Please allow me to introduce to you the Americas Vice President of the ASI (Association de la Sommellerie International) Argentinean top Sommelier Andres Rosberg!! All our Belgian readers might have already met or at least seen Andres as he was honorary judge during the ‘Best Sommelier of Belgium’ contest.
Something that might surprise you (especially as Andres in not old) is that he was one of Argentina’s first professional sommeliers and also (co-)founder and president of the Argentinean Sommelier Association. In Argentina it is also possible to have sommellerie as a main topic or study direction instead of doing regular hotel management school So this basically means that the job is recognized by the government in Argentina This might also be a great idea for in Belgium :-)
Not only did Andres judge at many national and international sommelier/wine contests around the world, including the famous Decanter World Wine Awards, but he also published numerous articles in both national and international magazines and has participated in several wine-related radio and TV programs. Over the years as President of the AAS, President of the Panamerican Sommelier Alliance and Vice-president of the International Sommelier Association for the Americas, he has organized many sommelier contests, however the frosting on the cake (with lots of sleepless night I bet :-) ) was without any doubt hosting and organizing the 2016 ASI Sommelier World Championship in Mendoza (which is of a whole other dimension than the other contest). I can only hope that for the 2019 World championships we will do it as good as Andres did!
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
First of all, you have to be humble: Despite the title of this column, sommeliers are not -or should not be- the first ones in the spotlight. Customers come first, as well as the wines, the food and the service provided. Then you have to realize that you'll always be relatively ignorant: It doesn't matter how much you study, taste and travel, you will never know everything, and you will never have tasted all the good wines out there. However, this is a good thing, as not very many people like somms who pretend to know everything, anyway. It is also a fantastic challenge that you have to learn to love, as this isn't an eight hour shift job. This is a full life job. On top of this, you have to be smart; look sleek; educate -not pontificate-; remember that you have to rotate inventories; make sure you turn a profit for your employer; be good at team work; and pay a lot of attention to your customers, as they all have different needs and wants. And, at the end of the day, you always have to have a big smile in your face, too, and make sure your customer has an even bigger one when he or she leaves the premises...
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
I think this depends on who you talk with and where you are. Some people see sommeliers as pretentious snobs. Some see them as rock stars who should be worshipped. My impression is that we have to be somewhere in between. Some sommeliers are working very hard during really long hours and not making much for a living, whereas other sommeliers are making way more than, say, a physician who is saving lives... Needless to say, I am very happy that some top sommeliers are making a good living, but I do think that we have to create awareness and work hard to improve the quality of life of the professionals that are doing a big chunk of the dirty work, yet not being recognized enough.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
It was a progressive, natural thing. Being Argentine wine is present in our everyday life. For us, wine is a big part of our culture, to the point that it is legally considered food, according to alimentary codes, unlike any other alcoholic beverage... There is even a national law declaring it the "national drink" of Argentina that was passed some years ago. I guess that, being the largest per capita consumers of beef in the world, this makes a lot of sense, no? I personally started working as a waiter and a bartender when I was a teenager, and by my early twenties I was already way more interested in wine than anything else That is when I decided to make a bold move, dropped out of university -I was studying Political Science- and focused on Sommellerie...
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Without a doubt, Gérard Basset is the main reference in the world of sommellerie. He has won every single wine title on earth, and is still working the floor, mentoring young somms, and always looking forward to learning more about the next wine region or sharing his knowledge. Josep "Pitu" Roca, from El Celler de Can Roca, is another big raw model, running one of the most amazing wine programs in the world, making sure that each and every wine served in his pairing menus is awesome, taking sommellerie to a whole new level of social responsibility, always remembering that there are hard working people behind every glass. And last, but not least -and closer to my heart for obvious reasons- is Paz Levinson, an Argentine girl that won the last Best Sommelier of the Americas contest in 2015 and finished 4th in the last Best Sommelier of the World competition in Mendoza last year, is an incredible inspiration to many. She graduated in Literature, writes poetry, and is one of the most sensible, sharp, kind, thorough and passionate sommeliers I have ever met.
What is your approach for pairing wines (or other beverages) with dishes?
It depends a little bit on the occasion. First of all, I ask my customer about his or her preferences, tastes, etc. Then I usually make sure both the wine and the dish have a similar structure and weight. Lastly I work on aromatics, and eventually colors. Sometimes, if it is a winery sponsored meal, the wines have to be put in the spotlight, so I choose dishes that will enhance them. Sometimes it is the other way around, so I go for simpler wines, that will not overpower the dish. In any case, I always try to taste the combination first, especially when it is a set menu, as sometimes theory fails and a wine you didn't expect to work with a given dish is better than your first mental choice. Also, it is a good opportunity to work with the chef and do some "fine tuning" on the dish...
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Argentina, of course... It offers huge diversity -Malbec, yes, but also Cabs, blends, whites, sparkling wines...-, great weather, nice people, fantastic landscapes, decent prices, and awesome food -well, maybe not if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, but you'll love it if you enjoy a good piece of steak!
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
I know I'm supposed to answer Pétrus or DRC to this question. The truth, however, is that living in a large wine producing country like Argentina limits your possibilities to taste imported wines, so I have basically "sacrificed" almost every single holiday of my last fifteen years traveling to as many wine regions as possible to taste the wines of the world. And, while I've been lucky enough to try some legendary wines, sommellerie is a journey, not a destination, and I intend to keep making big "sacrifices" to taste as many good wines as possible!
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
I studied sommellerie as a standalone career. It is recognized by the government in Argentina, and it takes three years nowadays -although it was a bit shorter when I did it many years ago. I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of the world of wine that it gave me: it was eye-opening, and it planted the seed for my career change one or two years later.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
The list of restaurants that I love is really long, and there are many places that I still haven't been to. A dinner at El Celler de Can Roca a couple of years ago really impressed me. Also, a proper Argentine asado (barbecue) can be mind boggling, with several courses of charcuterie, chitterlings, blood sausage, sweetbreads, kidneys, different cuts of beef, pork, chicken and more -each paired with a different wine, and even better if you are next to a vineyard and looking at the Andes mountains!