Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Jasper Van Papeghem

The following sommelier we wish to present to you is one with many talents, as he studied at art school and at the conservatory and has worked as tour guide at the historical sights of ancient Rome and as graphic designer... to eventually start working at the top gastronomical level in Belgium... Please meet Belgian top sommelier and 2017 Best Sommelier of Belgium Jasper Van Papeghem

Once again we have a sommelier that initially didn't plan going for a job in the HoReCa. I mean when you finish studies in Latin and mathematics and eventually art school and the conservatory, the chances of ending up working as a sommelier are rather small... but I guess we are wrong, as Jasper did find his passion through another very passionate wine personality, but you'll read about that later.

Jasper's first job in HoReCa was at the Antwerp Hilton hotel as maître and bartender, to eventually start working at the refined Indian restaurant Raj in Ghent as manager and sommelier. But, we think Jasper wanted to aim higher and decided to start expand his knowledge about wine by studying at Syntra and the famous French Université du vin in Suze-La-Rousse combined with a job at the fine dining restaurant Lesco . The next step up the ladder was his job as head-sommelier at the 2 Michelin star awarded restaurant De Jonkman near Bruges where he tried to put Belgian beers as much as possible in the spotlight and at their rightful place in top gastronomy.

It doens't stop there as next to winning the Best Sommelier of Belgium contest in 2017, that same year he also won the Belgian Ruinart Challenge. He also obtained his ASI Diploma and has inspired many young sommeliers thanks to his enthusiasm!! I'm repeating myself when saying Jasper is a man of many talents, but it is sooo true, as last year he also released his first book bio logisch! Dynamisch! Natuurlijk?.

Today Jasper fills his days with consulting in wine as sommelier at Bottle Advice and spreading his good vibes about beer and wine as much as possible :-)

Please join me in getting to know this intruiging sommelier and person a bit better.

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

That’s a very difficult one… I know some styles I really like to work with but regions is a bit more challenging. In a restaurant I would say Rias Baixas (or Vinho Verde) for its food friendliness and amazing price quality range. At home I love a good burgundy and of course a mature Riesling (preferably from the Mosel) should always be available. It really depends on the situation and company I guess. In short I love mature champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, Riesling etc

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

One word: passion.

Passion to learn, to taste and a passion for people. A good sommelier in a restaurant should make you feel like you never left home. I think a good sommelier needs to be interested in all facets of life: culture, art, music, history, people…

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I don’t think so or at least I’ve never had that feeling in any of my past jobs. Some sommeliers underestimate what it takes to be a good sommelier; it’s a steep learning curve and you never ever stop experiencing and learning. When I look at the new up and coming young sommeliers I am really amazed: they have what it takes and they are so dedicated to the life. So many restaurants are looking for staff and it seems like not a lot of young people are willing to work in a restaurant anymore but the ones who do are top of the bill in my opinion.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Since I was a little kid my main interests were history and art and it seems like all these amazing stories and characters loved a good glass and a rich plate. I love food myself so you could say it was a natural choice to become a sommelier. When I was living in Italy (working there as a tour guide) I enjoyed many good wines but didn’t want to know too much about it theoretically, I thought this was going to spoil my interest. I didn’t want to become a wine snob. One night I was invited to an amazing tasting with the Gaja family and Angelo posted himself in-between me and his daughter (Italian fathers…) and kept on talking about his wines for the rest of the evening. You could say it was a kind of epiphany for me that someone could be this enthusiastic about wine and culture and not bore me one bit. Ever since that remarkable night I want to learn more and more about wine.

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

I have the utmost respect for all women who made it in the masculine wine world (although that is changing rapidly) so I would say Fiona Morrison and Jancis Robinson. William Wouters for all he has done for Belgian Sommeliers and the Gilde and the amazing, loving person he is. Pieter Verheyde and Eric Boschman are a big influence when it comes down to style: loose, humouristic and just be who you are and do your own thing.

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

Don’t make it too difficult. Can I add something to the dish with the wine or can I accentuate it? Does it need a counter flavor? I always keep in mind that my taste is not necessary the taste of the customer… I think that’s a very big mistake a lot of sommeliers make: only serving the wines you like. I like to mix in different beverages in a menu: the world of drinks is vast and immense don’t just stick to wine. Belgium is world renowned for its beer and yet it is so very hard to find a nice beer list in our gastronomical restaurants or even worse find a beer pairing. We need to be more proud of our cultural heritage.

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

For its spectacular views: Mosel, Douro, Wachau. For the great people: Champagne, Oregon. For the intellectual challenge: Burgundy. A combination of the above: Italy. My last memorable wine trip was Lebanon: a beautiful country, friendly people, amazing food and lots of monuments to keep me happy.

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

I have been extremely lucky to have tasted so many cult wines in my career so I really had to think about this one. Le Pin 1979 (my birth year and their first vintage), Castillo Ygay 1927 and 18th century Madeira I guess.

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

Well I didn’t go to hotel management school :-) the trip to Suze Larousse with Syntra has to be the closest thing to a viticulture study I did… and it still is a wonderful memory.

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

Sharing. Wine and food are made to be shared and enjoyed together. An amazing bottle or dish only reaches its true potential when it’s shared. I’d rather have a mediocre bottle in good company than an amazing bottle in bad company.

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