Valley in Oregon. For the value, it is one of my favorite Pinot’s and wherever I’ve been, I’ve tried to source as much of it as I could. It always brings me back to Silverlake Wine in Los Angeles, where I first had it, and I’m grateful that sensory experiences can be transformative. Krug Grand Cuvee always reminds me of a bowling alley in Hong Kong, drunk in plastic cups amongst friends.

What is your fundamental philosophy on food and fine wine?

If it grows together, it goes together. I believe there is a fundamental flaw in serving an American red with kangaroo. However, a wine program can also benefit from doing the unexpected–it keeps things interesting and the dialogue open between the sommelier and guest.

What is next for you?

I think I’m over-due for a trip through European vineyards. I hope to start in Portugal and buy a “paddock-jumper” that I can drive all the way to Bulgaria with plenty of stops along the way, highlighting Italy and France.

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