Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Martynas Pravilonis

We’ve already interviewed over 100 sommeliers from all over the globe and when I ask them the skills that are needed to be a good sommelier, 90% (maybe even more) will tell you that you need to be some kind of a psychologist. Funny enough the next sommelier we want to introduce to you is actually a real psychologist (has a university degree) who after his studies became sommelier!!! So I guess he must be one of the best sommeliers around as he can read people like non-other :-) Anyhow, please meet Lithuanian top sommelier Martynas Pravilonis.

He definitely is a top sommelier as not only did he win the title of Best Sommelier of Lithuania 3 times, he also won the Baltic Sommelier Championship 2 times…. It doesn’t even stop there as during the 2019 ASI Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World he finished e 4th. So I go guess he knows his stuff.

It was during his studies at University that he found his passion, actually during his weekend/holiday jobs at wine shops. The more he started working in them the more he got interested, the more he got interested, the more he started reading and started tasting…. Funny enough it is not the first top sommelier who found his way to the world of wine through weekend/holiday jobs. 10 years later he is Court of Master Sommelier certified and obtained a WSET level 4 degree.

Martynas’ first ‘real’ daytime job in the world of wine was at Burbulio Vyninė. To eventually start a job as wine expert at VYNO KLUBAS where he learned a lot and the passion didn’t become less. For the past 4 years Martynas works as Head sommelier at the luxury Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius, but seen his motivation in the past 10 years we’re sure this won’t be his last stop :-)

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

It is a hard call and to choose one region is very difficult. But if I needed to pinpoint one country – it would be Austria. The quality of wines is great throughout the board, the diversity is there and many estates are headed by the new young generation who are smart, knowledgeable and respectful to nature. Also, many wines such as Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch are very versatile when pairing with food. My favorite region from Austria would be Kamptal – where besides fantastic Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings, reds made from Pinot Noir or St. Laurent show great potential.

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

Many things combine to make a good sommelier, but few are more important than others. First, a good sommelier must be passionate about what he does and should have will and strength to keep developing his skills and knowledge all the time. At the same he must be humble and hospitable since the goal of a sommelier is to provide service and good time to others and not to show off his knowledge or satisfy his own ego. Finally, he should exhibit positive energy, motivating his colleagues and boosting mood of those who surround him.

I believe these are some of the core values for sommelier which very often are formed throughout the life. All the other things such as business management and technical aspects of service can be taught and will be gained with practice and experience.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

At least in our country it becomes more and more valued. But more by the guests and wine lovers than buy business owners. There are still only few high-profile restaurants which have decided to invest into wine professional and proper staff training.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

It was during my university days when I started working in various small wine boutiques and gourmet stores. I started reading and slowly learning about wine and I got hooked. Also, all my family gatherings were full of wine and talks about it since my uncle who worked at that time as a restaurant manager started competing in national sommelier competitions. I have learned lot of things about wine from him.

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

Late Gerard Basset. I had read few articles and interviews with him about his life and great achievements in the world of wine before I met him during the ASI Contest of the Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa 2017. He approached me casually during the opening ceremony dinner to talk asking where I was from, was it my first such competition and how I felt being there and then kindly agreed to take picture together. I was so surprised how down to earth and relaxed person he was despite all the titles he owned and respect he had from others. He was very humble and friendly despite all his achievements and I hold him a best example of what sommelier should be and how he should act.

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

First, I always try to respect the dish finding the wine which could match the dish in regards of intensity and body. Then I look at key structural and taste elements in the dish like amount of fat, sweetness, acidity and bitterness or spiciness and having these in mind I start looking for a suitable wine. If similar flavors and aromas can be found both in wine and the dish, these usually work as bridge binding both elements together and very often result in good pairings. I always love to include some Japanese sake in the pairings as very often it works very well and adds an element of surprise.

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

Piedmont – especially the Langhe hills area which has a UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The steep hills fully planted with vineyards are breathtaking as well as great red wines of Barolo and Barbaresco produced there. And though the region is mostly known for these two appellations, you can find many great wines made in other styles and other grapes. The region has some nice traditional method sparkling wines made under Alta Langa DOCG appellation as well some fine still white wines produced from grapes such as Favorita, Arneis or Nascetta.

The region is also home to the white truffle, hazelnuts and many great restaurants.

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

Probably older vintages of the iconic Burgundies such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy Musigny or Armand Rousseau Chambertin.

I believe that these wines achieved their status not for nothing and would like to taste them at their peak.

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

Receiving my results for the final exam of WSET level 4 Diploma. It was probably the most challenging exam I have ever wrote and finally getting ‘Pass’ after 3 months waiting for it was fantastic.

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

When in France, especially Champagne, try carpaccio of Saint-Jacques scallops with freshly grated truffles. Subtle and simple but at the same time complex and full of flavor it is a dish which goes fantastically well with champagne.

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