Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Beata Vlnkova
Ok, one more before 2016 is over :-) This honor goes to Beata VInkova who is president from the Slovak republic Sommelier Association
Unfortunately sommeliers are still very undervalued in Slovakia, nevertheless Béata makes it her life mission to change all of this by educating as many people as possible in wine... not that everybody has to become an expert, but just that they would understand more about what a wonderful product wine is and the value of a sommelier during a culinary experience,. At all culinary levels that is, not only the Michelin starred level!
Even though Béata studied at hotel management school and worked at the luxury Dévin hotel in Bratislava, I think she got most of her wine knowledge during the many hours, days, etc... studying for her WSET and Court Master Sommelier Advanced certificates... although I can only assume that you can succeed in all of this if the passion is there, which is a fact in Beata's case :-) after
It is also that drive that made the student into the teacher she is today as not only does she give wine courses for both professionals as amateurs as to students as lecturer at many institutes... she also puts all her knowledge in writing as member of the International Federation of Wine and Spirits Journalist and Writers. So basically she's spreading the 'wine' word as much as she can and transmitting that passion!!
Béata even has a link with Belgium as if I've heard it correct her daughter lives in Bruges :-) So there you go ;-)
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
Usually, it’s the last region I’ve visited. When I come home, I’m always brimming with enthusiasm to tell everybody about what I have seen and experienced. However, I often recommend German Rieslings and Champagne.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
It’s constant passion – a passion for experiencing adventure within the realms of wine and food, travelling and good humor. Goodwill and ability to spur on this passion with clients, as well as inspire them and make this world a more beautiful place for them is also important.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
In Slovakia it is definitely undervalued. The sommelier profession is very young in our country. The Association of Sommeliers of the Slovak Republic was founded only in 2000 and we joined ASI in 2002. Nowadays, restaurants already have a copious selection of wines but owners and managers still don’t realize that it is a sommelier who sells the wine. They don’t employ sommeliers and therefore, good Slovak sommeliers leave, for instance, for London.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
It was quite late in life, as during my youth there wasn’t a great selection. We used to have two wines in Slovakia – white and red. When I worked at Devín hotel in Bratislava as a Food and Beverage Manager in 2002, the President of the newly founded association sent me to Vienna for a Bordeaux vintage 2000 wine-tasting. This – my first ever real wine-tasting - enchanted me. Since then I´m trying to make up for all I missed in my youth.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
It’s Gerard Basset, definitely. I have known him for many years from sommelier competitions. Despite all his success he remains the same as when I met him for the first time – modest, nice, reserved, and willing to answer all questions.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
It much depends on the season, the weather, the client. I always try to find any little hint which could help pair the wine and food – smell, taste, origin or at least a souvenir of something. However, I also like experimenting – unusual combination can be very interesting.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
As many wine destinations as possible, if possible, even for a few days. I have been lucky to have traveled the wine world from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, California and almost all of Europe. As they say, it's better to see once than hear a hundred times. You will remember a first-hand experience forever.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
I won´t be telling you anything new but I would really like to taste Romanée de la Conti, and vintage Port wine and Madeira wine from the year I was born – it should be a quite nice matured wine.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
I studied hotel management school but specialized in being a tour guide. Everybody likes skipping ordinary theory lessons so we most enjoyed it when we could work out an itinerary for visiting hotels and restaurants and then realize it.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc…?
Everybody should try a very old wine. I have been lucky to taste Port wine vintage 1871. I have a Portuguese friend, Candida Melamed, who has married and lived in Vienna. When she left home 40 years ago, her great grandfather gave her a last bottle of Port wine left in the family. Candida carefully stored it for 30 years and then gave it to me as a gift saying: This is for you, you will enjoy it more. So I stored it for some years and saved it for a special occasion. And once when my “wine friends” came to visit me, I decided to open the bottle – you must share such a treasure, it will multiply your happiness. We opened it with great suspense. The cork crumbled but a beautiful smell wafted around us. The amber-colored wine poured like honey smelling after dried apricots and raisins, roasted hazel nuts, honeycomb, caramel, coffee, maple syrup. It was like an intoxicating kiss sent from heaven – from where the great grandfather surely smiled happily. Perhaps that´s why the old Port wines are so good – they were made for future generations and nobody wants to be spoken about badly after one´s death.