Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Steven Wullaert
I can’t believe that I’m already sharing my 59th interview from a top sommelier and there are still many more to come. I’m not a sommelier myself, but to my opinion sommeliers are as important as chefs in a restaurant for giving guests an unforgettable experience!! Therefore they deserve the same amount of attention and it is our duty as sommeliers guild to give them this attention . The following sommelier I wish to introduce to you is one of our own Belgian top sommeliers, Steven Wullaert.
I know Steven a while now and I will never forget the first time we met :-) as it was some years ago when having dinner at restaurant Nuance** where Steven is head-sommelier. At the end of our meal Steven said (as I think he knew we had lots of interest for what he had to say about wine) that if we could guess which wine he was serving with the dessert we wouldn’t have to pay our wine (the ones that came with the dessert that is) :-) unfortunately we didn’t guess it, but was a wonderful experience.
Anyhow, Steven is a classical trained sommelier who specialized himself by studying an extra year at the renowned Belgian Hotel Management school Ter Groene Poorte. After finishing his studies the least you can say is that he started his professional life at high level by working at restaurants like Hof van Cleve*** , Karmeliet***, Jan Van Den Bon * to name few. Not too shabby I would say :-) in 2011 he joined the team of restaurant Nuance ** where he still works today as head-sommelier.
Over the years Steven has won various titles with (according to him) as highlight the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium in 2012. Next to being head sommelier at Nuance he is owner of wine store Vinum Ganda
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
Very difficult to say. This is a question I was already asked many times or what my favorite grapes., For me a wine has to be made according the rules of the art and according to the typicality of the region it is made. I'm a very big fan of Nebbiolo from Piemonte, Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Riesling from Germany, Pinotage from South-Africa and Cabernet from California. I must admit that in the past I wan't a too big fan of French wines, but today you can wake me up any time for an older Bordeaux or white Burgundy wine :-) ;-)
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
First of all it is required that you know your own wine list by heart. The smallest detail about the wines you are presenting and to be able to analyze them… from the taste to which family founded the winery to the surface the property has, etc…
Your guests are not paying for food or wine, but for the experience, moment or memory. Our job is to give that to them
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Absolutely… it is much more than just a lunch/dinner service. It takes quite some time to make a wine list of select matching wines. And then there also those guests that are not a delight to serve ;-) (some of them that is)
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
It all started when I was on the hotel management school where I initially dreamed of becoming a chef, although I rather quick understood that I preferred being working in the front part of the restaurant and not the ‘backstage’ (already for the fact that I’m a bad cook J ). And being in the front part of the restaurant the contact with wine is inevitable. After that I made a wine trip to France which was the trigger for me to find out everything there is to know.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
I must admit that I quite a few people I look up to!! First of all many of my fellow sommeliers that I know work very hard but do it with lots of passion!! Next to that there are of course wine makers and Master of wine Fiona Morrison and Jacques Thienpont. But also people like William Wouters and Jose Lemahieu from who I learned A LOT. Or upcoming talents like Gianluca Di Taranto (The Jane**)… we all learn from each other which makes us stronger (proves the connection made through the Sommeliers Association)
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
The first thing I always ask the guests is, “what do you prefer drinking”? When with a particular dish a particular beer is the perfect match, but you don’t like beer the pairing will never meet its expectations. When I know this I have an indication and I can do what I like best, try to surprise the guest and give the experience they came for
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Bordeaux, because I’m of the opinion that one can’t talk about top wines when you have never seen or tasted them. I do also recommend everybody to visit Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Napa Valley because they are breathtaking and 2 regions with a totally different wine and winemaking culture (especially they way of thinking).
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
Le pin 1982
Harlan estate 1997
Cros parentoux henri jayer
I'm not picky :-) :-)
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
Definitely my wine trips to Bordeaux, Chili and Argentina and winning the title as Best Sommelier of Belgium later that year… highlight of my career.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc…?
Classic cuisine is coming back I think, to I would say a dinner at Plaza Athénée by Alain Ducasse (and all 3 star restaurants in Paris actually)