Mr. Norbert Kovacs – Hungary / Austria – Maitre/Sommelier

January 7, 2019

Name: Norbert Kovacs

Nationality: Hungarian

Norbert Kovacs

At the moment: Austria


Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?

My name is Norbert Kovacs, I come from Hungary. At the moment I work as restaurant manager and sommelier. My first contact with wine was when I was a little boy, because my father owns a small vineyard near Lake Balaton in Hungary. In my childhood, I had the opportunity to work a lot with him. As a child or young boy it is not really an interesting thing to work in a vineyard and in the cellar, but today I am really thankful for this great experience. I know how to produce wine, of course through the basic method, traditional style. Later in 2011 I started to learn more about wine because I wanted to be a sommelier. My boss at that time was Sebastian Mayrhofer from Zauchensee and he was my first mentor.

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 think the sommelier is a very important person in a restaurant or hotel. The sommelier should be the role model for the colleagues because he/she has a lot of knowledge about the products and able to share this knowledge. It is also important to be open-minded, humble, should have a good sense of humour, flexible and should be able to sell the products, not only wines and not only the favourite one. It is very important to listen to the guest’s request!!! Luckily I got to know a lot of sommeliers with those skills

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 that today everybody has more chances to experience working in other countries. You should only have the courage to take the first step and look for work somewhere in the world. This is the fastest and easiest way to acquire language skills and to learn about other culture, food, wine etc…!


When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?

When the guest asks for a recommendation, this means the guest trusts you and this is SHOWTIME for a sommelier 🙂 Firstly I try to find out what the guest imagines, what he/she normally drinks and what the food is. After that I would make my recommendation. The sommelier should be prepared for service mentally and physically. This means for me to prepare the wines which you want to sell by glass, prepare the wines for frequent guests, prepare the wines which you have to sell and also prepare the new labels to be introduced.

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?

Now I work with Riedel and I am very content with it. I like Gabriel also, the StandArt serie is an all-rounder and could work with a lot of wine types. The glasses play a very important role for the guests’ enjoyment. The style, shape, cleanliness should be appropriate and a sommelier should make sure it is all perfect.

What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?

It is a bit more complicated 🙂 For the guests I explain my recommendation. For a conversation outside of the restaurant, I would say to take your favourite wine and try a different style of food, when you are ready than change the process and take your favourite food compare with different wines. Of course, it takes time, but with this method, you can experience the colourful world of the flavours.

Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?

Yes, this is the standard process, but always ask the host before.

Where would you suggest a young Sommelier start searching for Sommelier positions on the internet in your country?

In Hungary is not easy. However, when you know a restaurant where you would like to work because you like the Menu, wine list, location etc…. send them an email directly and maybe they will be interested in you.

Wine list:

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?

Location and style of the kitchen are important factors. Obviously, everything depends on the budget. I think it’s better to start with a compact, easy to understand list. Nowadays you can expand relatively easily. It is also important to have a sommelier on the floor. I think with a rational calculation you could get happier guests, more income, happier boss and the sommelier will also have some fun. Mark up with percentage is a method of the past, not actual anymore.

How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?

I try to participate in competitions, tastings and visit fairs. I have contact with colleagues and wine personalities, they are helpful to get the new information.

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?

I am always open to taste new wines or try new producers. It is a fast process when the quality and the price is right then I list the wine, but it works fast the other way around as well.

Favourite pick:

If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?

I would be a Juhfark, because this is a very unique grape, which should have the right terrain and time in the bottle to show its qualities. I needed also time to show my skills 🙂

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?

Bottle fermented dry sparkling wines, white wine with some residual sugar (about 4-10 grams) and elegant not heavy reds, as Kadarka, Chianti, Pinot Noir. My desert island wine: Dom Perignon 2004 Jeroboam 🙂

Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?

Guildsomm and Winefolly are very informative sites.

Norbert Kovacs

@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers –

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