Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Nina Højgaard Jensen

We are always happy to see that more women that choose to become sommelier, as for many years it has been a world (like many others) for only men. It is a very good thing as women have a far better tasting pallet in comparison with men. The next sommelier we want to present to you is Nina Højgaard Jensen that most you will know as she became 2nd during the Best Sommelier of the World contest earlier this year in Antwerp. Making that she will always have a link with Belgium (if she likes it or not ;-) )

That she is a champion, is a known fact!! As not only did she become 2nd at the Best Sommelier of the World contest (2nd out of 66 candidates, which is AMAZING) she also has victories on her name like winning the Danish Sommelier Championship, the Nordic Sommelier Championship, the Castel young sommelier championship and became 3rd Place in Danish Young Cup. To think she is only 26 years old??!!

After her studies at the at the Copenhagen Hospitality School Nina started her career at restaurant Le Sommelier (closed) that was known for having one the finest wine lists of Denmark. The sommelier in her was born 😊 in the next few year she has perfected her skills as sommelier at top Danish restaurants like Restaurant Anarki and Michelin awarded restaurant Kong Hans Kælder* .

Today Nina works as headsommelier at Restaurant Lyst that opened only a few weeks ago and is located in the harbor of Vejle. A job she combines with travelling the world to judge at international sommelier contests.

Enjoy the read

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

A really tough (if not impossible) question! I love the versatility of Loire. Pricepoints are favorable too.

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

It's not simple, but some key points can be established: Understanding towards your colleagues and guests and a sincere desire to make them happy. True passion. A well trained ability taste wine and to match it with food. An understanding of the business in a broader view. Curiosity and an openminded spirit. Respect and an attempt of understanding the vignerons, winemakers and the resulting wine.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I think that really depends on where in the world you are. Where we find a very well-developed restaurant culture I believe that a Sommeliers role is both well respected and valued - in other parts people still need to understand what it means, hence valuing is harder. I think the more general problem is the lack of recognition of how much service in general matters: It can make or break even the most outstanding food experience. The general understanding of what it means working in a restaurant could definitely be optimized.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I've fortunate enough to always work alongside the right people. When I started my waiters apprenticeship (an education of 3 years and 9months in Denmark) I knew that wine was somehow interesting, but couldn't even mention a grape to you. "Le Sommelier" as the restaurant was rightly called was run by deeply passionate people which made for extremely good teachers. That really rubs off on you! When I figured how much wine and food can do for or against each other I was sold.

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

Every single one of my most important teachers whom I learned from in my day to day life: Simon Olesen, Rasmus Amdi Larsen, Janni Hansen and Christian Thorsholt who also was the one introducing me to competitions. As I've started to look internationally I must say that Serge Dubs and Gerard Basset (who even after his passing I'm sure will continue to inspire many still) are deeply inspiring to me: The kindness, curiosity and relentlessly hard work.

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

Looking for harmony and surprises. I love when people maybe initially don't like or understand a wine much but the context with the food makes so much sense that they get fully convinced. I've successfully introduced i.g. sherry to many people through pairings. Otherwise it's very much based on instincts and intuition for me, even though I know a lot of the theories very well. When choosing a pairing, I like to try things I know will work with the dish and some very unlikely or daring options too - that can really bring about some interesting perspectives and be eye opening.

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

Mosel. It is a beautiful region, quiet easy to get to, with a lot of history, yet a contemporary view. The vignerons are down-to earth and happily take visitors. Having a region very focused on one grape is really helping the understanding of how much viticulture, terroir and winemaking practices matter which is essential. And then you really easily can drink Riesling from dusk till dawn for days!

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

The right bottle of Domaine Leroy Grand Cru Musigny. Partly because I have yet to be convinced by the mythic magic of Domaine Leroy.

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

Hard to single out. It's gotta be all the times guests have expressed their deep satisfaction with their experience. That still gives me a high.

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

Learning how much the glass matters - if they don't: Get a demonstration of it. I always say buying proper wine glasses is the cheapest way of drinking better wine. A perfect match between food and wine

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