Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Gido van Imschoot

There are still so many great sommeliers we want to present to you, from abroad, but also from closer to home. The sommelier we are about to present to you today has made it his life mission to educate young sommeliers and tries to get the best out of them by supporting them where he can and prepare them for the tough job that is awaiting them. Please meet Gido van Imschoot board member of the Flemish Sommelier Association

Gido's intrest for good food and wine has been there since very young age. He even wanted to start hotel school, but his parents preferred were of a different opinion making it that he finished his studies in Social Science and only found the way to a job in the gastronomical world in his mid thirties.

At that time he followed several training courses and tastings and managed to become "Maître Sommelier en Vins de France". But his hunger for wine knowledge didn’t fade away making that in 1994 he obtained the titles of "Sommelier Wines of the World", in 1998 he became "World Wine Master" and in 2002 he obtained his "Advanced Certificate" at the WSET, The Wine & Spirit Education Trust London.

During the above mentioned period Gido also started working as Internship coordinator at the famous Belgian hotel school Spermalie, a job he did with a lot of dedication and with which he managed to form lots of top chefs, sommeliers, etc...

You might think that after he long career Gido might be slowing down, but that's not in his dictionary. In fact Gido's schedule is busier then ever as he recently released his 9th book (and for sure not his last book), he combines the book writing with the job of President of the Flemish Sommelier Association , a job as freelance culinary journalist, European Ambassador for the Champagne region and a million other things related with good food and wine :-) aka busy bee

Please join us in getting to know Gido a bit better

Enjoy the read!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

This is quite a difficult question, because I have many favorite wines and wine regions all over the world. There always are a few regions you know a little bit better and who you are passionate for. I love Champagne, Piedmont and South Africa. In 2005 I wrote my first book on the new generation of winemakers in France. Then, I wrote two books on Champagne and recently I released my tenth book. This book is entirely dedicated to Piedmont, a region where a lost my heart. I mainly follow the evolution of the indigenous grapes of Piedmont, like nebbiolo, barbera, dolcetto, grignollino and arneis. Piedmont has a lot of other interesting grapes and wines.

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

A sommelier who takes his profession seriously knows that he does a fantastic but complex job. After all, he carries out many tasks. For me, a good sommelier is someone who combines social skills with a great and broad wine knowledge. His work is much differentiated: giving advice, feeling the customer, being well informed about the kitchen and working well with the chef. In addition, the sommelier knows his wine cellar very well and is well aware of the costings. For me, it's a passion. Passion for the customer, the gastronomy and the wine. After all these years as a freelance sommelier, teacher and author, I still learn every day. It's the beauty of this profession, the passion never stops.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Unfortunately, the sommelier's profession is under pressure. Many young people do have a passion for wine, but feel little to work 12 to 14 hours a day for a low pay. Many top talents leave the practice and work in the trade today or work in a nine to five job. We also see this in the specialization courses for young sommeliers in the hotel schools. Every year, fewer and fewer young people receive the training. On the other hand, those who follow their passion and show a lot of commitment do find work in the best restaurants, not only in my own country Belgium, but also all over the world. Good sommeliers are very sought after and are wanted. There's definitely a job offer. Many old students are working all over the world and I hope their example can inspire the current generation.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I come from a family who lived near the border with France. My father, who was great winelover, used to work in France and most of the times he brought wine and cheese from France for diner. At six, I tasted my first (little) glass of wine. Since then I fell in love with wine and gastronomy. It was my preoccupation. I wanted to go to the hospitality school, but my parents decided otherwise. So, I studied social science, which was far away from the world of gastronomy. Nevertheless, the passion for wine and gastronomy remained very great. In my spare times I followed courses for cook, pastry chef and winetaster and once a month I worked at a two star restaurant to learn about food and wine.

I started the formation for sommelier when I was 33 year old. After becoming ‘Maître Sommelier en Vins de France’, I worked in a wine -restaurant for 3 years. After that I ran a catering business, specialized in wine & dine, during 7 years. In 1997 I was asked to become wine teacher for young students at the Hotel- and Tourism school Spermalie, a well-known and famous school in Bruges. Since then, until now, I have been involved in coaching young sommeliers.

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

There are many people who helped me in my education and my career as a sommelier. That's why I'm grateful to many people, not only at home, but also all over the world. During my worldwide travels I have met many sommeliers, winemakers and wine experts who have taught me a lot. I own a lot of thanks to the 28 winegrowers from my first book 'Back into the Vineyard'. They taught me that a good wine is made in the vineyard from healthy and good grapes. This 5000 km journey through France, the encounters and interviews with inspiring people such as Andre Ostertag, Elian da Ros, Pierre Overnoy, David Fourtout and others have influenced my vision incredibly on wine and winemaking. Later I walked with Filipa Pato and William Wouters in their fields with very old grapes in Bairrada and with my good friend Domenico Clerico in his vineyards in Monforte d'Alba, or Donovan Rall in Swartland and the conversation with great lady Rosa Kruger. So many people who still inspire me every day.

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

In the past, the rules for combining wine and dish were simple: you drunk red wine with meat and white wine with fish and at the end of a rich meal the leftover red wine was served with the cheese. Many generations of gastronomes have been brought up with this way of thinking. Today, however, these simple rules will no longer be upheld. Our contemporary cuisine has become a journey around the world, rich on ingredients, spices, structures and cooking styles. The choice of wine has also become immense.

It is important that the sommelier has a good relationship with the chef. They will negotiate about the choice of the wine with each dish. Everything revolves around structure, taste style and intensity. For 12 years I have been giving wine advice in a top restaurant. Every six weeks there is a new menu. Then the chef works out all the dishes and we taste different wines together until we find the right match. The reactions of the customers are very positive. This way of working is intensive, but absolutely pays off.

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

There are a lot of beautiful wine regions in the world that are worth exploring. I am thinking specifically of Le Marche, in the middle of Italy where superb wines are made from verdicchio grapes, or the wines of Mount Etna, which contain a fantastic fraîcheur. I would also like to make a case for chenin blanc from Savennières, savagnin from Arbois-Pupillin, and the old vines from Stellenbosch and Swartland in South Africa. And why not, the emerging wines from the ‘Low Lands (Netherland and Belgium), where a real wine culture is gradually emerging. I also love the finest riesling wines from Mosel in Germany.

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

Last year I had the chance to taste a Corton-Charlemagne 2007 from Domaine Coche-Dury in Meursault. Then I learned that the vintage 2005 was one of the greatest wines that Jean François Coche had made had with chardonnay grapes from this mythical vineyard. 2007 was very impressive, but I hope that once, I get the chance to taste the memorable 2005.

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

I will never forget the moment my name was called as the laureate of the competition of the Ambassadors of Champagne. In 2012 I participated in the competition of the Ambassadors of Champagne. I came first and have been allowed to call myself ‘European Ambassador of Champagne’ ever since. It has made my relationship with Champagne more intense. As a result, I started to specialize even more intensely in Champagne and in sparkling wines all over the world.

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

I wish everyone a wonderful moment in good company where the food is delicious and the wine match well with the dishes. It shouldn't always be a rich dinner or a gastronomic top experience. Everything is determined by the company, the atmosphere and the emotion. Sharing good food and fine wine is one of the most beautiful things we can experience in life. If we then can learn from each other, make a discovery of a special bottle, or experience a beautiful harmony between wine and dish, then we can perfectly reconcile ourselves with life.

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