Name: Antonio Lopes
At the moment: Portugal
Head Sommelier – 2015 Sommelier of the year in Portugal
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
I ve started in 2009 in Vila Vita Parc Hotel (one of World Leading hotels in Portugal), They had more than 6 Sommeliers for the 9 restaurants so I worked there as a “chefe de rang” at breakfast and commis sommelier at dinner time, assisting the sommelier Paulo Duarte. At that time he taught me so much that it made me start growing the passion for wine. I should mention that I didn’t like wine before, not even the smell, because I was used to the home wine that my parents used to make, not so well. Later I moved to the Gleneagles hotel (Top Hotel In UK) where I gained skills, brain speed and knowledge.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
I usually say that I have an amazing big nose, but it’s something I just use as an icebreaker, So what I really think is impressive in a sommelier is, mainly, the memory, the ability we need to have to understand all the different guests, the ”power” to do Harmonisations, and the versatility.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
I believe you should start aboard, in a nice restaurant with a good service mainly. The extensive wine list is something that is not so important when you’re starting, because you want to start growing you service fast and your wine knowledge with patience. Of course if you can have both, better. After 8 months/1 year you should find something outside and open your horizons. a good tip is don’t try to give a step longer than your leg.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
My first question is always the style of wine( white, red, rose,….), then the profile the guest is looking for, then i try to see if they are more into the pairing or if they want something they know they like. After that I always give 3 or 4 choices in different price ranges, and when I see where they are willing to go i ll try to find the right wine.
What’s your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
For me the glasses make 30% of the wine experience. A good glass can change an average wine into something a little better, and a bad glass can destroy a good wine. For me, a thick, heavy glass is something that will not help a wine and is not very comfortable. I work with one of my favorite brands( Riedel). As I said before i judge the glass by its weight, thickness, elegance and shape. For me Riedel answers all my needs, although i am open to try new brands.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Be audacious, break the strings from the past, such as White white with fish, red with cheese, etc. Sometimes the best pairing is simply not to pair anything or even pair a beer, a spirit,etc..
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?
First, we have to think of which customers we are looking for. Second: where is the restaurant located. Third: the kitchen we have and which wine we can pair with it. Another thing I believe is important is never to think that your wine list is ready, always put in something you think you should add and remove if you have to. The Mark Ups depend, once again, on everything, for example if you have cheap glasses or if you have only one sommelier or wine waiter, or if your service is not so elaborated you cannot charge as much as a restaurant in the middle of a ”paradise” with a big sommelier team, with glasses can cost 30€ each one.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Studying every day, updating my knowledge and the knowledge of the ones who work with me, reading, visiting, and of course tasting.
How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what’s the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
Quality of the product, humbleness, and creativity, also marketing is very important, they have to know what we are looking for, and the prices have to be well balanced with the quality.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I would be an Encruzado because of the complexity, the evolution, and the aging. A grape like this one when it is well made can produce wines to drink now or wines to keep for more than 50 years, of course if it was a red grape would be already impressive but we are talking about a grape with an amazing potential, aromaticity, is probably not the most aromatic but the lingering , the structure, flavour wise and the huge aftertaste makes me choose this one as a favourite grape.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) we would find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?
We will find all types of wine, mostly red and whites, but if I have to choose it will be champagne, port and red as a dessert wine I will choose not one but 2 for different reasons, the port because is the GODs Drink and the Madeira because of the aging potential and the time you can leave it open and still drink it, you can drink a Madeira with more than 200 years old and after 1 year open you can still drink it.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
All the magazines and online platforms are useful I don’t have a specific one I can recommend.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com