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.
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!!
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 suppuration.
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.
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.