Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Benoit Couderé

The next sommelier to put in the spotlight is this year’s Best Sommelier of Belgium Benoit Couderé. Benoit has been head sommelier for many years of the 3 Michelin starred restaurant Karmeliet located in the city center of Bruges. Unfortunately after 33 years,  of which 20 with 3 Michelin stars, Chef/owner Geert Van Hecke decided it was time to close the doors and start enjoying life more.

Benoit Couderé 2

As our dear friend Benoit has a very good reputation it didn’t take too long for him to find a new challenge, he will start working as consultant for the supermarket chain Carrefour. I know it might seem a strange choice, but I’m sure Benoit will be a great added value for Carrefour to lift up their wine assortment to an even higher level in Belgium. When I met Benoit he seemed like a very silent/modest maybe even shy type, but once you start talking about wine all of that changes instantly 🙂 He starts lighting up and starts talking wine in the most fascinating and passionate way.  Just like with the other sommeliers, I asked the same 10 questions to Benoit to find out more about the life of a sommelier.

Benoit Couderé

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Difficult question: German Rieslings, Wachau, Bourgogne, Côte du Rhône, …

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

Knowledge, passion, being social, good with languages, understanding/feeling the ‘food-wine’ language, having a good knowledge of purchase/stock management for his of her wine cellar.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Yes, quite a bit! That’s also why I think restaurants should invest in a good sommelier. On a long term this will have a very positive impact for both the restaurant and the guests visiting it.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Already since I was a little boy I was fascinated by my grandfather’s winecellar and this fascination only became bigger while doing my studies at the  ‘hotel management school at Koksijde .

Of course another thing that played a big role was visits to lots of vineyards… especially when hearing  the passionate winemakers talk and that get their enjoyment of seeing people loving their wines.

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

All colleagues that share the same passion as me and want to share that passion with everybody… friends, guests, family

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

The wine must have a good balance in all its dimensions, only then you can let the wine “connect” with dishes. Obviously the finesse of the preparation must speak for itself.

Some complex wines are sometimes better to be enjoyed without food, to fully enjoy its depth, finesse and character.

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

The Hemel-en aarde valley in South- Africa, in January I was fortunate enough to have visited a few vineyards in the valley that had brilliant wines and breath taking landscapes!!

Hemel en aarde valley

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

Very old madeira vintages en red Burgundy wines from Henri Jayer that I wasn’t able to taste yet…and unfortunately doesn’t get produced anymore 😦 (as owner/winemaker died)

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

In the 5th year of high school we were allowed to bring our own wines from time to time to wine class.

One time my dad gave me an old Pommard to bring to school that had evolved quite vegetal 🙂 at that time not much appreciate by my fellow students, now 13yrs later we would all know better 🙂

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant?

A Geert van Hecke classic Pithivier.  A Puff pastry pie filled with cuckoo Malinois, foie, cream of salsify and truffle. An absolute TOP dish that should be enjoyed with a  Château Rayas 2001 from Châteauneuf-du -Pape

Chateau Rayas 2001


2014 Best Belgian Sommeliers Trophy

Wine has now more than ever become such a great deal of my life and I keep learning every day. Watching this year’s finals of the Best Belgian Sommelier competition made me realise there is still a very long way if I ever want to be as good as the finalists :-). What made this year’s final extra special is that for the first time the “Belgische Sommeliers Gilde”, “Prosper Montagé” and “VVS” have joined their forces in organising 1 collective competition (instead of all separate contests).

Every year again I am surprised how tough the finals of the Trophy of Belgian Sommelier is. Lots of people despise it a bit and don’t get the whole sommelier thing or the importance of it. Trust me when I say a good sommelier who knows what he’s talking about and how things should be done is a world of difference with one who doesn’t! During a dinner for example. I dear you to check it next few times you go out for dinner or lunch and after a while you’ll know what we’re talking about and their importance of making your food experience more complete! Another possibility would be to come and see the 2015 finals as they are open for everybody to come and see. You’ll be surprised of the level these guys work at. before I continue I must introduce this year’s victims 🙂 🙂 : Benoît Couderé (Karmeliet), Antoine Lehebel ( Villa Lorraine) and Jasper Van Papeghem ( Hostellerie L’ Esco )


Some parts of the competition might seem simple, but they’re not. What first of all makes it so difficult is that there are so many different types of wine from so many countries each having their uniqueness but also similarities.Also there some ways/ rules on how bottles should be opened, decanted and served… On top of that all stages of the competition are to be done in certain amount of time going from 3 to 15 minutes. The first “test” is for example a very good example of seeming simple… Just like last year the finalist had to serve according to the rules of the art a particular bottle of J.L Telmont champagne. So far nothing special might think, which is true if it weren’t for the fact the finalist has to explain what is special about the champagne he is serving, taking into account that the oldest person at the table is celebrating its birthday and that all of a sudden somebody from the public joins the table and asks a Belgian beer (and yes here again the finalist has to tell something about)… still taking into account he only has I think it was 10-15minutes (not sure anymore) to fulfill this task and there is a whole room full of top sommeliers, journalists and “regular” people watching your every move .



The most difficult part according to most spectators was where the finalist has to make corrections to a wine list. The errors on the wine list can be grammatical, a wine being in the wrong section of the menu, as well as that for example there is written a wine is Millésime but according to the other specifications it is not possible this wine is a Millésime. Me personally I always find the most difficult part the tasting and recognizing wines or alcoholic drinks… where they have to tell as much as possible about what they taste, like country, grapes, vintage, etc… knowing they (the jury) try everything to confuse the finalist by for example serving the drink in a black tinted glass. FYI the whole completion gets followed by a bailiff to make sure every happens correct and that all 3 finalist get treated in exactly the same way. Also the jury judging the finalist exists out of a international group of people of Top Sommeliers, Top wine journalists (no, not talking about myself ;-), but about somebody like Fiona Morrison for example). After all 3 participants did their thing the answers are show, this sometimes gives big surprises.

Antoine winelist


Again, I think I still have to learn a loooooooot before I could ever participate or to maybe even get close to level of the participants. This year’s winner was Antoine Lehebel ( Villa Lorraine)!!!! Last year he was 2nd and before the start already a favorite. All 3 participants were very good, but Antoine gave the most correct answers and seemed the most fluent of all 3. Congratulations to Antoine! I must admit I was jealous about all the gifts he got :-). Another advantage of the joined forces of the organizers of the contest is that the winner gets even more gifts than last year 🙂 I hope to see you guys next year to get a new view on the world of sommeliers!


More about the celebration of the victory in my next post …