Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Yiannis Stefanides
After all the interviews from sommeliers from up north, we need some sun :-) . For this sun we’re taking you to Cyprus to meeting sommelier Yiannis Stefanides.
Some of you might recognize Yiannis as he gave us a helping hand during the Best Sommelier of the World contest week. Yiannis didn't live his whole life in sunny Cyprus, he actually grew up in Russia, but after high school, when the Soviet Union fell, Yiannis and his family moved to Cyprus. With parents from Greece and grandparents from Georgia you can try to ignore food and wine (as of a certain age), but at some point it will become the center of your life (This mostly goes for everybody close to the Mediterranean ) there is no escaping possible :-) :-)
After his studies at the Hotellerie school Yiannis started working wit his father and a few other jobs like waiter, barman, cook and even in vineyards... basically always something in connection with food and drinks. It was somewhere during this period that he felt that a career in HoReCa seemed like a good option. A very important step in his career was without any doubt start working at the luxury Elysium hotel, where he climbed up the ladder from a "regular' waiter to now being head-sommelier . The hotel has many different restaurants and Yiannis helps in all of them, his main focus is in the Bacco restaurant that has given him the "'wine-bug" :-)
His taste for more knowledge and interest in wine came after a course he had attended from former ASI world champion Giuseppe Vaccarini. Giuseppe showed him another side of the world of sommellerie. It was that moment Yiannis knew this would become this life. Since that time Yiannis has done lots of travelling to discover all the beautiful vineyards accross the globe.
Over the years Yiannis has obtained a WSET degree as well as a degree at the Court of Master Sommeliers. He also participated during national sommelier contests and has been present at many International competitions.
Today next to working as head-sommelier ,Yiannis shares the knowledge he has build up over the years with colleagues, youngsters, etc...
Enjoy the sunny readings from Cyprus and they hope to welcome you all for the 2020 Best Sommelier of Europe contest in November :-)
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
With such a variety in the wine world it is hard to name just one! Living and working in Cyprus means I have the privilege of exploring the indigenous grape varieties such as Marathefthiko, Promara, Yiannoudi, Xynisteri and Spourtiko to name just a few. Cuisine can also play a large part in choosing a favourite wine region and I enjoy to pair food perfectly with a great wine. Outside of Cyprus I hold wines from Burgundy and Piedmont in a very high regard due to their fine textures, complexity and longevity.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
In our industry the guest experience is paramount and is important to understand your client and their needs. You must fulfill and where possible exceed a guests expectation; whether they want a glass of wine to complement their food or to make a statement on a special occasion by opening an iconic bottle! A good sommelier will constantly improve his knowledge and remain up to date to offer the latest and best suggestions.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
A good sommelier is also a good salesman and will possess and employ many different qualities. Not everyone will appreciate the presence of a sommelier however a good sommelier can have a huge overall positive impact on a business and the guest experience. I believe that the value of a sommelier has recently begun to be recognized within the catering and hospitality trade more than previous years.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
Whether I knew it or not my passion has always been within in me and it has been explored and developed constantly throughout my life. As a child I was fascinated by the physical process and enjoyed the traditions associated with wine in society and as an adult I developed a greater love and understanding of the flavors, varieties and the over all complexity of wine.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Gerard Basset is someone who I believe has inspired many sommeliers in the world, including myself. As one of the most titled sommeliers in the world; he has given most of his life to studying and enjoying wines and has gained my respect in the process.
What is your approach for pairing wine (or other beverages) with dishes?
First of all I respect the traditions of the region, preferring to pair a cuisine of one country with a native wine also. This said, there is not just one formula for a good pairing! The texture of both the food and the wine, cooking methods used, the season, budget and whose company you’re in are all factors I consider when making a pairing suggestion.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody visit and why?
The Commandaria region in Cyprus consisting of 14 villages is the first and oldest AOC in the world and the one I would urge wine lovers to visit. By visiting the Commandaria region you will also be able to explore the differences that the unique soil and the altitude here has on Cypriot wines in general. I would recommend a visit to the wine museum and castle of Kolossi as highlights of a trip to the region.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
The great vintage of 1945, the first grown Bordeaux wines.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
Discovering that wine is the only alcohol that is truly alive!
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery etc?
For a humble and comforting experience all food and wine lovers will appreciate, there is nothing better in Cyprus than to enjoy ‘Kleftiko’ (Lamb slow cooked in a traditional clay oven) with a bottle of Maratheftiko, our indigenous grape variety that gives the perfect balance of acidity needed for the flavors and richness of the lamb.