Name: Heidi Mäkinen
At the moment: Finland
Currently: Sommelier - 2015 Sommelier of the year in Finland
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
The first wine tastings I attended were in Tokaj, Hungary when travelling with my parents. I was allowed to taste aszú wines in the cellars trying to figure out which measure of puttonyos was my favourite. The wines were spat on the mouldy stone walls and it was all very exciting.
My first job within the industry was in the Cotswolds, England when I was 18. I was serving wines with not knowing anything else about them but that our Chenin Blanc was from South Africa and Merlot from France. I began drinking Pinot Grigios from Italy with my next favourite becoming Gewürztraminer.
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?
In my view a sommelier is first of all a server. Dedication to customer service and hospitality is essential for anyone working in a restaurant. To be able to adjust to different situations and to each customer’s needs is the key. Knowledge of wine and the understanding of food and different tastes comes only second.
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?
Whenever looking for a new job sommeliers should ask themselves what the job could offer them and what they could offer to the place. For a young sommelier it would be important to get into a team where other people are willing to help and teach and are enthusiastic about their work, whether the restaurant is in their home country or somewhere else. If willing to study alongside work, it should be mentioned already in the interview.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what's in your opinion would be the best approach?
I often ask if the customer has something they usually like and if they’re willing to have something comfortable or try something new. I take in consideration the food they’re about to have but for me it’s more important the customer likes the wine than that the pairing is perfect in my opinion.
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’m not too fussed about glasses. I mainly use Riedel but I’d happily use Lehmann or Zalto too. As long as the glass isn’t too thick and there’s enough room for the wine’s aromas to shine I’m happy.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Trust your instincts, drink what you like with food that you like and relax. If the pairing isn’t perfect and you want to learn more, think what could have made it better and try that next time.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest's wine?
I think every bottle served by the glass should be tasted and also the bottles customer's order as not every customer knows how the wine should be and if there are any problems the sommelier knowing the wine well could easily spot them and open another bottle. It’s called customer service.
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?
The most important thing is that the wine list suits the concept of the restaurant. It shouldn’t consist only of what the sommelier likes but what the customers coming to the restaurant like. Sommelier’s job is to select good quality items that the customers would enjoy and which would accompany the food well.
Some restaurants aren’t encouraging people to drink wine with their huge mark ups but restaurants do need to make profit and cover the costs of cellaring, glasses, staff etc. I prefer markups that vary depending of the products. A good way of pricing wines is asking yourself what would you be happy to pay for a certain bottle in a restaurant. I think the more expensive and premium quality wines should have a lower mark up than the everyday wines sold by the glass. Having such cellar items in your wine list is a service for enthusiasts who are willing to pay the price if they know they’re not being charged ridiculously.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I subscribe several newsletters, follow industry people on Twitter, read books and try to travel and taste as much as possible.
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?
Travelling has opened my eyes many times. When I get to see new places and taste wines made there I learn a lot more than ever from books. If the wines are of good quality and authentic, imported to the country where I work and fit the concept of the restaurant I’m happy to broaden my selections.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I think Nebbiolo has some similarities with me. At first both of us can be a bit difficult to get to know and we aren’t always so easygoing. However, with spending more time with us we will reveal ourselves and can be quite likeable.
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 cellar has mainly Champagne, German Rieslings and Pinot Noirs from around the world. To a desert island I would take a case of my favourite champagne, Les Pierrières by Ulysse Collin.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Recently I’ve read several well-written articles on Meininger’s Wine Business International.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers - www.sommeliers.at