Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Paz Levinson
I've interviewed the 3rd and 5th best sommelier (female) of the world, so now I can only keep add more top lady sommeliers :-) This time I honored to introduce to you Paz Levinson who was the 4th best sommelier during the ASI Sommelier World championships in Mendoza (2016).
Paz was born in Argentina and has also finished her studies as Professor in Literature in Argentina . You might think that with studies like that you'd be teaching at university, but the heart wants what the heart wants . Her love for wine too big for her to ignore it... parallel with her 'regular' studies she also followed a 2 year course for sommelier.... As she lived in Argentina, it won't surprise you that her first steps in the world of wine were done in Argentina ...although it didn't take long for her to set new goals and meet different horizons and set sail to Europe where she started working for the 'Le Bristol' hotel in Paris (combined with many trips to nearby wine regions).
I did already mention she became 4th during the 2016 ASI World Championships in Mendoza, but it just one of her many wonderful accomplishments. She is also holder of titles like Best Sommelier of Argentina (2010) and Best Sommelier of the Americas (2015) to name a few.
Today Paz works as sommelier for the Parisian restaurant Vitrus . Amongst other things that is as she still travels the world to give master classes, participate in International competitions, and the list goes on and on. AND she is a very nice person on top of all of that!!
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
I'm a big fan of the Loire Valley as a region. We can make an entire wine list exiting only out of Loire wines. They have it all from Muscadet, to beautiful Chenins both young and old, dry to sweet, oak to no oak. There is something for everybody's taste... Cremants are very good, and the reds are stunning from Cabernet francs light and fresh to very terroir driven, intense and age worthy. And let's not forget Sancerre, a world apart together with Sauvignon Blanc and fine Pinot Noir. Not to mention all the other grapes like grolleau, gamay, etc.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
To be a good sommelier the basis is the service. To be an excellent server it helps a lot in all senses. Lecture of the table is the most important. Giving 'home' feeling to our customers.
Knowledge which doesn't mean using complicated words just for showing off. Knowledge helps us to provide a better service: if the customer has more questions we can answer them quicker. The ability to build up a team, we have to be teachers and an example for the new generation of sommeliers.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Depends on the country, in France the sommeliers are important depending on the knowledge of the owners of places. The best places are when the sommelier is also the owner. In many restaurants the chefs are still more taken into consideration and put in the spotlight than the sommeliers. There are many one star restaurants that don't even have a sommelier as head of the service. In NYC this is quite different: here sommeliers are the 'face' of the restaurant (not all restaurants, but we are getting there) and the link between the customer and the chefs.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
I got the passion for wine while working at Restó (Buenos Aires) when I was 23 years old. I finished my studies as professor in literature, but I've combined those studies with "wine/sommelier" studies :-)... but as wine chose me first it became the most important subject of my daily life and I continued teaching, travelling, visiting wineries etc.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
There are many examples all for different reasons. I love how Rajat Parr started in the restaurant business and how he now is making fantastic wines and writing excellent books. Also Veronique Rivest, her passion for wine is inspiring, she is very brave and charming on stage. She has her own 'bar a vins', all people working there are learning the whole time and most importantly are having a good time, the ambience is relax and serious at the same time.
Gerard Basset, I admire his simplicity, his way of talking to people, his work for the sommeliers, his endless passion for study and teach. His hotel is a jewel in the middle of the forest. The people working there learn a lot. Gerard helps and inspires to be better every day.
Sergio Calderon, head sommelier of Bras ***, who also comes from Argentina and already is sommelier at Bras for more than 25 years. His knowledge of French wine is impeccable. We made a trip to Burgundy last month, how he speaks with the producers is emotional, such a respect and thankfulness.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
I'm in defense of the pairing. It is something that fascinates me. I always look for a frequency. The same tune, the same kind of music. The pairing has to sing in the palate. Clicking different 'checkboxes' of possible matches: acidity, sugar level, flavors. The senses and the intellect play an important role.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
I think Burgundy is THE Mekka for wine lovers. On top of that is so beautiful and easy to get around by bike to visit vineyards. Discover the difference between the parcels.
It's fantastic in autumn or in summer. Also the city of Dijon has so many attractions. I love to stay at Beaune or Meursault.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
There are many wines that I would like to taste for the first time or re taste. I don't like to think about a sacrifice, I think that having the opportunity is about sharing, about one special moment with friends or people that want to share that patrimony.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
I went to CAVE school, which is a school for sommeliers that can be followed for two years. We studied every detail of the job as sommelier in depth and the same goes for every wine country, but also about tea, chocolate etc. One of the best memories is the toast with Dom Perignon 1998 at the first day of the courses. A big sacrifice on the first day :-).
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc…?
I had the best experiences traveling to wine regions. To have a nice meal after visiting lots of producers at Caves Madeleine is a great moment, specially if we spent all day at the Caves at 10 degrees in winter. We sat down, shared a bottle of burgundy and talked about life. That's one of the best things to do. The regional pairings shines and we feel at home again.