Take a glass, preferably a wine-shaped one, and fill it with your Malbec of preference or a fun and floral Torrontés. We’re going to raise a toast to wine superstar Paz Levinson, who last week qualified as Argentina’s first Advanced Sommelier from the UK’s Court of Master Sommeliers.
This, in case you aren’t quite sure, is a big deal. Speaking as one who is currently cooking the books in an attempt to become the lowest-ranked and least knowledgeable of sommeliers, trust me, it isn’t just about knocking back wine and slurring lyrical about it. No, no, I spit wine in school…
Although superhero sommelier Paz has been working outside the country — where it’s extremely hard to buy imported wine, even a Tannat or a Cabernet Sauvignon from neighbours Uruguay (a mere 70km away) and Chile — and has had plenty of opportunities to enhance her already powerful palette, let’s not forget that she started off tasting… Malbec and Torrontés in Argentina.
With a bountiful CV that includes working for Nectarine and Unik restaurants, Paz was also anointed the Argentine Association of Sommeliers’ Best Sommelier of Argentina 2010; is a certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers; and represented Argentina in the 14éme Concours A.S.I. du Meilleur Sommelier du Monde in Tokyo last year (she ranked a very respectable 12th in the world). Her star can only continue to shine brighter following this latest qualification, given that she is the only Argentine to hold it.
But besides having an impeccable nose and a palate that the likes of me and my fellow students can only dream of, our very own Bacchus-ita talked to the Herald about the path that has led her to become Argentina’s first Advanced Sommelier.
It is all practise, practise, practise, she says. “For the Advanced exam, you have to study and taste a lot of wines! I went to France so that I could have greater access to French and other world wine. But it wasn’t easy to prepare because there aren’t any Master Sommeliers living there. It’s the kind of exam that is best prepared as part of a group with one or several mentors. I tried to find one in Paris but I couldn’t find anyone. So my prep work was a bit solitary and I had to be disciplined about tasting and talking about wine in English.
“All that, besides moving to a new country, learning the language and with a very tricky December given that there was a lot of work with the opening of a new restaurant. So although I passed, I still think that the best way to do it would be to study with a group, so that they listen to you and you listen to them.”
Besides representing Argentina in the world championship in 2013, Paz says that this new qualification is as important for her personally as it is for the country.
“The fact that Argentina now has a place shows that there is interest in this exam. I think it’s going to encourage a lot of sommeliers in Argentina to sit for it. But for me personally, it was important because I always wanted to do it but due to distance, time and logistics, I’d never been able to. I also identified more with this exam than with the Master of Wine because I’ve had contact with customers by working in restaurants for a long time now; that’s to say that I’ve been a sommelier for a long time and it’s an exam that is aimed at those who love working in service and having customer contact.”
Crack open the bubbles
Of course, after working so hard for so long to reach this goal, there were celebrations as as well as a non-celebration. “The first thing I did was have a glass of Krug Brut Grande Cuvée. And the second, a beer in some pub with my Japanese friend who didn’t pass. We couldn’t celebrate. The law of comradeship doesn’t allow it, so we had a drink then ate some fish and chips. The second day in London, however, I toasted with an Argentine wine! There was a sense of pride to see that our cuisine and wines are going all over the world and generating such interest. Then on the Sunday, I toasted with one of my favourite wines in one of my favourite places: a Madeira D’Oliveiras Colheita Malvazia 1990 at TerraVina in Hampshire.”
With this latest title under her belt, for the time being Paz plans to stay in Europe. “I want to carry on studying French, and live in France for a while, because the French drink quite a lot of Argentine wine; continue studying and spreading the word about wine; and return to Argentina at some point to visit my friends and family.”
Cheers to all that, Paz.
Buenos Aires Herald, February 23, 2014