Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Antoine Lehebel

I know it sounds strange when I tell you a Frenchman won the title of Best Belgian Sommelier in  and defended the Belgian colors during the World’s Best Sommelier Competition earlier this year 🙂  🙂 And yet it is all true!! It was my dear friend Antoine Lehebel has done it all with lots of pride and a big smile. Antoine Lehebel is head-sommelier of the Brussels Michelin starred top restaurant Villa Lorraine  and a great example that even if you didn’t go the hotel management school you can succeed as a sommelier!! You only need the drive of wanting to do everything to  achieve your goal … And I also know Antoine still has lots of ambition left as he already has lots of new targets he wants to succeed in 🙂 What I like about Antoine is that he is a very modest/humble person who loves every aspect of his job. Sometimes I wish I felt the same about my job 🙂  Just like with William Wouters, I asked Antoine 10 questions that give you a view in the life of a top sommelier.

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 What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I love the Loire valley because of the diversity of wines, and honestly you have so many great vignerons there. You can play with the style, color, age of the wines, and you can find a lot of original stuff too… and the region is really dynamic so it really is one of my favourite region to work with. I was born there too so there is a touch of chauvinism also… 😉

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

Passion for wine, eagerness to share with people, and a bit of fun also, an evening in a restaurant should never be boring you need to have a good time, and a sommelier (or anyone working on the floor for that matter) should be able to make you feel at home.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

It depends, obviously as a guest you only see the tip of the iceberg, but sometimes do not realise all the work involved before your service, but we can feel more and more interest about this job, which is very gratifying, we all need to keep up the good work to make this role even more estimated in the future.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

It all started in London when I started to work in an indian restaurant, the German Manager was a sommelier for some years and started to teach me a bit. I got hooked very quickly, and never stopped since then.

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

Well first that would be Thomas Heimann who’s been my mentor when I started in the trade, and then I do not think I have one “big example”, there are too many great sommeliers around.

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

There’s a sense of feeling obviously, and I always try do find some harmony in the flavours, but it is really fun for me to get quite technical too, i think the association of tastes, and their effect on the perception you have is an amazing subject to study. you can actually make a taste changing according to your pairing, which is a nice game to play, but obviously it takes a bit interest on that matter.

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

The Douro Valley without hesitation! breathtaking landscapes, brilliant wines, and the dry wines are getting better and better, I am very fond of that region. You can easily spend a full week there and come back for more because you never have enough time to see all of it!

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

Very old german rieslings, I have a great memory of a 1949 riesling Sonnenhur spätlese from J.J Prüm, probably the best wine I have ever tried (so far)

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

I actually did not go through any hotel management school, so I can not really answer this question.

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

The restaurant “le pot d’étain”, in the Chablis region, at l’Isle sur Serein (well, it is lost in a small village 30 km from Chablis but is definitely worth the trip), the food is traditional french fare, very well executed, and the wine cellar is like….the best i have ever seen, with very kind prices and the best french wines represented in any region.

Top lunch with Top sommeliers at a Top location

It is not every day that you get a blind wine tasting lunch in the company of 11 top sommeliers and if they then add that it is at Villa Lorraine in Brussel aka one of the most historical restaurants in Belgium, one just cannot refuse. For those who don’t know Villa Lorraine, this was the first restaurant outside of France to be awarded with 3 Michelin stars in the 1970’s. In 2010 after 61 (opened in 1953) and the founder’s death, Marcel Kreusch ‘s family decided to sell the restaurant. Nowadays it is head chef Alain Bianchin taking the lead and making sure very delicious dishes leave the kitchen. Since the re-opening 4 years ago Villa Lorraine has already been awarded again with 1 Michelin star. FYI The restaurant is divided in 2 parts. One part is the “gastronomical” part and at the other side there is a brasserie, where in case you find a bit more economical or better less “complicated” but still very refined dishes on the menu than at the Michelin awarded part.

Themed lunch group picture

Before I continue I do want to add that for this post I chose to use the pictures taken by the professional photographer (Pascal Hermans) from  that was present during the lunch as I would never be able to make such beautiful pictures myself. Just FYI in case you thought I became a great photographer over night 😉

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The aim of this lunch was to learn more about and to discuss the theme wine(s) and to get to learn new products or get a new impression of ones you already knew. I also think there’s no better way to do this than amongst professionals (besides me, as I’m not a pro yet) This is why  they had brought togehter 11 top sommeliers like William Wouters (previous Comme Chez soi, Villa Lorraine) Cesar Roman (Comme Chez soi), Gregory van Acker (De Jonkman), Antoine Lehebel (Villa Lorraine) Luca Gardini (Italian sommelier nominated in 2010 as World’s best sommelier) to name a few and Lorenzo Zonin (winemaker and ambassador of Zonin winery) who was also the person who to take the initiative to have this kind of lunch. To make the lunch more fun and also more open for an honest discussion he  decided to make  the wine tasting during the lunch a blind tasting. Due to the fact that you don’t know the wine you are actually tasting you won’t be influenced by its name or the vineyard and therefor you’ll be more honest in your responses. What basically happened during the lunch is that with every course we got 3 different wines from which (without being able to see the bottle) you had to tell if the wine was either French or Italian and from which Vintage it was 🙂 . This is where you separate the boys from the men and you get to see how the pro’s do it 🙂

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It was Lorenzo Zonin himself  who had picked out the wines for the blind tasting, both wines from their own estates as from French friend estates. Which shows that winemakers are also open for other wines then their own :-). Unbelievable but true, 3 people where able to guess the country and vintage of all wines… I unfortunately wasn’t one of those 3, but I was pretty happy with my result that from 95% of the wines I was already able to tell if they were French or Italian. (Proud of myself). In my defense, I don’t get to taste new wines every day like a pro :-). The problem with these kind of tasting (for me) is that lots of times the wine smells and tastes familiar, but I just can’t put my finger on which one it is or from where I know the smell. Just like with sports or with anything you want to be good at, here it is also practice that will help you to get better and good guidance by a pro (which I’m very happy to have).

I’m sure you guys are very curious on finding out which wines it were we had to guess and what we ate with it? I’m gonna tell you anyhow (even if you don’t want to know 😉 ) and I’ll be honest what the answers were that I thought they were (the ones that I can still remember that is 🙂 )

After some bubbles (Ca’bolani prosecco) to open out taste buds it was time to start our lunch and the real work. For our first course, raw and smoked salmon with a dill cream we were served the following wines:

  • Wine 1: 2013 White Bordeaux by Doisy-Daëne -> very floral smell, but you could immediately guess it was from Bordeaux
  • Wine 2: 2009 Aquilis by Ca’bolani -> I first thought this was more a Vernaccia from Monte Oliveto, but I was wrong 🙂 (but at the moment itself I wrote Vermentino, but I actually mend Vernaccia)
  • Wine 3: 2008 Sancerre Blance by Vincent Delaporte (from Chavignol terroir). This was the most difficult to guess from the white wines. Couldn’t immediately place it, besides it being from France.


The mean course we got served Cuckoo from ‘Malines’ with girolle mushrooms and grenaille potatoes.  I glad they chose for a lighter main course. Very soft flavors and cooked “comme il faut”.

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With this dish we were served the following wines

What followed was some cheese. Now I’m not sure that you know this, but I’m not a cheese lover, so I just had the salad… I know, I have already tried it a lot, but most cheeses just don’t float my boat.


  • Wine 7: 2009 Acciaiolo by Castello d’abola: One of my favourites from the Zonin Gamma and is the best of Tuscany in a glass.
  • Wine 8: 2011 Château Valandraud: This what a tricky one :-).
  • Wine 9: 2011 Symposio by Principi di Butera: the thing with southern wines like this is that they seem aged, but in fact aren’t. The reason for this is the strength of the grapes and its alcohol percentage (thanks to the lots of sunhours year round)

One just has to end the meal in beauty, both for the food as the wine. For as far as the wines were concerned 1 I recognized immediately as it is one of my favorites and one of the best of its kind aka the Vin Santo from Castello d’albola. Like an angel peeing in your mouth….For the dessert or better desserts 🙂 Yes one cannot stand on 1 leg very long. I’m sure the pictures of the dessert say enough?

dessert 1

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Just for the record, the wines we had with our desserts

And as this was not enough I enjoyed another glass of Vin santo with some ‘friandises’


FYI, this was a tasting, so we didn’t always drink the entire glasses of wine 🙂 just a sip of every glass…


I couldn’t encourage initiatives like this more than I do know… may lots of these follow!!I had a wonderful meal and wonderful wines….

The moral of my blog post and this lunch is basically that wine is such a wonderful product and that even-though you might drink it every day, there is more in it than that… I mean so many new tastes to discover and when you think you know something 100% I’m sure one moment or the other you’ll be proven wrong. Basically a subject where the conversations about it will never stop. The outcome of this lunch is that everything we wrote down about the wines during the tasting will help wine estates like Zonin to keep making good products for everybody’s taste. So basically next time you taste a wine you’ll know that for 1 millionth I helped making that wine 🙂 🙂

I do know that not everybody will be able to have a tasting this way, but I’m sure if you go to Villa Lorraine (or any other restaurant with a good sommelier) and ask Antoine to surprise you with the wines and keep it a secret until the en… I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to take you on a journey through the wonderful world of wine!

One last special message to Gregory: I didn’t forget that you’re going on holiday to Santorini (it only took you to tell me 3 times) . The reason I’m saying this is because I asked Gregory 3 times during the lunch where he was going on holiday (I swear it was NOT the wine and I was listing to what he was telling, I sometimes just forget quickly) 🙂 🙂 🙂

Thanks again to everybody for making this such a great experience! Also a special thanks to Hasselt Millesime (especially Cathérine) for helping Lorenzo getting this organized in Belgium!!