Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Tolli Sigurbjörnsson
Now we will travel up north to introduce Iceland top sommelier and 2016 Best Sommelier of iceland Tolli Sigurbjörnsson.
Tolli is a very enthusiastic and person of many talents with a great sense of humour. After getting his bachelor at the hotel and catering school Tolli started working as sommelier for the 360° rotating Reykjavik restaurant Perlan. Perlan is located in, without any doubt, the most recognizable restaurant of Reykjavik. Over 176,000 trees have been planted on the hillside surrounding Perlan, creating a rare woodland setting in urban Reykjavik.
As if working in a restaurant isn’t challenging enough (especially in combination with a family), Tolli also found the time to participate in national and international sommelier contests, obtaining a level 3 WSET diploma, certifying himself at the court of master sommeliers and obtain a diploma in sales and marketing (yes, you have read this right)
Today Tolli works wine & spirits reporter and next to that as sales and marketing representative at Globus HF
Enjoy the read!
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
OMG, it´s always hard to choose one region, it depends on the season I would say. But, I love regions with a lot of diversity, various price points, etc.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
„With great knowledge comes great responsibility “some wise man said or Spider-Man ;-). But, a good sommelier today really has to have it all or at least be working on it. You need to be a good team player, and not forget that you are also a top floor waiter. You need to be open-minded, share your knowledge, passion, be honest, humble, listen, and be polite, just to name a few. Always be curious about learning new things, because gastronomy and wines are a never-ending story! And, don´t forget to have fun at work, humor for yourself and others.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Most restaurants here in Iceland think it is perhaps too expensive to have a sommelier on payroll, and they don´t see the investment and possibility of what a great sommelier can do. As we are only a handful of certified Sommelier here in Iceland, it also makes the sommeliers' job underestimated/misunderstood.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
It started soon when I was a waiter apprentice in the Restaurant Pearl back in 1995. I started to ask the experienced waiter´s how this wine was and got so many different answers from them about the same wine; this one said it was very dry and the other sweet, etc., so I just started buying books and wine to test myself. I have not looked back since!
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Many people have influenced me. At the beginning of my career, the wine critic´s and journalists Þorri and Steingrímur, and also the mother of Icelandic Sommeliers Dominique Pledel.
Later, when I got to know the international Sommelier´s I would first name the super nice gentleman Mr. Tim Vollerslev who has done a lot for the Nordic countries. All the ASI best Sommeliers of the world are very inspirational, and the ladies Veronique Rivet, Pascaline Lepeltier, Nina Højgaard Jensen and my good friend Alba E.H Hough are to me super somm´s.
What is your approach for pairing wines (or other beverages) with dishes?
„What grows together goes together “is always a safe way but tired. I'm always looking for something exceptional that people don´t expect, break the rules but in harmony, of course.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Go anywhere in Greece, amazing landscape, a huge diversity of grape varieties, styles, and terroirs.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
Hhhhuuummm, I'm good now, no mission too difficult, and no sacrifice too great.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
Wonderful memory, or not! When I was doing my work duty´s from the hotel & catering school, I had a table of six Russians who order a bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild 1990 vintage and 2 bottles of Coca Cola. I poured the wine, and then they asked me to top the wine with Coca Cola, which I did very hesitantly. Then they went through three more bottles.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
OK get ready for this. If you are in Iceland during winter, we have this mid-winter festival called Thorri, and we eat traditional Icelandic food named Thorramatur, which is the way of storing and protect food in the old days. Fermented shark, sour ram testicles that are pressed in blocks, cured and boiled in lactic acid, boiled sheep heads, blood pudding, cured seal´s flippers, whale blubber pickled in sour milk among other delicacies, all this showered down with Icelandic Brennivín, and massive party! Very tempting, isn't it? Crazy Vikings!