Time to put another sommelier in the spotlight. This I take you to Estonia to meet top sommelier Kristjan Markii.
Kristjan’s career started at age of 17 as waiter for restaurant Kuldkroon in, but it wasn’t until his move to Estonia’s capiltal Tallinn his ‘real’ career started. Over the years he worked in several renowned restaurants and hotels in Tallinn like at Baieri Kelder (the better beer restaurant/bar in Tallinn, George Brown, Mercury Hotel (Tallinn), Bagatelle (Oslo - as trainee), Friedrich Karl (Tallinn) and restaurant Balthasar (from same owner as Karl Friederich) where I stayed for 14yrs. It was also at restaurant Balthasar that his intrest for wines started to grow thanks his former manager Ritta Roosaar and local legends in wine, like Matti Timmermann and Urvo Ugandi. If he wouldn’t have met them his whole life wouldn’t have been the same. It is also thanks to them that he started doing sommelier school in Estonia in 2002
Today Kristjan is first of all the president of the Estonian Sommelier Association, but next to that he works as head sommelier for the Carmen Group , as wine consultant, lecturer and international judge during wine/sommelier contests.
Last but not least I must also say that he also won a fair share of titles over the years like Best Sommelier of Estonia (2015); A. Le Coq Estonian Best Beer Sommelier (2013); Trophee „ San Pellegrino & Aqua Panna”(2013); Trophee „Vana Tallinn“—Winner(2010); Trophee „Masi Estonia“ (2009); Trophee Laroche (2008), etc… So ou can say he’s a well-respected man :-)
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
There are so many up and coming wine regions and each of them have something interesting to offer. I´d always like to surprise my guests with wines from lesser known regions and countries… but classics tend to stay as well.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
If you work in hospitality business you have to be kind and humble. To be great sommelier you have to have extra passion for what you do as besides always wanting to learn and discover you also have to work at the same time. This endless learning, discovering and new ‘possibilities’ are the reasons I love this profession.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
I wouldn´t say that, but sometimes we have a sort of ‘insider’ profession.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
I started in restaurant as trainee about 23 years ago , but at that time it was very difficult to get your hands on wine just because we did not have much of it … We just got independent and the wine business was still very young/fresh. We had some great wines on the market, but the biggest problem about it was that nobody knew much about them and/or was able to give extra info about them. Luckily in the restaurant where I was working there was a specific customer who always used to order great (special) bottles of wine for him and his driver and it was this particular customer who explained me a lot about these wines during my working time… the more he explained the more I fell in love with is… but the ‘big’ passion came after my first wine trip to Spain a few years later.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
There are many of them and all with their own strengths. That is also why I think we can learn a lot from any other fellow sommeliers
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
Situation and costumer come first. Combining food and wine comes down to finding a good balance in texture, weight, intensity, character.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Again here there are too many of them to only pick one. I would say try to visit as many as possible and try understanding them through local traditions and aspects of terroir, etc…
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste ?
Difficult to say one, but there is a kind of ‘wish list’ which contains mainly older vintages from legendary producers… but some of them seem to find their way to me :-)
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
My first blind tastings where I discovered how different wines can be , even when they are from same region or even from the same village made with the same grapes and vintage.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc…?
Estonia does not produce ‘commercial and classic’ style of wine, but we do have plenty types of beer. Lately we are having some great dinners where meals are paired with both wines and beers at same time, where everybody can find their preferred combination. Sometimes wine wins, sometimes beer wins….