Best Sommelier of the World – A once in a lifetime experience

Last week (10th -15th of March) the 16th edition of the Best Sommelier of the World contest set up its tents in Antwerp. It seems like only yesterday when we received an email from our President William Wouters (president of the Belgian Sommelier Association and Vice-president of ASI Europe) asking us what we thought of the idea of organizing the 2019 ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest 🙂 .  At that time most of us thought William had lost his mind, but William’s enthusiasm convinced us all. What followed after that specific email, were 3 years of hard work (although I only was supposed to help a little bit 😉 ).

The contest can definitely be compared with the Olympics, as it is an event that is only organized every 3 years where only the best of the best from 63 countries compete against each other. It takes years for the competitors prepare themselves for this contest…. Just like the athletes for the Olympics.   And although they don’t get a ‘money’ price if they win it, it does change their life tremendously. From the moment they win, there are soooo many interesting offers that pass by  that for many years to come they don’t have to worry too much about having spare time 🙂  but even for those who don’t win, it opens doors in their own country and gives opportunities that maybe before were unreachable.  So it represents so much more than only a contest… it can (to my opinion) be seen as a life changer and that is why I was glad to be help a hand to make this event a success.

Most people I mention the contest to immediately make the reflection that the competitors only need knowledge about wine, which is obviously a big part of it, but it is also about so much more than that… it is also about coffee, tea, beer, cigars, distillates, juices, hospitality , etc… This also explains why they have to prepare themselves for years, as it a looooot of info to put in their brain.

A question I’ve heard a lot the last few years, was how the sommeliers actually got selected to compete. Every country will ask the winners from the local championship (sometimes also finalists) from the last 10 years who is up for it (as it takes a lot of sacrifices). For the remaining group, we organize a ‘mini’ competition and the winner from this competition can compete.

When William started talking 3 years ago about the championship and experiences he had from all the previous editions from both continental as the world contest that he was part of since the early ‘90’s  , one thing was sure, we wanted to make it an extra special edition. Extra special, as this edition would be exactly 50 years after the 1st edition that was held in 1969 in Brussels. It would also be the first urban edition, as unlike in previous editions we wouldn’t be visiting vineyards. Another important things was to try to take the dust off the image ‘sommeliers’ often have (which is also the mission of the ASI).

Quickly we noticed that we couldn’t manage an event of this size alone. First of all as besides the contest, you have to organize masterclasses, a program for people travelling along with the official delegations, meals, logistic movements, etc… for over 300 people that travel to Belgium for a whole week. But also that it is just a business we don’t know that much about. That’s when our friend Mich Van Aerde and his event company Balthazar came in the picture. They have done an outstanding job in the last 3 years, as some circumstances didn’t always make it easy  for them to wrap their heads around the whole event (also because of constant changes, etc…) and get the work done.

Now that we had that, the next very important thing, was gathering the money to be able to actually organize the event 🙂 this is where our path crossed the path of Claire Berticat. She took in charge all the negotiations with all potential partners (of who many became actually became a partner).

From time to time It has been a bumpy ride, it took blood, sweat and tears… but we (or at least that’s how I experienced it) were a team headed for the same goal, making the 2019 Best Sommelier of the World a World class event where they would talk about for many years to come … and I modestly think we succeeded?!!  Funny enough the week of the contest felt a bit like a wedding party, you are present, but did you actually got to fully enjoy  it? 🙂 I’m exaggerating, I enjoyed it very much 😉 😉

I did get to see a bit of the contest itself here and there, but there were so many things going on behind the scenes, so basically I got to experience it less then I had hoped.

What I will always treasure is all the wonderful people I got to meet  and things I got to experience during the 3 year adventure and I hope to see many again in the future.  It was also wonderful hearing from so many people from around the globe that we did a great job and receiving many compliments… this makes all the hard work worth it!

I wish I could have freed up more time to help, but nevertheless I hope my little contribution to this event made a bit of difference. If you want to know how the week went, please check out the below footage from the whole week!! As it will give you a better view then when I would explain it 🙂

I want to thank all the great people I was fortunate enough to work with and from who I’ve learned a lot: William Wouters, Mich van Aerde, Claire Berticat, Sofie Van der Poel, Tania Asselberghs, Niels Goyvaerts, Domien Van Aerde, Bob van Giel, Amandine Vandeputte (PR/Communication)  and Katrin Bilmeyer for their devotion and outstanding work.  Also thank you to all the people behind the ASI, not to forget all the previous winners of the World title who were present at the finals (even Armand Melkonian who won in 1969)

But this event wouldn’t have been as good without the many many volunteers that travelled from far to help us a hand like Filipa Pato, William Wouters (there are 2 William’s in the Belgian Sommelier Association, this is the other one 🙂 ), Katia Wouters, Marijke Bilmeyer, Bart Sap, Gerard Devos, Kris Lismont, Els De Brucker, Douglas Wouters, Hanne Lesage, Lucas Delforge, Steven Wullaert Bram van der aa, David Hsaio, Jean-Marc BrasseurEllen Franzen, Karim Hayoun, Yiannis Stefanides, Giannis Papachristoforou , Ketil Sauer, Saskia Schurink, Guillaume Coret, Allard Sieburgh, Nelson Guerreiro, Pedro Noguiera, Sergio Pires, Tomas Carreira, Adrian Jipa, Ivan Nikolic, Nenad Nedimovic, Anika Manojlo, Milena Zakaric, Milica Papic, …

Not to forget Belgian helpers and students from hotel school PIVA who helped during the gala dinner. I do hope I didn’t forget anybody!

Last but not least I do want to thank all the AMAZING partners that believed in our project and have kept supporting us until the very end. Thank you Austrian Wines, Inter Rhône, Le Wine, TorresPerrin, Bellavista, Zonin, Gusbourne, Bairrada, Grahams, Vinventions, Port of Antwerp, city of Antwerp,  Flemish Government, Clarence Dillon, Malartic Lagravier, Duvel, Gerard Bertrand, Farnese, Carlos Ruben, M’as tu vu, Decanter, etc… and obviously mostly the people behind these brands 🙂


Without all of the above mentioned people (and I hope I didn’t forget anybody, but if I did I apologies as we are of course also thankful to them) there would have not been a 16th Edition of best Sommelier of the world.

It was fun and I met lots of people, but I’ll be honest that I’m also very glad it is over 😉 😉  it literally will be a once in a lifetime!!  Once again congratulations to the new Best Sommelier of the World Marc Almert!! Also To the 2 runners up Raimonds Tomsons & Nina Højgaard Jensen  and of course to our very own Antoine Lehebel who became 10th. Very proud of you all.

Bistro Vintage 2.0

As you might know, I almost never write 2 times about the same restaurant… but sometimes I make an exception.  Last weekend my wife and I thought it was time again for a date. Basically a moment without our 2 lovely children 🙂  The checklist for our date: eating outside, reachable by bike and great food/wines.   The place that checked all the boxes was Bistro Vintage!! Only 8minutes by bike, a wonderful garden aaaaand very gastronomical.

Bistro Vintage used to be the ‘second’ restaurant of the 2 Michelin star awarded restaurant Nuance. Back at that time the few times I had a meal here, the food was good, but there was something missing… or rather someone. In my opinion (and I had heard other people sharing that same opinion) what was missing was maturity and somebody more experienced in the restaurant.  I always found it a pity that a restaurant in such a beautiful location and so much potential didn’t meet up 100% with expectations.

The trigger for me to visit and write about Bistro Vintage again was/is because of 1 person Steven Wullaert (former head-sommelier of restaurant Nuance) who took over Bistro Vintage about a year ago 🙂 .  I was pretty sure that Steven would be able to get the restaurant back on track and bring the (for me) needed experience to the restaurant and take it to the top.

My guts was right! Everything I had hoped for that would change after Steven’s arrival, changed in a positive way. From the moment you enter the restaurant until you leave again you can feel the organization. This combined with great food and the company of beautiful my wife made it a wonderful date!!

Although the ‘a la carte’ menu looked wonderful and every dish on it would make my taste buds very happy, we decided to go for the tasting menu. The same actually goes for the wine list 🙂 I gave my full confidence to Steven… why wouldn’t I, in 2012 Steven won the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium AND he worked for many years as head sommelier of a 2 Michelin Star restaurant (not even talking about everything he did before)… so I’m pretty sure if somebody should advise us nobody better than him 🙂

After a few delicious appetizers we were served our menu starting with braised beef with Artichoke, beet, fermented garlic and Savora Mustard, followed by Breton sardine, tomato, Romanesco, Rouille and almond. As main course we were served slow cooked veal with focaccia, curry, cauliflower feta, pesto and pommes soufflées.

The strawbery on the cake was the dessert ( no cherries for us this time;-) ;-))  Strawberry with champagne parfait, Cara Crakine sugar, petit gervais ice cream and sugar waffle.

As for the wines, I got another important lesson!! I still have lot to learn and taste 🙂  As Steven knows I’m a big wine lover he never told me up front which wines he served with the dishes…  so basically it was up to me to tell him what it was. In my defense, I’m not a professional sommelier (and I don’t pretend to be, I’m only surrounded by many all the time), nor do I taste/drink every day … which basically makes it all more difficult. My biggest ‘problem’ during tastings is often that I do recognize what I smell and taste, but linking it with the correct wine isn’t always easy… On many occasions I do guess it, but unfortunately also many where I don’t 🙂 🙂 but that’s the fun of the game I guess, isn’t it?

Anyhow I would advise everybody to visit Bistro Vintage 2.0 and hopefully they’ll like version 2.0 as much as I did!!

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight

With the ASI World Championship for Sommeliers being held in Belgium (Antwerp aka the most beautiful city in the world 😉 ) in 2019 I thought is was time to put another key person of a restaurant  in the spotlight… I mean it are always the chefs that are put in the spotlight, but  to create a full gastronomical experience it takes  so much more than only food, the beverages that accompany the dishes for example are as essential for the experience! So time for a change I’d say and put that spotlight on the sommeliers. They deserve it !

I know you might find it strange that I am putting this job on a pedestal even though I’m not a sommelier myself…  but let’s say that there are  2 persons to blame for me finding a passion that is not my profession 🙂 My Dad and  William ‘Pato’  Wouters (who I met through my dad 20 years ago)  🙂 🙂 My dad because he introduced me into the world of good wines (and food in general)  and William for helping me widening my horizon ad showing me different aspects in the world of wines  and introducing me in the world of Sommellerie. A few years later  I’m a board member of the Belgian Sommelier Association , Co-organizer of the ASI Sommelier World Championship and being as much as possible busy with wine and sommeliers … so you could say it has found a way to my heart.

What is a sommelier? I know that around this topic there is a lot of confusion. Most people think that a sommelier is only responsible for serving wine, but they do much more.  A sommelier is a trained  (HoReCa) professional with  deep knowledge of how food and wine, beer, spirits soft-drinks, cocktails, mineral waters, and tobaccos work in harmony (on top of what the job of a waiter implies). It is their mission to give an extra dimension to the meal you are having  :-).

In the past year I’ve been fortunate enough to have done over 80 interviews with TOP sommeliers form all over the world (and I will continue interviewing) from the great Gerard Basset to Arvind Rosengren  to Sören Polonius.. .  FYI It does me great pleasure to see  that many Sommelier Associations from other countries have taken over these interviews and translated in their local language and even started putting more of their own sommeliers in the spotlight… so basically spreading the word and making the job of sommelier more popular.

What I learned from all the interviews I did is that  in bigger cities like London, Paris or Brussels or countries like Japan or the US the job of Sommeliers is mostly valuated as it should and most restaurant owners understand the added value of having a  sommelier in their restaurant. But what surprised me maybe even more was that in many ‘smaller’ countries or countries you won’t expect the job of sommelier is taken serious the situation improving as many new Sommelier Associations are founded and many are also joining the ASI (International Sommelier Association)!! What Sommelier Associations  do is giving chances to young people to discover the a wonderful world, to build an International career and bring together people with the same passion.    There a many examples of sommelier whose life changed and turned 180° thanks to their local sommelier association.

Anyhow I can only advise you to check out the interviews with the sommeliers and let them be the shining star for a change 🙂 You can find the interviews (English) via following link 

Sommeliers themed lunch: Prosecco vs Champagne and cava

Champagne, cava, prosecco or another bubbly wine… everybody has their favorite, but are they able to distinguish that same favorite when tasting blind? Last week I was present at yet another wonderful sommelier themed lunch organized by Zonin in presence of Lorenzo Zonin. What I always like about their lunches is that you learn enormously! Not only just by listening to the top sommeliers who are also present or to Lorenzo Zonin, but also by yourself. Every lunch they have a different theme and all wines you get are always to be tasted blind. Of these wines you have to distinguish (depending of the theme) what wine it is, vintage, kind of grapes used, etc… I can say for a fact that we’ve (as it wasn’t only me) discovered many great wines . What  I think for all of the lunches I’ve already had the one still most stuck in our minds is the American Barolo styled wine from the Zonin estate in Virginia as everybody was convinced that it was a very old Barolo Piemonte!


What usually happens during these lunches is that the Zonin wines are put next to sometimes French wines, American wines from other colleague estates or sometimes against wines from different Zonin estates. They do this as this way they can see how they should/could improve their wines (in a nutshell). Our theme this time  was sparkling wines. So it was  Zonin sprakling wines (Prosecco) versus Champagnes and top cava’s. I know many amongst you think it is easy to distinguish which is which, but trust me blind tasting is harder than you might think. What makes it even more mind breaking is that it could be either 3 and having to tell which grapes they used adds extra spice 🙂 Let’s not forget that I’m an amateur, not a pro sommelier.

blind-tasting blind-tasting-2

Let me first start with a few facts  about  Prosecco. Something I didn’t know is that Prosecco that now is mostly known as a regional product from around Treviso actually originates from Friuli (from the 8th century) or  better from the village Prosecco on the Karst hills above Trieste (so right next to the Slovenian border). Although back then it was called a Pucinum wine produced with Glera grapes (and I’m pretty sure there were not yet too many refined bubbles involved.  Prosecco DOC can be made in 556 villages spread over 9 provinces in 2 regions Trieste and Treviso.  For it to become DOCG it would need to come from specific villages around Valdobbiadene , Colli Asolani  or Coneglino Valdobbiadene.  It is only since 2009 that use of vintages has become a common thing. Also in contrast to Champagne or Cava, with Prosecco there is no fermentation in bottles.  Tasting notes: Prosecco is very fruity and floral with in general dominant notes of green apple and pear. If you would go to the more refined Prosecco’s you’ll find aromas of peach and almonds.


The biggest difference between Prosecco, Champagne and Cava would first of all be the types of grapes used.  For Prosecco this would be mainly Glera (Verdiso, Bianchetta, Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio & Pinot Nero up to 15%). For Champagne this would be Pinot Noir, Pinot Munier & Chardonnay. For cava it are Macabeu, Parellada & Xarello (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Subirat Parent). FYI to know more about the grape variaties check this link .  I know some people tend to say that Prosecco is sweeter, but I think they are confusing Prosecco with Moscato d’Asti that is indeed a sweet bubbly wine. Another difference between the 3 would be type types there are. Prosecco only has Brut, Extra Dry, Dry or Demi Sec… our French and Spanish French add Extra Brut, Extra Sec(o), Sec(o) and Doux/dolce. Although the biggest difference next to the grapes would be the bubbles itself .  FYI, the facts above are generally speaking as of course it all depends of the winery, etc…

vicky sommelier-themed-lunch-3 me lorenzo-zonin catherine

The location for this edition of sommeliers themed lunch was restaurant Tartufo   (just outside Brussels).  A great discovery btw!!

chef-at-work-2 chef-working

Chef Kayes Ghourabi  has made it a meal to remember.  The first dish we were served (after a wonderful series of tasty appetizers) was scallop with foie gras d’oie and truffles. Paired with this we got 3  glasses. For us to tell which was the Champagne, Cava or Prosecco 🙂   The 2nd glass everybody was convinced it was top cava, but when they revealed the bottles it ended up to be Champagne by Devaux .  We didn’t see that one coming… then again that’s part of the game. So the first one was a Prestige 1821 DOCG Prosecco by Zonin, 2nd (Blanc de Noirs) and 3rd glass (Cuvée D) a different champagne by Devaux . The Cuvée D combined freshness with lovely orangy/mandarine notes 🙂 . In Prestige the freshness comes first with notes of green apple and nice aromas.

appetizer 5 Appeziter 1 appetizer 2 appetizer 3 appeziter 4

Scallop with Foie gras

Zonin Prestige Devaux champagne 1 Champagne devaux 2

With the sparkling wines served with the next dish (Seabream with tomatoes, basil and olives) we were lifted up the next level of tasting as we had to say which grapes was used in the 3 glasses of Prosecco?! Was it Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco or Pinot Nero. The Pinot Bianco is somehow the ‘easiest to distinguish as it is the most exuberant/aromatic of all 3… or at least that’s the theory… Even if I didn’t immediately found out which one was which I must admit my preference out of 3 went to the Pinot Bianco , second place would go to the Pinot Nero and 3rd place would go to the Pinot Grigio. Not that any of them would be a sacrifice to drink 🙂


With the Main course which was Pike Perch (fish) with butternut and salsify we didn’t get 3, but 4 glasses again with the task to say if it were Champagne, Cava or Prosecco… It resulted in there being served 2 Prosecco’s: 1 Frizzante and 1 classic Cà Bolani Prosseco  DOC (always a winner and an every man’s friend) and 2 Cava’s : MVSA Brut Nature and  Masia Sabor Brut.

Pik perch

masia-sabor mvsa-brut-nature prosecco-doc

The ‘easiest’ sparkling wine to distinguish  was the one that came with the chocolate dessert. You could immediately tell it was a prosecco because of the smell, the looks and the ‘bubbles’ being thicker. When they put it in out glass the foam stayed a while in the glass… just like with a pint of beer. It was the zonin ICE demi-sec. Attractively intense, very fruity and aromatic with hints of jasmine and ripe Golden apples. It is deliciously well balanced….

Cholate Moeulleux


Again glad I could be part of this wonderful event!! My favorites of the day were the Zonin White Edition , the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Prestige 1821, Cà Bolani Prosseco  DOC , MVSA Brut Nature  and the Cuvée D

For more info on Zonin wines please contact Hasselt Millésime or Winespot

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Caro Maurer

Now that we are only a few days away from knowing who will be the new Best sommelier of Belgium it seems nice to know which international top sommeliers will be judging and grading our finalists. The next judge I want to introduce is German  Master of wine Caro Maurer. Caro is /was actually a writer who started hew career in the US writing  in the lifestyle section of magazines and newspaper like Forbes and Die Welt . Since the 90’s a freelance writer fully concentrating on food and wine for several famous German magazines and newspapers.


Knowing she’s been writing about food and wine for many years now and has been top student of her class during her WSET training/exam and on top of that is a Master of wine (which is still one of the most difficult things to come in the world of sommeliers) … we can be sure she knows a loooooot about it.  Caro will be judging during contest of Best sommelier of Belgium together with other female masters of wine like Romana Echensperger and Fiona Morisson .


Just like with the other judges I posted 10 questions to Caro to find out more about the world of sommeliers.


What is your favorite wine region to work with?

This is depending on the work! If this is about tasting wine then my favorite regions would be Bordeaux, Burgundy and Mosel. Is it about writing an article my favorite regions would always be the ones where I have not yet been: Romania for example or India. Is it about wine travelling it would be New Zealand which is a country I felt in love with. Is it about teaching or explaining a wine region it might be Germany because I do know the most about it.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

To listen to the guest and not only insisting in the own convictions. To help guests to overcome their insecurity and  not to make them feel embarrassed. To develop an individual style and offer authentic wines rather than mainstream.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I do not think so. The last decade there was a cult built around chefs, this decade belongs to the sommeliers. They are the superstars in the restaurants. What more could they wish to be?

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

End of the 80s I was living in New York and in these days Californian or American wines in general have not been very impressive. I had to drink so much bad wine that I decided this was enough and there shall be only good wines in my glass for the rest of my life – and I started to look for them and began too study them.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

By the nature of my work I would like to choose my big examples from my wine radius: Jancis Robinson and Professor Monika Christmann, the current president of OIV, for their overall knowledge about wine and for their achievements as female pioneers in the world of wine.


What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

Asking a sommelier for advice…

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

There are far to many to choose from and therefore I seek the answer closest to me: Mosel as this is not only a unique landscape with its steep vineyards but you will also find unique wine styles which cannot be copied anywhere else in the world.


For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

How could I name it before I have ever tasted it? The best wines are not necessarily the big names but the ones which surprise me, touch me and remain unforgettable in my mind.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

The most wonderful memory of my studies? The moment it was over and I have passed. The studies were like climbing the Mount Everest. And passing was like reaching its top and starting to enjoy the great view.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

The best experiences cannot be planned or booked. These come when you share a bottle of simple wine in a rural bistro with dear friends and you will enjoy this moment more than any Grand Cru. Or after helping out at harvest and drinking a glass or two with all others when the work in the vineyards is finally done. This might be only the estate wine but you might think that this is the best what you have ever enjoyed.

Time to put the sommeliers I the spotlight: Antonio Lopes

Now that we are less then a week away from the finals of the contest of Best Sommelier of Belgium I will introduce to you another top sommelier who is part of the International jury during the contest.  This time I had the honor of interviewing Antonio Lopes (28) who is head sommelier of the Conrad hotel in the beautiful Algarve and was elected as bet sommelier of Portugal in 2014.


Not that I already want to reveal to much of his answers, but what I found remarkable is that until 2008 Antonio didn’t even like wine 🙂 8 years later he’s an awarded sommeliers giving master classes all over the globe and is he true ambassador of Portuguese wine  and gastronomy! Just like he did during last year during Taste Portugal London.


In the past few years Antonio has gained lots of experience both in restaurants/hotels Portugal and Scotland. Although he admits that the job where the ‘passion’ grow and learned most was during he years at the  Vila Vita Parc hotel where he was assistant-sommelier of Paulo Duarte.  Although Antonio has lots of passion for his job leaving Portugal is something else as he admits:”my biggest ‘problem’ is that I love Portugal, and when I think of leaving, that’s always a factor that holds me back.”


I’m sure of 1 thing, you will hear a lot of Antonio in the future!!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

It is very difficult to only mention one, so If I can I will mention 3 reds and 3 whites:

Reds: Bairrada, Barolo, Burgundy(Vosne- Romaneé)

Withes: Mosel, Burgundy(Meurseult), Vinho Verde

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Passion, working hard, a good memory is a must, presence and humbleness. Those are ”adjectives” , but let me put in words. For me to be a good sommelier you must first of all love to be in contact, serve and talk with people and in some ways you must be a “psychologist”. Secondly you must always give yourself 100% at your working place even if it sometimes takes you blood sweat and tears. It is nice to be noticed and that everybody knows you’re the sommelier and you might think yourself being a star, but you must also not forget that the only “stars” in a restaurant are the guests!! Not the Sommeliers and definitely not the chefs…

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

In Portugal? For sure

In other countries such as the U.K. sommeliers are always very respected, searched for and well paid.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Before 2008 I never touched wine. My dad is a wine producer for own use and I never liked the smell, not to say repulsive 🙂 . From 2008 onward this repulsiveness changed thanks to the sommeliers of a great resorts in Portugal and Scotland where I worked as assistant for the sommeliers. It was at that time I could feel that this was what I wanted to do till the end of my days.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

My “bar” teacher Eduardo Vicente as he gave me the basics of serving. In terms of wine, Dirk Niepoort, Mário Sergio and João Pires (MS)


What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

If I’ve understood the question correctly I would say I approach every single dish differently. I try to adapt my choice  to the taste of guest. How we usually work at the Conrad hotel is the Chef lets me know on a piece of paper which dish he will be making. As following step I will divide all the elements according acidity, richness, flavors, if the dish is served hot or cold, etc…. then I decide the pairing effect I want to achieve  do I want a shock effect, or extend the dish or add an extra dimension to the dish?  Finally when I decided all that I’ll taste dish (and elements used) and try to put a wine next to the dish.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

This will be the easiest question, Douro!! 🙂

Douro, is a paradise on earth!! The landscapes, the wines, the history, the people, the food, the ports, the uniqueness….not enough words to describe how wonderful it is.


For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

Chateau D’Yquem 1787, and I ‘m not even a ‘sweet wine’ person.


What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

Everything 🙂 . I know it seems like a very easy and maybe unbelievable answer, but viticulture is a passion I have and therefore I love to go in wine regions like Champagne, Burgundy, etc… or even to school and listen to all the processes with all its pro and contras and especially learn how they dealt with this problems to resolve them.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

My mother’s arroz de cabidela and homemade bread

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Romana Echensperger

Let me introduce to you one of the international top sommeliers that will be judging during the competition of Best Sommelier of Belgium Romana Echsperger.  Since 2015 Romana is one of the 8 Masters of wine in Germany  who has gained much experience during her years as (head) sommelier in lots of high-end restaurant like restaurant Vendôme *** near Cologne. Romana has also done lots of internships in Germany, Spain and Italy and has won many national and international sommelier titles


The last few year she has mostly been travelling the world as wine educator, wine consultant, journalist and ambassador promoting  German wines around the globe. So she’ll be the perfect person to teach me more about German wines as I almost know nothing about them 😦 Romana has also co- written a book about the basics from wine together with another big wine personality Janice Robinson and Filip Veheyden.



Let’s get to know Romana a bit better and see what she has answered to the 10 questions I posed her 🙂


What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Difficult to say, there are so many regions that I love. However, if I should decide I would go for Franconia. I love Silvaner which they have on commitment and fits with almost any food (I am a notorious  underdog-supporter)

Furthermore, you find great Riesling and Pinot Blanc as well as outstanding Pinot Noir over there. So – what do you need more for some perfect pairings?

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

20% humor

20% having no „porcelaine-allergy“ – meaning: be a good colleague!!!

20% high level knowledge about psychology and psychological disorders to survive in a restaurant

20% Very good general knowledge – to be able to do some convincing small talk (don’t say thinks like „Madrid or Mailand – Italy is always worth traveling“)

10% Very good physical condition and being able to organize yourself

10% Knowledge about wine, food pairing, service, etc.,…

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

No – I don’t think so. I think if you are long enough in the business you and you are doing a good job, you get more attention then in any other business.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

In the restaurant during my apprenticeship in the Hotel Königshof in Munich. They have a tremendously big wine list and one of the best Sommeliers (which is still working there). One day he brought me a tasting sample from a bottle that he just opened with the words: „Taste – It’s not bad“ – it was Romanée Conti out from a Magnum bottle. If you don’t know anything about wine – I got immediately that this is something special.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

Stéphane Gass from the Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube in Traube Tonbach. I don’t know anybody who is a better taster.


What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

Texture, Texture, Texture!!! I was never the type of Sommelier who was sniffing himself to death – talking about hundreds of flavors. The texture of wine and food has to fit – then comes the basic aromatics.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

Mosel – to understand how much work it can be to get a damn glass of wine.


For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

For great Burgundy and Champagne

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

The inauguration party when I became Master of Wine. It was in the vintner’s hall in London – the atmosphere was so stunning. Furthermore, my beloved parents, who never travelled that much, were there.

I will never forget my father sitting in the corner with my MW colleague from Japan – Kenichi Ohashi and laughing themselves to death.

I asked him later „Hey Dad – what did you say to him? You don’t speak English and he doesn’t speak German?“

My father said: „I think he asked me where I come from.“

Me: „And what did you say?“

My father: „Oh – Bayern München“

Kenichi said then: „Oh – Beckenbauer“

My father: „Oh – Schweinsteiger“

So this was the whole conversation – talking about soccer stars. This was so funny.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

Drinking the best wine that you have at home with the most beloved people.

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Sören Polonius

I’m very glad to introduce to  you yet again a very remarkable sommelier! This man is the founder of “Swesomm” (that if my Swedish is still up to date is the Swedish Sommelier Guild 🙂 ) ,  breeder of international TOP sommeliers as he was the coach of 2 winners of the ASI World Sommelier Championships (Andreas Larsson 2010 & Arvid Rosengren 2016) and a few European Champions. He’s also holder of the title of best Swedish Sommelier and sommelier of the year and an example to lots of Nordic (and far beyond) sommeliers.  The president of the Belgian Sommelier Guild William ‘Pato’  Wouters calls him the Mourinho amongst the sommeliers 🙂 🙂

soren-with-andreas-larsson soren-with-arvid-rosengren

Next to all the coaching he’s also head sommelier of the renowned Esperanto restaurant group .  I didn’t have the pleasure yet to meet Sören, but I hope we soon will cross paths 🙂


I always like to know what a person who is an inspiration to lots of people has himself as source of inspiration or way of looking at this… That is why I also send the below 10 questions to Sören. Feast your eyes on his answers 🙂


What is your favorite wine region to work with?

As a sommelier, i´m trying not to get “stuck” in one single field, but my hart beats a bit harder for Burgundy and Wachau to be honest. Of course, I don’t want to discard Champagne and California, nor Bordeaux. It´s always a difficult question. It´s like choosing between Your children.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Love, hunger and knowledge. Add the ability to communicate, and You got a very good sommelier.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued? 

I think so. We need to get a bit better to communicate to the rest of the world what we are doing. In contrary to what many think, we´re not only drinking wine day in and day out. It´s about so much more.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

The first little spark were lit while I did a internship at a hotel, and helped the maitre ´d to do the monthly inventory in the wine cellar. He learned me the pronounciation and often told me a short history surrounding the château or domaine. So I got my interrest in a quite romantic “packaging”.

However it took a few Years before I took the full step to educate as a sommelier.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

There´s a lot of sources of inspiration in our world. Gerard Basset and Markus del Monego is just a couple of names that I regard to be among the foremost in our ranks, not only for their deep knowledge, but also for their ability to communicate, and will to share their knowledge.


What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

 Beverages shouldn´t only “work good” with food, it should also lift the course to a higher level. I love to seek new ways, avoiding “old rules” and not only walk on the “beaten paths”. In the end of the day, it´s all about balance, “Yin & Yang”.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why? 

Burgundy, a quite complicated region to many. A visit will shed light to a lot of questions. A bike ride through Côte de Beaune, from Beaune to Puligny with a vineyard map in my hand, was one of the great moments for me while travelling the wine world. A lot of things became so much more clear to me during this bike ride. (Terroir under a magnifying glass.)

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

There´s a few wines that I would give a lot for, in order t taste them. It´s difficult to choose one single specific wine. But it would have been interresting to taste the wine served at the “last supper”…

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

When I graduated from the sommelier education as the number one of class. That was the trigger point for me, from that moment on, I knew that I had found my way “home”.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

We all have the luck to work with a passion, wich often takes us to the best dining rooms and wine cellars in the world. But it´s the “simple” moments that I would recommend all to actively search for. To jump around among the stones during low tide by the shoreline in Brittany, in search for wild oysters, with a bottle of Muscadet in one hand and an oyster knife in the other. That was one of those moments for me.

Another time we were up in northern Norway, in Lofoten, picking whelks in low tide. Preparing them in wine, parsley and garlic. Eating directly out of the pot, drinking a white grand cru from Puligny, gazing out over the sea, under the midnight sun. Gastronomical romanticism!


Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Xavier Faber

Our next sommelier we interviewed is a special case as he isn’t really a sommelier anymore… although once a sommelier, always a sommelier?! I’m talking about our dear friend Xavier Faber former  sommelier with more than 15years experience in restaurants like that brought him to restaurants like Seagrill **, La maison du boeuf, etc.. and managing several restaurant.  Let’s also not forget to mentioned that in 1999 he won the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium!!


After all those years he traded all that wine for water as for the past 10years he’s been working as sales manager for Spadel which is the group that owns BRU and Spa water brands.


What must also be said is whenever Xavier is around the words fun and laughter always come to mind 🙂 He’s one happy camper 🙂 He really likes to spread the love and bring smiles on people’s faces… which actually reminds me of my dad, so maybe that’s why I like him that much.


I know I said he now chose water over wine, but he still does a lot to support young sommeliers and help out wherever he can (he’s a big example/inspiration for lots of people).  That’s also the reason why I wanted to interview him.


What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I don’t really have a favorite wine region, but my preference does go out to European wines

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Something he should definitely have is ‘un sens du contact’, basically understand the customer and being able to communicate to him in words he understands. A sommelier has to offer a moment of joy to the customer not by just giving him his choice, but rather understanding the customer’s urge.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

The sommelier has finally found his rightful place with  recognition he deserves. It is also true that by opening up sommelier contests to the public (to attend the finals, for example) it has given the opportunity to lots of people to better understand the job and all its aspects both technical as theoretical.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I discovered wine during my year in hotel management school thanks to my oenology professor Gérard Devos.
He really pushed me this way by communicating or passing on his passion with enthusiasm. After that my career also gave me the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people that transmitted their passion for wine to me (Eric Boschman, Daniel Marcil, Philippe Stuyck, Giulinao Gianotti, etc…..)


Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

Eric Boschman because he was one of the first sommeliers who had a different view over wine and world wines .
Today he is still very active and remains an great ambassador for/in the sommelier world. Furthermore, he has always shown the many dimensions of a sommelier’s profession that does not only come down to the wine knowledge, but also knowledge about other products a sommelier could propose and serve.

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

Obviously the match of wine and food is important, but the most important  is one to suit everyone. I’m specifically looking for the perfect match, but rather the match  that fits at that particular time or  spot… I love the idea of a good wine with a couple of good friends and a dish with out to much chichi.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why? 

Le Valais. I fell in love with this region for at one side the diversity of its wines, for the ones producing it, but also for the contrasts of the seasons and the beauty of the landscapes. Exploring its wines it a long journey, but you will make lots of great discoveries.


For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste? 

If we talk about financial sacrifices, I never will never do it. I do not like the idea of paying for an expensive bottle of any kind.
On the other hand sacrificing a day of work to go enjoy an old Rivesaltes accompanied by smoking a cigar, I do not say no! 🙂 🙂

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school? 

My best memory of the hotel school was when I won the title of ‘Best sommelier of Belgium”. I remember that I thought I wound stand a chance against the well reputed schools like the ones from Namur, Brugge, Koksijde and in the end it was for me
after all 🙂

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

No wine, no meal without natural mineral water of high quality 😉

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Andy De Brouwer

It is time to put another sommelier in the spotlight! This time we’ll get to know more about Belgian Top sommelier Andy De Brouwer owner ( 4th generation ) of restaurant/hotel Les Eleveurs in Halle (just outside of Brussels). After years working on a Michelin star level  in 2015 Andy thought it was time for something different… basically he wanted to get rid of the ‘stiff’ way of working and the white table cloths . They traded it in to now go for Bistronomie, classical dishes with a twist .  Next to that he has published a few books and writes a wine column for the weekend edition from De Morgen newspaper … to name a few things that is 🙂

When I think of Andy the words  (next to wine) Rock ‘n roll and vintage are the first ones that pop into my head :-). He easily could be a rock star (maybe it just came when seeing the below picture?)… the vintage part is mostly because of his love for old Vespa’s


Once you start talking to Andy something you just cannot deny is his passion for wine… The way he talks about it can only come out of passion… he tells it with so much sparkle in his eyes… I love it!!!  That’s why I’ve already learned so many things from him as there’s no better person to learn from than a passionate man


What many of you might not know is that Andy is also part of the technical comity of the Belgian Sommelier Guild… this basically means that he is one of the people that year after year searches for new/challenging questions for the contestants of both the “senior” as the “junior” sommelier Trophy .


I’m sure you guys are already on the edge of you seat to find out more about Andy… so feast your eyes on his answers on my 10 questions:

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Jerez is without any doubt my favorite wine regions. The region inspired me that much that I even started making my own beer using ‘Zenne y Frontera Lambiek’ old sherry barrels (still with a bit of sherry in them)


What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Understand your client to guide him to the right choice by respecting the signals in terms of budget and figure out what are the main tasting lines he wants to see reflected in his glass. Advising him a few alternatives & sharing your knowledge.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Drinks can represent almost half of the income of a restaurant. Reasons enough to put this part of the business in hands of a professional.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I played all my youth in a enormous wine cellar, thousands of liquid stories captured by a cork, difficult not to be appealed too…

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

Josep Can Roca (El Celler de can Roca) who is also a Jerez lover 🙂


What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

It doesn’t always have to match; sometimes contrasting can be funny too.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why? 
There is no wine region more impressive than the Douro Valley, take the train for a total experience !

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste? 
Romanée Conti, was able to sell a few bottles in my life but never had the opportunity to taste a sip.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school? 
Taking care of the dining room service with some other students at the Miss Belgium competition, playing monkey tricks on the catwalk and eating caviar in the lodges of the famous. 🙂 🙂

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

Lunch at Michel Bras by clear sky in the Aubrac and enjoy the total experience.