Name: Florian Valieres
At the moment: Australia
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
Wine has always been a big thing in our family, there was always a new bottle opened. As kids my sister and I always had a tiny sip however I always thought that wine wasn’t my thing. I had to wait until I start traveling the world and work in hospitality to really understand and appreciate what the wine world had to offer. I’ve started working in hospitality back in 2011 and met along the way numerous sommeliers and worked in various really good wine teams but there have been two persons who were mentors for me. These are Maciej Zimny, New Zealand Best Sommelier of the Year and Robert Stelmachuk, Wine Director in Vancouver, Canada.
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 strongly believe that the skills a Sommelier should possess for professional performance are the ability to be a good listener, a storyteller and have a thirst for knowledge and share it. The interaction with the guests is based on the ability to listen to their requests, assess their needs and offer the most memorable experience. In order to recommend a wine, I believe there is more than just its taste or winemaking techniques involved. When a Sommelier is passionate about his job, his wine list, there is always a story to tell about the wine, the place it comes from, the family involved behind the wine, etc. All of these information, when delivered to the guests enhance their experience and make our job such an fantastic one.
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?
Finding an adequate position is not always an easy thing. Finding a place where the wine list is very extensive is not always the best way either. The most important is to find a place where your Head Sommelier is eager to teach you, push you to learn and where you’ll find the right balance.
When abroad, there are different options, some sommelier websites have excellent listings and job opportunities such as GuildSomm or Sommeliers.at. When selecting the country you’d like to work in, I believe it is important to look at your career path first and your expectations as well as the wine communities for professionals already in place. The Sommelier career is great when you have the opportunity to share with other people and it helps you growing.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
I believe a quick assessment needs to be done prior selecting or recommending a wine. The two very first questions that come to mind is to know if the guests already have some options in mind and need an advice on them or if they wish to leave the choice in my hands. Either way it is important when recommending a wine to know your wine list. If the guests decide to leave the choice entirely up to you, I usually ask a series of short questions to assess their taste, their expectations and how adventurous they feel. After collecting these information and previously knowing what food they will have, you should be able to come up with a few options. As mentioned above, I strongly believe that recommending a wine isn’t just about telling the guests that you like the wine or the pairing, it’s about telling them a story, explaining the reason of your choice, what makes this wine special in order to enhance the guest’s dining experience.
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?
The same care should be taken to both the storage of the wine and the choice of glassware. Way too many times I had experiences drinking great wines in inadequate glasses and the experience wasn’t a great one. I don’t have any preferences in terms of brand, Riedel and Zalto have obviously beautiful and excellent quality glassware but the price point might be an issue for some wine programs. I believe that Gabriel-Glas brand offers an outstanding value/quality and can be suitable to a various style of wines.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
I don’t think there is any mysterious secret when it comes to wine pairing. The best solution is to take the time to sit down with your head chef, try the food, understand where the ingredients come from, how it’s cooked, what spice/seasoning comes in, what temperature it is served at, is it spicy, salty, bitter, sour, etc and then try the food with different wines. Being the Head Sommelier doesn’t mean that 100% of the choices that we make are right and when it comes to wine pairing, especially for degustation menu, I think it is important to sit down with the whole team (head chef, commis chef, waitstaff etc.) so everyone can give their opinion and it helps you choosing carefully the right pairing. When it comes to selecting a bottle that will match the food served at a table, it can get a bit more tricky as most of the time guests order different dishes and would like a wine to match them all. In this configuration I think it is important to assess what type of wine your guests usually drink/like and find a wine that will be either similar or in the same spectrum without conflicting with the food being served. Lastly, if guests want a big red with their delicate fish, it is our job to listen to their expectations and bring them what they’d like to drink. This is why it is very important to be a good listener and know your guests when pairing wine.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
Yes absolutely and for numerous reason. It may sound obvious for us but a lot of guests are not able to pick a wine that is corked, oxidised or faulty. This is why we need to make sure that the wine is safe and sound prior to giving a taste to the host. Secondly, some wines from the same producer/vintage can also show some bottle variations due to different factors so it is important to ensure that the wine is served in perfect condition. Lastly our job is to recommend and serve wine according to guests’ requirements/expectations. When working with extensive wine list, it is important to keep record of tasting notes for each wine however a wine is a living entity and might change during the year so trying the wine before serving it to the guests is always a good way to keep your tasting notes accurate and up to date in order to enhance the guest’s experience when recommending the wine or pairing it with food.
Where would you suggest a young Sommelier start searching for Sommelier positions on the internet in your country?
Here in Australia, the best websites that are listing sommelier job opportunities are either:
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 5 key ingredients for a wine list are for me: creativity, diversity, identity, integrity and passion. A wine list shouldn’t be created according to only what the sommelier likes but what’s going to sell, what makes sense with the place. You have to take in consideration the style of the venue, your clientele, the type of cuisine being served, the country you live in. Having a wine list that covers the entire world of wine is fantastic but the wine list needs an identity, a philosophy and a focus that will drive the venue towards the right direction.
When it comes to pricing and markup it comes down to finding the right balance with the owners and the financial aspect. Lower volume or rotating inventory?
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I don’t think there is any secret here. Only the thirst of knowledge and the passion will drive you. Read books, articles, magazines, attend trade tastings, masterclasses, meet the winemakers, travel to the wine regions, go the vineyards. If you wanna stay on top, you need to be active and most importantly, share your knowledge with the wine professional communities around you.
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 easiest way is definitely through importers’ portfolio and trade tastings however local winemakers usually contact me through email and I’m always willing to meet them and try the wines. As long as the wines make sense to the place, the terroirs and the philosophy of the wine list, it will get my attention. If the winemakers is passionate by his job, happy to share with others, the wine has a good value/quality and fill a gap on the wine list, then it will likely be listed.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I would be a Chenin Blanc, it is versatile, goes from dry to sweet without losing balance and has a long ageing potential.
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?
Top 3 would be as follows:
Loire Valley Chenin Blanc
Northern Rhone Valley Syrah
Desert island wine: Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Auslese Riesling
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
As of today I believe that:
- www.guildsomm.com: one of the best source of information/news about the world of wine
- www.sommeliers.at: fantastic listing of worldwide sommelier job opportunities
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommeliers.at