WWC23 – Georges Dos Santos, by Jez Fielder

The Subject and The Author. Antic Wine, Lyon, France

In this entry to our 2023 wine writing competition, wine lover Jez Fielder writes about Lyonnais sommelier and wine-shop owner Georges Dos Santos. See our WWC23 guide for more.

Jez Fielder writes In the heart of Lyon, in the shadow of its grandiose basilica, on the quaint, cobbled street of Rue de Boeuf, resides an unassuming looking establishment known as Antic Wine. But don’t be fooled. Wonders lurk within. 

It's a shop where time loses its exactitude and gravity becomes questionable, bringing together the oldest and most profound stories of human civilisation. Sauvignon Blancs with funky labels at the front, wines from the New World tucked away at the back (this is France, remember), and wines from the previous two centuries behaving themselves admirably in the cellar below. 

The curator of this sanctuary for the bibulous is one Georges Dos Santos, the Lyonnais caviste, importer, and 'flying sommelier' who has dedicated his life to discovering the poetry held within each bottle.

My fascination with him began with simply wanting to buy a decent bottle of wine for dinner. I crossed the threshold, saying ‘bonjour’ as the French are wont to do, and was met with a diminutive man with a glint in his eye who had something of the Calibos from Clash of the Titans about him. “Aha, you’re a rostbif,” he said, and I duly acknowledged my guilt. 

Dos Santos, a man who identifies himself as much by his birthplace in France as by his Portuguese ancestry, is no ordinary wine merchant. His remarkable knowledge, insatiable curiosity, and unrivaled passion for the noble grape make him a true ambassador of oenological culture. Dos Santos does not just sell wine – he lives it, breathes it, and shares the experience with anyone fortunate enough to step into his domain. And I am grateful for the day that I did. 

He is my favourite wine person in the world. Why? Because of his infectious enthusiasm for conviviality and discovery. Exhibiting, with constant charm and charisma, both the knowledge and the humour to impart such knowledge universally. 

“But do you like it?” he used to ask before he knew me better (he’s now certain I like everything he ever decides to give me). And now that’s the question I ask others. It’s the absolute antidote to wine snobbery. But always do it, like Georges does. With a smile and a laugh. 

For me, this makes Georges the unique magnet that he is. Irresistible as host or co-conspirator. And this infection has spread, and spread worldwide. The Flying Sommelier is no misnomer. One day he’s in Portugal with winemakers and chefs, the next he’s suddenly in Edinburgh with the Krug crew, and by the end of the week he has produced one of his extraordinary instagram posts cooking up a storm in his ‘other shop’ up the road and advertising his case of the week, which is always unusually good value for money and full of beautiful stories.

Above his head, if he’s standing behind the counter and not in the netherworld of his labyrinthine cellar, is a guitar. He collects them, and there’s always music playing in the shop. Georges understands that the senses are the source of our enjoyment, of our understanding, so, for him, music is also sacred, to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut. And, after the manner of the late satirist himself, Georges is completely analogue. 

When I ask him his next convenient evening for a drink, out comes this flaccid, thinning makeshift calendar printed from Google. He swishes away the pages like he’s playing a Hawaiian guitar. He suddenly stops as the idea hits him that there could be more to this assignation. “I’m ‘osting Raphaël and Vincent Bérêche next Thursday, maybe you can come to that and we can talk then?” And sure enough I turn up and watch Georges introduce the brothers, explain their uniqueness with passion, all while conducting the evening with food pairings and so much jollity that it’s impossible not to be enthralled. 

Eating on the street terrace of a restaurant in Tours, in the Central Loire Valley, I mentioned living in Lyon. “Oh, haha, you must know Georges.” Note the laugh before the language - that’s the effect. 

So let me reinforce something. The sense of humour. In our everyday lives, we underestimate and undervalue humour and its ability to transform us. We always remember that we laughed. Not always what about, but we know we laughed. As sacred as music, and as sacred, dare I say, as thoughtfully-made wine, laughter cannot ever be dissassociated from the convivitality to which winemakers and wine drinkers together aspire. Georges always reminds me how important and potent laughter is. 

He began collecting wine at the age of 13. By 15 he had dropped out of conventional schooling to become a cook. He then travelled the world for five years, before a three year stint in my home country of England, where, presumably, he learned that he would not, after all, be physically admonished if he called someone a rostbif. Then he returned to Lyon and opened what has become my favourite wine shop in the world. 

Antic Wine is more than a mere point of sale – it's a social hub, a venue for shared experiences, and an educational forum where knowledge and anecdotes flow as generously as the wine. Dos Santos engages with every customer, offering them a story, a piece of history, and an opportunity to appreciate the complexity of wine beyond its taste. His clients are not just customers, but fellow adventurers invited to journey through the diverse landscapes of the world, as seen through the lens of wine adoration. 

He has inspired me to inspire others. I will never forget that. 

The photograph, of Jez and Georges at Antic Wine, is the author's own.