Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Liora Levi

Today I wish to put another female sommelier in the spotlight! I can’t say it enough, but it is very nice to see that more and more women are finding their way to this wonderful profession, especially as it seems they are better tasters :-) Please meet Norwegian top sommelier Liora Levi aka Best Sommelier of Norway in 2013 and Best Nordic Sommelier in 2012.

Some things in life happen by ‘accident’, for Liora this ‘accident’ happened during a meal at a steakhouse :-) as it was during this meal she got interested in wines… so much that it resulted in her working 9 years at the steakhouse. Her passion only grew and graduated in 2010 at the Norsk Sommelier Utdanning as best taster and best student! (Only 2 years later she won her first title, very impressive)

After a few more years of working as head sommelier at some Norwegian top restaurants today Liora combines many jobs: consultant, freelance writer, tv personality, sommelier for the Vinoteca group, organizer of wine events for the Norwegian German wines office, lecturer and as she still had some time left over she will be dedicating that time to the ASI (International Sommelier Association). I guess she added a few hours to a day ;-)

Anyhow please feast your eyes on the answers of this wonderful sommelier!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Even though I always tend to favor Champagne I’ve always been very fond of the Rhône Valley. I am fascinated by the immense differences in the wines from each of the appellations in the northern part of the valley and how they develop with time.

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

Humbleness towards both producers and guests, as well as a constant curiosity for new wines and searching for great food and wine matches.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Well, I think it is underestimated in many ways, not a lot of people see all the hard work a sommelier does in addition to the enjoyable part of talking to the guests and tasting a lot of nice wines. But the backside of the medal is also a great part of the time spent being a sommelier. Inventory every month, heavy lifting of never ending cases of wine, trying to make chef’s (sometimes with a huge ego) listen when you ask for tiny adjustments to make the perfect combination of food and wine etc. On the other hand there are also many people out there who do value the work sommeliers do on improving the overall experience of a meal by finding the best possible wine to accompany every single dish and also to help guests find new and exciting wines which they might never have tried before, or would never try without the help of a sommelier.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Working in a very basic steak house in the early 2000’s. No-one really cared for the wines that were being served, and I got curious to how this magnificent beverage was really made. I was fortunate enough to join a wine trip to Tuscany with a wine importer and seeing the vineyards, meeting the winemakers, trying the wines from the barrels and it all made me completely fall in love with wine.

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

I have three sommeliers who meant a lot for me when I started out in the world of Somms. My Italian sommelier friend Stefano Pagani helped me through sommelier school giving me endless blind tastings and quizzing me on every aspect of wine and winemaking. In addition two of my teachers (one of them later to become my employer for a while) Ken Engebretsen and Andreas Larsson. They both increased my interest and passion for wine with their level of knowledge, their enthusiasm and their ability to communicate what they were teaching in a way that wanted me to do the same. Which is what I basically do today in my job as an independent consultant, lecturer and wine writer.

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

It’s all about balance. To get the most out of the aromas and flavors of the wine (beverage) and at the same time making sure the food shows all its ingredients without being overrun by the wine.

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

Mendoza! After visiting many wine regions in many different countries I’ve become truly inspired by the winemakers of Mendoza, the enthusiasm and love for their soil and how they share that with their visitors is fantastic. I learned more about soil and the effects of micromanagement in the vineyards during one visit to Mendoza than I did in a years’ worth of visits to European wine regions. Apart from that I do recommend any sommelier to travel as much as possible, nothing boosts your inspiration and hunger for knowledge more than visiting wine regions and producers.

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

No wine in particular. I am very fortunate to be able to taste thousands of wines every year through my job as a wine writer and together with good friends. I don’t believe that a single wine will be life changing in a way that I would sacrifice a lot to taste it. Great wine is made everywhere in the world and it is the same blood, sweat and tears that go into making them, I don’t see why one producer should get unreasonably more paid for his or her wine when their neighbor might make wine of the same quality but without the big name.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

Our study trip to Alsace during viticulture studies, the way theory and practice just melted together and I came to understand all I’d read by seeing, touching and tasting together with agronomists, viticulturists and winemakers. Not to forget the dinner our last night when we came over a cellar full of old prestige cuvée Champagne to affordable prices so that everyone could not only taste the wines, but really enjoy them throughout the whole meal. A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

One of the things I love about the wine trade is the networking and how easy it is to make friends who share the same love of wine and food. This in turn gives a great possibility to visit your sommelier and winemaker friends when traveling. I enjoy traveling to wine regions on my own meeting up with friends to share a great meal and some bottles of wine, no need for it to be the top restaurants or the most expensive wines.

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