Name: Harry Constantinescu
At the moment: USA-Georgia
Sommelier – Beverage Consultant
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
My first encounter with wine took place at a very young age. My family was making wine from our small vineyard back in Romania as a tool of trade. It wasn’t anything special but I’ve got to start experimenting and making different kind of wines, bad wines I might say, by the time I was 14.
My best mentor since that time until today was the mistakes I’ve made. I’ve learned a lot from those mistakes especially why a good wine is good and why some wines are faulty – cause and effect.
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?
There is no doubt in my mind that what makes a good sommelier is the experience in the field and hands on approach to wine regions. Look, there’s only this much you can learn from the books, seminars or various Internet sites. You can recite the Champagne region’s like a computer, you can be a walking encyclopedia, but is not until you have been there, touched the grapes, feel the terroir, breathe the air and immerse in the culture that you can truly say: “I know a little bit about Champagne”. This is true for all the wine regions of the world.
There is not one single person that can say, “I know everything about wine”. That is a myth, it is a science that never stops to evolve and develop. That’s why I admire everybody that has truly dedicated most of his or her life trying to scratch the surface of understanding wine.
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 think both. If you go to study abroad, people there would assume you know everything about the wine from your country. When you come back, people here would just assume that you know everything about the wine produced in the region you just studied.
The truth is that before embarking in this adventure one should try to find a mentor and try to make a name for themselves through getting into blind tasting competitions, exams, writing articles, etc.
By the way, if you are in this to make a lot of money (I assume that’s what “adequate position” means in your question) you are in the wrong industry. Our reward is mostly the knowledge acquired over the years and all that good and rare wine we get to taste with our clients or suppliers. This kind of wealth nobody can take it away from you, for the rest of your life, and cannot be quantified in any currency.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
Always listen before you talk. Ask two or three questions to pinpoint customer’s preference and price range and then make a well-informed suggestion.
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?
I once had a workshop/lunch with Maximilian Riedel. We’ve tasted several wines from different glasses (including plastic) and took notes. The notes were different; the aromas seemed to be unalike. At the end of the tasting turns out he was pouring the same wine in different shaped glasses. It was the glass that accentuated or diminished certain characteristics. I always consider new brands and try to choose the shapes that highlight the typical attributes of a region and/or varietal
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Think out of the box. A powerful engine is made out of many little pieces. Those pieces by themselves have no valuable use, but the when you put them together they will power the Titanic. If that boat will make it to the shore or not, is your responsibility, you are the captain. Same philosophy drives the wine and food pairing; look at the sum of ingredients, not at individual parts. A few years ago at a big charity event (“No Kid Hungry) Five top chefs got together with five sommeliers and each one had to create a unique course and pair it with wine. Mine was a 14th Century Persian dish. What would you pair with that if you are not thinking out of the box?
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
If a guest brings his wine to the restaurant, is because of two reasons:
- The restaurant selection doesn’t have his favorite wine or:
- That bottle or brand/vintage is not carried by the establishment and has a sentimental value for the guest.
On both of the above situations, I would NOT taste the guest’s wine, unless I’m asked to. Usually the guest will offer a taste to the sommelier in order to get a professional opinion, in which case if something is really wrong with the wine I would unnoticeably just whisper that to the guest that brought the bottle. Otherwise I will praise the wine (that’s what is expected)
As a side note, beware: of those situations, the guest usually is extremely well informed about that particular wine so it would not be an extremely great idea to start up selling.
Where would you suggest a young Sommelier start searching for Sommelier positions on the internet in your country?
The legislation in United States does NOT require you to have a certification to work as a sommelier in an establishment. A certification is always good for credentials. I guess it all comes down to the amount of work, hours and compensation. That’s where the difference is made. Always remember this: the only thing in the world that money can’t buy is TIME. Your time is precious, everybody’s time is precious; nothing can bring it back and is valued based on your reputation and credentials.
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 mark ups?
The wine list selection in a restaurant should be complementing the menu. If your restaurant serves French cuisine, I would probably not be heavy on Greek wines. Another important factor is the demographics; you have to take in consideration where your restaurant is located from geographical point of view. Is it a restaurant located in a highly sought after luxury resort or in the corner of a small neighborhood?
The above-mentioned elevated price on some of the wines is triggered by one of two reasons:
- That particular wine is extremely rare and highly allocated. Once sold, there is no guarantee that it can be replaced. It is like a work of art, once you sell the original everything else would be a mere copy. In this case, the original can fetch quite a big price, or:
- The restaurant is part of a chain or corporate where a certain beverage cost is required. If your requirement is for example 22% for a beverage cost, technically you will have to mark up 400-500% on each bottle. Of course there is a balance here and that’s where the big and upcoming “private label” market comes into play.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
As part of my daily routine, every morning I read the Wine Industry News and Decanter Magazine. That brings me a little bit up to date. I also try to stay very active on social media. On Facebook I’ve created a group called “The American Association of Wine Professionals”. It is a closed group and we are just short of 2500 members as of now. A lot of winemakers, masters and legends, generally people from our industry will post and comment there. Turned out to be a good resource regarding recent changes.
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?
The story and quality sells the wine. We are in the business of selling. You can’t have one without the other.
A while back, a simple gentleman came to my hotel to have me taste his wine. He did not have an appointment and my schedule was extremely tight. I have decided to take a minute and respect his time for driving all the way. It was a new, absolutely unknown East Coast wine. He pulled a bottle of his Chardonnay and a bottle of Kistler (one of my favorites Chardonnays, probably one of the best in the country). He poured each one in a glass and said: “Can you tell me which is which?” I was able to correctly pinpoint the wines, but the quality was amazing on his wine and the price was very attractive. He had a great story to go with it also. After almost seven years, we are still good friends and visit each other. He eventually won multiple gold medals in San Francisco for the quality of his wines, shortly after that.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I think I would be a blend, probably Champagne. Is extremely complex, takes sometime to develop and is always a reason for celebration, great companion and the heart of the party.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?
My top 3 types would probably be Rhone Valley, Burgundy and Napa Cabs. You always find that in my home. As far as “desert island” wine, without a doubt would be Krug Rose.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
I love Wine Business and Decanter, very informative and always on top of the industry.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com