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.

caro-maurer

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 .

caro-maurer-2

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

caro-maurer-3

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.

jancis-robinsson

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.

mosel-vineyards

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 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

mw_romana_echensperger-by-german-wines

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.

filip-verheyeden-romana

wijn-boek-filip-verheyden_janice_romana

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

romana-echelsperger-by-citynews

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.

stephane-gass

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.

mosel-vineyards

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: Gerard Basset

Gerard Basset is from all the sommeliers I’ve interviewed, without any doubt the most admired sommelier from within as from outside the ‘world of sommeliers’. Most top sommeliers I’ve interviewed so far gave his name as THE person they admire the most… Which made me wonder who Gerard himself admires ….

Gerard Basset

To make a long story short, Gerard Basset is the only sommelier in the world who has won every International sommelier competition there is to win :-). In case you were doubting which titles: Master of Wine, Master Sommelier, Wine MBA and World’s Best Sommelier and the list goes on and on . He’s also been appointed as Officer of the Order of the British Empire So he’s practically royalty 😉

gerard-basset-champion

Although Gerard has been living and working in the UK since the 1980’s, his roots lay in France. It is in the UK on the other hand that he’s started his career as a sommelier in various top UK restaurants. Later in the 90’s he was even co-hotel owner of six hotels until they were taken over by another group. Now Gerard’s main focus goes to the hotel his wife and himself opened near Southampton that goes by the name  Terravina. I say main focus, but I do also think most of his time still goes to wine and traveling the world to be a wine ambassador.

hotel-terravina

Just like with all the other sommeliers I’ve asked Gerard to answer  questions that give you a sneak peak into his world. Feast your eyes on what the Master himself has to say:

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I love the Island of Madeira, Jerez and the Douro Valley as I love fortified wines.  However, there are so many other exciting regions, to name just a few: Burgundy, Champagne, The Napa Valley, The Colchagua Valley, Mendoza, Piedmont and many more, including England too.

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

To be able to do several things well, like being a great taster of food and wine, having wide knowledge of wine but also food, being an excellent waiter, being capable to organize a team and train/motivate the other Sommeliers, being good at finance and being an excellent buyer and salesman (in the noble sense of the term), being a great ambassador for wine producers and above all being extremely welcoming and making customers happy.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Perhaps before but I don’t think it is the case now at least in countries where the Sommelier profession is well established.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

When I came to England (in the 1980’s) I was quickly put to serve wine as I was French and I really enjoyed it so it soon became a passion.

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

In the wine world Jancis Robinson as she is so exact and thorough.  However, the world of wine is full of heroes and unsung heroes I have so many producers I admire and many Sommelier friends who have inspired me.

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

I like following different routes.  Sometimes I match the texture of the food with the body of the wines, sometimes I match saviours and aromas, sometimes I match regionality of food and wine, I can match slow cooked food with mature wines or grilled food with young fresh wines, or other principles.  To recap I am not rigid and at the end we must have fun and not take that too seriously.

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

I think Chablis is unique and magical but I also like the island of Madeira for all sorts of reasons and the Napa Valley for its superb food.

napa-valley-by-destinationdelicious napa-valley-by-huffingtonpost

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

I would make a big sacrifice to taste  Château Haut-Brion 1989 again. It was simply phenomenal when I had it last time (2 years ago).

chateau-haut-brion-1989

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

Learning how to write essays when I was studying for the Master of Wine.  It was tough for me but I am glad I persevered.

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

Spending holidays in wine regions, I cannot think of anything better

 

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Pedro Ballesteros

Pedro Ballesteros also know as a human encyclopedia when it comes to Spanish wines 🙂 (even for all other wines I must admit). Yes indeed, we pulled out the big guns again… And yet I can confirm that Pedro is a very humble and modest man!! I already had the pleasure to dine together with Pedro as we sat next to each other during a dinner from the Spanish Cava association at Chalet de la Forêt.

Pedro Ballesteros

Cesar & Pedro

The least you can say is that for the past 25 years Pedro has been a very busy bee 🙂 He has studied all over the world (Spain, France, Belgium, US, Austria and Germany) with as some accomplishments his WSET Diploma, Weinakademiker and became Master of Wine (1 of 3 in Belgium) and I’m not even mentioning all his master degrees. Professionally he is very dedicated to the environment and energy (which is his reason for living in Belgium as he works for the EU). He‘s also a columnist for Spanish and Belgian magazines… Pedro also is consultant for the Institute of Masters of Wine, the governing board of the Spanish Taster Union, and the wine expert committee of the Basque Culinary Centre… and the list goes on and on 🙂 AND he has found time to answer my 10 questions!!

pedro_ballesteros by reiberadelduero

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

For reasons of nationality I work a lot, with enjoyment, with the main Spanish regions. But  I am also very fond of classic German regions. And of Burgundy. And Champagne. And Bordeaux. And Tuscany, Campania and Piemonte. And Georgia. And Chili….
Honestly, one of the reasons why I enjoy wine is the diversity. My favorite exercise is to go from one region to another.

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

I admire sommeliers because they have decided to develop their professional lives in a most demanding environment: extremely competitive, with much intrusism, requiring long hours and continuous updating, dependent on the success of the chef, quite exigent in terms of physical fitness…..

It takes much to be a good sommelier. I would highlight three things for good sommeliers: curiosity, courage to innovate and humbleness to put all your knowledge at the service of people for whom wine is secondary: the restaurant owner and most clients. I would add one more for the best: empathy with people.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

 Yes. Very few sommeliers own a restaurant. This is a major reason for underestimating sommeliers. Then, wine is presented as a company to food, rarely the other way around. Wine is then ancillary in most clients minds. Finally, most people are still very conservative with beverages.  They are not yet ready to embrace the levels of innovation that they enjoy with food. Sommelier’s stellarship will come when innovation in beverage is welcome. Soon, I hope.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

 When I was studying Agrofood Engineering I got to learn about fermentations, and got hooked to the magic of those processes  (I am yet hooked). Then I learned viticulture and got in love with the vines. And only later, when I had already decided to dedicate much of my life to wine, did I begin to enjoy tasting and drinking wine.

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

I mention three. Pitu Roca as the perfect sommelier in the restaurant (El Celler de Can Roca). Eric Boschman as a wonderful  example of a communicator reuniting deep knowledge and great empathy. Gérard Basset as the model for supuration.

Pitu Roca

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

Depends on the place. At restaurant, the high cuisine scene now is quite innovative and challenging. People go to restaurants to experience, they look for innovation. Wine cannot be foreign to that. I think that the role of wine is less to be paired and more to be part of the experience.  This is very interesting for sommeliers, who find more room for creation. With the best sommeliers, I love being served the wine blind.

At home I am quite relaxed. We tend to eat simple things, lots of pasta and so on. Then, if I want to open a particular bottle I open it, that’s all.

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

 I would recommend to dedicate a life to visit wine regions….I would not pick a single region.

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

 I would like to get to know well very old Rieslings. Also to understand well the differences between the grand cru wines at Vosne-Romanée.

But in general I think that wine is so great that no sacrifice must be made for it.

Vosne-Romanée

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

 I did not study there.

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

Those rare times when wine is the vehicle for sharing feelings and more, in two.