Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Edwin Raben

After Albania we now come it a bit closer to home to introduce to you another sommelier. This time I was fortunate enough to interview Dutch top sommelier Edwin Raben .

Like many other top sommeliers Edwin already came in contact with good food at young age...the passion and fascination for gastronomy only grew after that. Edwin is classically trained, meaning that he went to hotel management school. The career after school started at the 3 Michelin starred Paris restaurant Lucas Carton. The ones that followed were all of the same caliber :-) La Rive (*), De Zwethheul (**), Wolfslaar (*) to name a few.

Today Edwin is more busy then ever as next to being Chairman of the Dutch Gild of Sommeliers he has a list full of jobs he does and somehow manages to combine (very impressed I must say). He gives presentations and tasting in wine and gastronomy for consumers and businesses, teaches, is advisor, gives tastings and presentations for Nestlé (Nespresso, S. Pellegrino, Acqua Panna), is Consultant for the restaurant industry (wine, interiors, financial), he also does some journalism activities in wine gastronomy (press and internet), he sells and advises wines online at www.edwines.com and I could keep going to a while... he must have a wife who loves a looooot (just like mine I must add :-) ) as he seems like a very busy bee.

And if all of that was not enough he still found time to participate and get awarded during many national and international sommelier contests. Amongst other things he won the title of Best sommelier of the Netherlands 2times (1996 -2006), won the Ruinart Challenge Trophy, was a few times semi-finalist during the Sommelier World Championships (ASI) etc...

Edwin is a very respected man in the sommelier world. I hope you'll enjoy reading the sneak peak he gives during our interview about his life as sommelier.

Enjoy

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

The wine world is huge and even becomes bigger and more complex. Everywhere good wines are made. Due to knowledge, experience and techniques, styles and tastes of wines are growing together. I always had and still have a broad focus on wines from around the world. So it is for me hard to say what wine region is my favorite. Please don’t let me make a hard decision on which child I like most…

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

A person who loves to serve his or her guests! You have to have the sense of good social skills. The sommelier should, in my opinion, always act and react under the status of a guest. So you do not show off to a guest how much you know about a certain wine or region. Do not spoil the guest’s evening with endless stories about technical facts. The guest is the star of the evening and pays at the end of the day the bill and you have to respect that. Be humble en discreet!

Then a lot of other skills are important. The ability for tasting and memorizing aroma and flavor. Communications on wine, drinks in general and food. Also insight in sales, stock and commercial awareness is very important even nowadays after the crisis we’ve just had.

A great sommelier is multi-talented

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I think the image of a sommelier is very good in my country. A lot of young waiter would like to become a sommelier in the future. They often forget that it takes many years of study, experience, tasting etc. to become one. But I am happy to say that every year quite a few are finishing their study by getting their degree for 'Gastronoom-Sommelier' Level 3.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I was born and raised on a farm at the countryside very close to Germany. At home we grew a lot of vegetables and fruits. As a child I was always excited by the fantastic products growing around me. As a young child everything I put into my mouth and was curious to know what they smell and taste like. I loved to bring them in my mother’s kitchen and make it into a nice dish, jam, juice or what so ever. So at a young age I already knew that I want to be a famous kitchen chef. I bought my first wine at a young age in the local small supermarket. One of the first wines I tasted was the Greek Retsina. I loved that.

During my internship at Kaatje bij de Sluis I got in contact with the greatest wines of the world and tasted a lot of wines. I was completely surprised, because at home we did not drink any wine at all…

During my military service in 1990, after a get my diploma from the hotelschool at Wageningen, I kept my job as Sous-chef de cuisine and did the study for ‘vinoloog van de Wijnacademie’ at that time. I passed straight away and got the full time job as Sous-chef. But at that time we did a lot of cooking lessons for our guest and wine and food pairing became a little know in the early 90s. I loved to serve the people who visited the restaurant where I worked, but I was working in a closed kitchen, away from the guests.

So I decided to change my job and went to the North of my country to become assistant-sommelier at Landgoed Lauswolt. And the passion grew and grew over the years.

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

Several times I paid Anne Claude Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet a visit. Se often came to the Netherlands for tastings and visited the restaurants were I worked over the years. I miss her as a strong lady in the wineworld. To many lovely winemakers are passed away unfortunately.

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

I always use the taste profile of a dish and wine or beverage and combine that. ……..contracting, Coating, Level of taste (How intense in flavor is the wine or dish) and finally are the flavors fresh and primary or ripe. …..check book from Peter Klosse.

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

Oops several options here. I love travelling so the scenery of New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson and Central Otago are just gorgeous. Also the amazing nature of South Africa’s Swartland and other parts of this great country with Dutch influences. The Upper Douro Valley is miraculously and breathtakingly beautiful.

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

I love Château Latour. I did not get the change to taste the 2010, my favorite Médoc vintage from the recent past. I guess I have to rob a bank…

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

That I could use my memory for flavors during the wine lessons. And the internships at Kaatje bij de Sluis were I got in contact with the greatest wines.

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

Three options here:

1. Akasaka Kikunoi in Tokyo. Delicate exquisite Kaiseki cuisine

2. Michel Bras in Laguiole. Astonishing view, great winelist, impeccable relaxed service at ***

3. Jules Vernes, Eiffel tower Paris. You need a window seat to enjoy the view and superb cuisine of Alain Ducasse.

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