The first sommelier I want to put in the spotlight in the second series of 'time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight' is Polish Master Sommelier Piotr Pietras. For people following international sommelier contests this name will seem familiar as not only did Piotr win the title of 'Best Sommelier of Poland' 2 times (2015 & 2016), he is also became 2nd in the 'ASI Best Sommelier of Europe' contest a few months ago in Vienna (to only name a few contests and achievments).
It was in 2011, after getting his Bachelor in Hotel Management at the Poznańska Wyższa Szkoła Biznesu, he started his professional carreer at the Poznan Sheraton hotel where he intially worked as waiter and eventually as sommelier where his love for wine only increased. A year later he became head -sommelier at the luxury City Park Hotel & Residence in Poznan.. What followed was propably the biggest boost in his career, as in 2013 he decided to move to London to start working as sommelier for some of the top restaurants in London like the Corrigan's Mayfair and the Maze by Gordon Ramsay.
Today Piotr works as head sommelier for the Michelin star awarded London restaurant Launceston Place. To his long list of achievements he can since recently also add obtaining the title of Master Sommelier! Now the frosting on the cake would be winning the title of Best Sommelier of the World in 2019 in Antwerp :-) Good luck Piotr!
What is your favorite wine region to work with? When it comes to white wines - I really like Lower Austria. It’s all about Gruener Veltliner and Riesling, varieties I have been exploring since I got into the wine industry. As for the reds, although stylistically they are very different, I would need to choose between Piedmont and Northern Rhone. I love them both for freshness, complexity and ageability.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you? There are many characteristics of a good sommelier. First of all, he or she needs to be a good communicator both in relation to guests and colleagues. They need to be adaptable, flexible and patient, as each customer is different. They need also to keep updating their knowledge, (and share it and mentor their team), as the world of wine is very dynamic and ever-changing. Finally, a good sommelier should be able to talk about different things than wine and food, too :-)
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued? In the UK, where I am currently based, the sommelier profession is well-regarded. Most of restaurants are expected to have at least one sommelier employed. In high-profile places, where wine plays a major role, you may see the sommelier team comprising of as many as 15 members! A sommelier is not only a server opening and serving beverages, but they are also an ambassador (being a connection between guests, suppliers and winemakers), an accountant (responsible for the beverage stock and its program in the restaurant) as well as a coach/mentor (developing the wine culture in the place, training/educating other employees, etc.)
Most of the businesses in the UK seem to understand that and trust sommeliers. In my home market – Poland – the things slowly start to change, as a result of society’s growing interest in wine, and there are more and more talented and qualified sommeliers in restaurants and wine bars. Yet, it will take a few good years until restaurateurs understand that sommeliers can really make their restaurants more successful – both in terms of profits and image/reputation.
When and how did you get the passion for wine? It was 6 years ago – in 2011 – I worked for Sheraton Poznan Hotel as a waiter. Guests asked me so many questions I couldn’t answer. I started to read books and research online articles to be well-prepared for the service and, consequently, I got hooked really quickly. Shortly after I was given a chance to look after restaurant’s wine list and a small wine cellar - that’s how it started.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world? I am not the first (nor the last one) to mention the example of Gerard Basset. He has achieved so much in his career, yet he is so down-to-earth – a true ambassador of sommelierie. In the UK I also admire two other Master Sommeliers Ronan Sayburn and Isa Bal who mentored and „shaped” so many individuals up to this point.
Globally I have a huge respect for small growers/families who dedicate their whole life towards winemaking, mastering their craft and creating unique, individual styles in spite of international trends.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes? Beverages need to complement dishes without overpowering them or vice versa. I want to find a harmony or common link between them. There are quite a few things which I consider, e.g. the type of sauce, presence of green veggies, what’s the main element, overall sweetness/saltiness of the dish, etc. We do experiment a lot with my team and sometimes the least expected wine is chosen as a result. An ever-learning process. At Launceston Place I like to promote lesser-known regions, varieties or styles with our tasting menu, taking my guests out of their comfort zone and familiarizing them with something they may have never heard of - naturally without compromising quality.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why? I would definitely recommend Santorini. It is not only a fantastic holiday destination with picturesque views, but also an Island with spectacular, local wines. It provides people with unforgettable visits to genuine winemakers and their unique vineyards. Soul feeding place!
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
I get positively surprised by some amazing new wines every month and it happens very often when I have no expectations at all. Reversely, I used to have dissapointing experience while tasting the wines I had been thinking or reading about for such a long time. So, at this moment I can’t think of any particular wine… perhaps Madeira from the 19th century?
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies? The moment when I passed my Master Sommelier examination through Court of Master Sommeliers. I realized how great this journey had been. I met so many interesting, inspiring people, visited a lot of places and tasted thousands of wines throughout. So, this particular memory reminds me that we are not alone in our life journey – always surrounded by people, especially in this industry.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..? Regarding the wine experience, I was shocked when I first visited Hedonism, a wine shop in London. I hadn’t expected to spend so much time there - paradise for wine lovers.
As for the culinary experience, I would definitely recommend that you visit Michelin-starred Atelier Amaro in Warsaw. Me and my wife had one of the most memorable and emotional dinners ever there. Aside from being a great host, Wojciech Modest Amaro is a passionate, quality-driven ambassador of Polish gastronomy.