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Time to put the sommeliers in 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

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