Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Ketri Leis

With the Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa contest getting closer we decided to put all the participants for the competition in the spotlight. Please allow me to introduce to you Ketri Leis who even at her young age is already a leading lady in world of Estonian sommeliers and I'm sure it won't stop there. Ketri will be defending the Estonian Colors at the championship.

After finishing her studies in 2015 Ketri started working at one of the leading wine restaurants in the world Leib in Tallinn (award by Wine spectator and San Pelegrino 50 best discoveries). Being such a leading restaurant in wines you can imagine that this was the spot that had an enormous influence on Ketri life as sommelier and gave a different perspective and views over the world of wines

After a nice time at Leib this lead to her working at the Pazzo wine bar, no my dear friends not the one owned by William Wouters in Antwerp but the one in Tallinn , to currently working in a new Tallinn venue, LoRe Bistroo (which is of the same owners as Leib).

The answer to the question if Ketri is ready for the European contest? I think she was born ready as she recently won the Best Sommelier of Estonia competition for the 4th time in a row!! So nobody better fit to be defending her country against the best of the best!!

Enjoy getting to know Ketri Leis!!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

To be honest, I tend not to work with a specific region or country. The wines I enjoy the most are the ones which emphasize the terroir and the passion behind it. Either is it a superb and elegant volcanic touch of Mount Etna or the sea breeze from Rias Baixas or the well-known Kimmeridgian from Chablis. What I find extremely intriguing are the indigenous, unknown grape varieties being discovered all over again. They show the most what a specific region and its terroir is all about.

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

It takes a lot of knowledge and passion. Being a sommelier is a never ending process, where you learn and discover something new every week. Next to the studies a good sommelier needs great empathy, finding the best wines for his or her guests. Understanding pairing food and wine and being open to new tastes and experiences.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

The job of a sommelier is gaining more and more popularity. My experience shows the development of people’s palate within the past decade. The guests are more into finding new flavors and pairings. The guests are more into discovering new regions and grape varieties. The guests are more into listening the recommendations of a sommelier and experimenting more as I do myself.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I was working as a waitress for about 5 years before I dived into the world of wine. It was the logical step, when I joined one of very well recognized restaurants with a great wine program in Tallinn. I graduated Estonian Sommelier School on 2015 and since then I have been working as a sommelier.

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

One of the great examples for me is Veronique Rivest , I simply admire her passion. She is possibly the most positive person, always with a big smile and great stories to tell. A self-made woman who's passion has made her into one of the best sommeliers in the world and a great role model for every young lady wanting to be a sommelier.

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

You can never go wrong with the classics. It is always important to look for the most foreword taste test. Every sommelier dreams of having pairing combination, where 1+1 = 3 or more. That means to play around with the textures and the background tastes.

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

My last most intriguing visit was to Sicily. The island is small enough to visit many different places and wineries within a week. The island shows extreme differences in terroir and climate from the west to east. As well one of the upfront regions of indigenous varieties and natural wines will give ultimate experience of showing why one island can produce wines with such a large scale and high quality.

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

I have never been able to taste one of the older vintages of Bordeaux 1er Cru Classe wines (+ 50 years). I would love to taste and really understand, why these wines have the icon status and how the palate developed over the many decades and will continue developing.

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

I think it's a lesson of pairing wine and food at Estonian Sommelier School. We had about 6 different ingredients on the plate, that you would need to make sushi; some rice, salmon, nori etc… In front of us we had 3 glasses of different styled wines. Our mission was to find the best combination. As a starting sommelier it was quite eye opening experience to have more than 10 good pairings with different ingredients. To see how different components work differently with each other and how the wine compliments or destroys the pairing.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

I would recommend to take the time and visit a restaurant nominated as the best in the world. I was able to visit 11 Madison Park a year ago and it was a great experience full of interesting flavors. I would like and will definitely visit more restaurants at that high level.

How will you prepare yourself for the Best Sommelier of Europe contest?

For every competition I have developed a routine, meaning studying theory and creating flash cards. Tasting wines and spirits. Practicing everyday tasks. In the restaurant and at a setting mirroring the competition set up. If I have the possibility, I would love to add some extra trips to wineries.

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