Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Nelson Guerreiro

It is so nice to be able to interview so many great sommeliers from all over the world. They all such fantastic stories to tell us. What surprises us most is how many sommeliers before actually becoming sommelier had other plans with their lives…until they got the famous ‘bug’ all of the people we interview share aka passion for wine and the world of sommeliers (as it is more than only wines). For the next interview we take you to Lisbon to meet Portuguese top sommelier Nelson Guerreiro.

It is so nice to be able to interview so many great sommeliers from all over the world. They all such fantastic stories to tell us. What surprises us most is how many sommeliers before actually becoming sommelier had other plans with their lives…until they got the famous ‘bug’ all of the people we interview share aka passion for wine and the world of sommeliers (as it is more than only wines). For the next interview we take you to Lisbon to meet Portuguese top sommelier Nelson Guerreiro.

We are very grateful that Nelson gave us a hand during the Best sommelier of the world contest last year (2019) in Antwerp. Nelson followed a classical hotellerie studies at the hotellerieschool of Estoril. After his studies he joined the luxury hotel Don Pedro in Lisbon. He continued his career at Hotel Sana, Centro Cultural de Belém (as maitre/ head somm during UE Presidency to organize all official events) and Enoteca de Belém. He then took a jump across the channel to join Jason Atherton’s Social wine and tapas restaurant in London.

If you are used to the Portuguese sun, the UK rain just won’t work J so after a while Nelson decided to return to sunny Lisbon to start working as head sommelier of the 2 Michelin starred restaurant Alma-Henrique Sá pessoa. Today Nelson works as brand manager for Antinori at legendary Garrafeira Nacional in Lisbon (aka winelover’s Walhalla in Portugal). Next to that since a few years Nelson started teaching at the Lisbon hospitality school.

In his 20 year career Nelson also defended the Portuguese honor during many international sommelier competitions.

Enjoy getting to know Nelson better :-)

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

That is a difficult question, in Portugal I love the crispy and salty whites from the Lisbon Coast, or the elegance of Baga in Bairrada. From the rest of the world Niederosterreich (Austria) is impressive for fresh minerality, and Arbois (Jura) with their sharp acidity… So in the end it’s very difficult for me to choose just one.

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

In my opinion a good Sommelier first of all has to be passionate for his job, humble, good theoretical and practical skills, but the most important of all to me is the ability to “listen” the guest’s needs

I prefer when a sommelier asks a guest’s table which region, style, grape variety or maybe even his favorite wine, to eventually being able to make a good suggestion.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I think they are both, unfortunately. We still see some restaurants in Portugal without sommeliers, even the wines from Portugal and tourism are on a high-end. Even until a few years ago, some owners /managers/ winemakers didn’t understand the value of a sommelier. They don’t understand they promote wines resulting in a good beverage profit in their restaurants. In the opposite all the high end restaurants have a sommelier team and in many cases they are the director of the restaurants. But I am very hopeful, I think in a few years more and more restaurants will follow, and they will prefer to have a professional in their venues

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

My Grandfather had a small estate in Bucelas DOC region and from young age I used to help during the harvest and it was quiet fun… Although I must admit that I never imagined I would be working with wine as a job. It was in 2002 when I was working as a waiter in a hotel in Lisbon and the sommelier got sick when the manager asked if I could replace him during his absence. Initially I was in shock because I didn’t have any technical knowledge about wine or the job of sommelier. I just tried to sell what we had on the list, but the good thing about it is that I decided to learn more about wines and applied for hospitality school to learn and the more I learned the more I wanted to keep learning and that my passion grew. A passion that doesn’t stop growing

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

Eric Zwiebel MS , I only met him a few years ago , but I admire his simplicity and the fact that he is always open to help anyone who asks for it. Another sommelier would be Laure Patry, she was my Head Sommelier in London and she pushed me every day to be better and better day by day …..I’m very thankful for that!

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

In my opinion it is all about textures, balance, temperatures of the dish, intensity of flavors and complexity, if you can understand all of those and adding something that exceeds a guest’s expectation and explain why you are choosing a particular beverage. Depending on the menu I can take a more conservative approach that I know that will work or something out of the box like for example Cod fish in pili-pili and coriander sauce and serve it with a saké Dokan Junmai daiginjo genshu,

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

Colares DOC and Bairrada DOC for their unique Terroir and the island of Madeira for the fortified wines they make.

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

Barolo 1996 Monfortino riserva Giacomo Conterno, probably one of the best vintage ever in Barolo, I tried it once many years ago and wouldn’t mind having it again.

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

It was my first visit to Champagne, I was amazed by the vineyards, the villages, or maybe it was actually that we got the opportunity to taste a champagne from 1976!! That was something special and that I will never forget.

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

I recommend a visit to ‘Simplesmente vinho’ which is an event in Porto with a focus on low intervention /biodynamics producers, with wines from all over the country and I think it shows very well the true potential of Portugal.

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