With 2019 ASI World Championship for sommelier approaching I try to introduce to you some of the former winners of this prestigious title. Over the past 2 years you were already able to read a few interviews with former World Champions like Piero Sattatino (1971), Gerard Basset (2010), Paolo Basso (2013), Arvid Rosengren (2016) and just recently the interview with the first winner of the ASI Best Sommelier of the world contest Armand Melkonian (1969). Who knows, maybe these former champions have some tips for the current generation of Sommeliers?! The next former World Champion I want to introduce to you is German top sommelier and Master of Wine Makus Del Monego who won the title in 1998.
Markus was born in Switzerland, but grew up in Germany and it is also the country where he followed his hotelier training at the Dorint Spa Hotel in Bad Brückenau after finishing high school. Because his interest for wine started growing markus decided to start following a sommelier ‘training/internship’ at the luxury Vier Jahreszeiten Hotel in Hamburg, to eventually continue his career at the Park Hotel in Bremen, the Gutshotel Richtershof in Mülheim/Mosel and the world-renowned The Savoy in London.
In 1986 Markus won his first title as Best Young Sommelier of Germany, 2 years (1988) later he was able to win the “senior” title of Best Sommelier of Germany (a title he also won a second time in 1991). In 1998 (after 2 top 4 places in previous editions) Markus did not only win the ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest, but he also obtained the title as ‘Master of Saké’ in the same year… Quite the accomplishment and very succesful year I’d say. In 2003 he was able to add another victory on his name, as in this year he obtained the prestigious title of “Master of Wine”. He has also been a very proud ambassador of Wines of Switzerland, Barolo wines and since 2014 a Saké Samurai.
As if all of the above didn’t take enough time of his hands, Markus on top that also (co)wrote several books and has columns in various print media like in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Lufthansa exclusive magazines, Capital Club Magazine, Drinks Magazine, Vsya Evropa, etc… And is owner and managing director of caveCo GmbH and tasteTainment GmbH… so basically somebody who doesn’t like to stay still :-)
I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Markus better!
What is your favourite wine region to work with?
I have no specific wine region to work with. It always depends on how the wines can be used. Classic wines are usually easier to present, however exciting new origins or regions help to make the guests discover another aspect of the world of wine.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
„Modesty and a good memory“ was what Serge Dubs answered when he was asked the question just after becoming World Champion Sommelier. I would extend these words with love and passion. The love of the world of wine, the love to work with people and the passion for the products and the communication with the guests.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
I think in Germany the sommelier job is well estimated. Over the last two decades the Sommelier-Union Deutschland, our association, has done an extremely good job to promote the sommeliers business and is continuing to do so.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
It was at the age of 17, during a holiday job. The guest was pouring sugar in his prestigious red wine, I was completely shocked but in the end the restaurant manager gave me a private wine seminar in the afternoon of the next day. I was immediately on the hook.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
There are so many fantastic colleagues and sommeliers which I have met during my career in the wine business, I don’t want to name only one.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
The most important approach is, what the guest expects and how the individual taste of each guest is. Only when I can consider the personal taste of the guests I will be able to make a perfect match, following their expectations.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
There are too many wine regions to recommend, the Mosel Valley with its steep slopes, the Rheingau with its historic estates, Pfalz with its great Rieslings, Baden, my home region, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Alto Adige and Trentino, Piemonte and so many other regions. Every wine region has something special and specific and to discover this aspect during a trip is very rewarding.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
For every good wine in the world.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
My first trip to Bordeaux. With fellow students I contacted the famous Châteaux to get wines for a tasting. Everyone answered, some of them sent bottles, others sent material. Corinne Mentzelopoulos invited us for tasting the wine at Château Margaux. So we made a trip of 3800 km for the visit and the tasting. We did it in three days by car. An unforgettable journey.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
One example on this autumn day whilst answering your questions: A perfectly ripe Brie de Meaux with freshly shaved slices of Perigord Truffles and a hint of honey paired with a ripe, great vintage from Bordeaux made by one of the top Châteaux such as Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild or Haut-Brion etc.
How did you prepare yourself for the world championship you won in 1998?
The training for the championship started much earlier than my application. In fact the whole wine-life before was gathering information, tasting wines, learning about winemaking and preparing for other competitions. As soon as I knew that I would represent Germany in Austria I started to fully dedicate all the holidays to wine regions and I was training two to three days a week. Six month before the competition, I was only working for three to four days a week and the last two months before the competition I was training every day, working only some days a month. But I think the most important point was my passion.