In the third of a fifth (and wildly popular) series, we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario and occasionally elsewhere.
A few years back I was flicking through the pages of a locally published periodical and noticed that when it came to Sommeliers it was the same names that seemed to pop up over and over again. I was also becoming gradually cognisant of the fact that we more established wine folks were well and truly “losing our edge” to these young blood Sommeliers.
Being well aware of the depth of new talent that was out there I finally decided to get together with a couple of fellow Toronto Sommelier “Old Guard” (Anton Potvin and Peter Boyd) to assemble a line of questioning that would give us an entertaining insight into the minds of these rising stars.
Once again we cast our net just a little bit further… this time all the way to one of my favourite cities, Stockholm, Sweden, to catch up with Sommelier Mercedes Bachelet. In 2012 Mercedes was kind enough to be our host in her wonderful city, introducing us to the finest Sommeliers who call Stockholm their home.
Good Food Revolution: So Mercedes, what are you up to in Stockholm these days?
Mercedes Bachelet: I am running my own restaurant consulting company,
At the moment I am working on a several projects:
I am a project manager at Smaka på Stockholm- a big food festival in Stockholm, I am working with Bocuse d´Or Europe which takes place in Stockholm this year, I also work for Adam & Albin food studio and I am starting up a wine program for a new restaurant and also educating staff for several restaurants in service and hospitality as well as I do wine tastings and lectures.
GFR: And what kind of experience and training did you have before this position?
MB: I have worked in the restaurant industry since I was 15 years old; I got my first job as a general manager at the young age of 20. I have since then had many different general managing and restaurant managing jobs as well as sommelier jobs. The range is from large restaurants groups to small fine dining, Michelin two starred restaurants to small wine bars. I have a WSET advanced sommelier education, several degrees in restaurant management, staffing/ labour law and restaurant economy but I am mostly self-taught by many years of working in the industry.
GFR: And how would you explain your current job?
GFR: When you create a wine list how many wine agents/merchants do you usually deal with?
MB: Between 10-50 depends on the restaurant
GFR: What makes a good wine merchant in your mind?
MB: Some one who knows their wines well and is available if needed. I do not like wine merchants who chase me like crazy! Sommeliers are quite busy and we try to go to as many tastings we can but some times you have a wine merchant that is calling and e-mailing you every day and that does not work for me. I now that the industry is competitive but you just get fed up with those people. This is something most Swedish wine merchants know about me, I will be a great client if you do not harass me 😀
GFR: In Sweden you also have a government monopoly in control of wines, spirits, and beers. Is this in any way restrictive when it comes to creating wine lists?
MB: No, we have a monopoly “Systembolaget” for the private consumer but for restaurants we are allowed to buy directly from wine importers, at the moment we have around 900 wine importers in Sweden.
GFR: Although one can buy some alcohol in supermarkets there, no?
MB: Yes and no, you can buy beer up to an alcohol % of 3,5% so yes but you can not buy really good wines in the supermarket unfortunately
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
MB: More or less aware, my interest for wine started in my teens, I actually had a hobby collecting champagne corks. So yes
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
MB: Yes, I got to try wine mixed with water from 6 year old; it was horrible tasted like vinegar.
GFR: And what are your thoughts on the wines of Chile today?
MB: I think they have fantastic wines in Chile, a lot of the wines exported are bulk wines or over extracted wines unfortunately but if you have the possibility to visit Chile you will find wonderful wines there. A lot of interesting wines are coming from the southern parts of Chile right now.
GFR: For some the Carménère grape is, like cilantro/coriander and love/hate thing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that varietal?
MB: Love coriander; do not especially care for Carménère.
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
MB: I think you can allow them to try wine in their teens so that they do not feel that it’s so interesting to sneak out and try to find some on their own. And also to let them get used to the taste of good wine early in life.
GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine?
MB: Around the age of 19-20
GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?
MB: My parents first but then a good friend who was about 10 yeas older than me, he was a sommelier and really introduced me into the world of wine.
GFR: The Sommelier world is notoriously full of pretentious t***s, most of them being male… do you think that is slowly changing?
MB: Yes but I don´t think it is changing because of women; we can be just as pretentious. I think it is because the sommelier community is growing and we now have all ages and genders working as sommeliers.
GFR: Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit?
MB: I have visited several regions in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Hungary, California – USA, Argentina and Chile
GFR: Have you ever thought about making your own wine?
MB: Not really, but why not!
GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?
MB: France probably or at least in a cool climate country.
GFR: In your last job at Le Rouge, was your role purely that of Sommelier or did you have managerial duties also?
MB: I was the General Manager but also the head sommelier at Le Rouge and Le Bar Rouge, I had several sommeliers working with me but I bought all the allocations and set the trend of the wine program
GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?
MB: Both I think neither one works without the other.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
MB: I do not feel that I have any real lows I have worked hard at all my jobs and learnt a lot at all of them. My highs have been working with great people and having the possibility to work in leading positions from a young age.
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?
MB: This is a hard question I feel that there are so many that I cannot name just one..
GFR: Do you ever have nightmares about working as a Sommelier? I do… regularly… and it usually involves being unable to find bottles in a cellar…
MB: Yes, I would say that I have the same dream as you but I also dream that I go to the cellar and I find only defective wines or that I never end up coming back to the table with the wine because something happens on the way. These dreams usually happen when I am a bit over worked.
GFR: Sommeliers famously have Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?… or perhaps you have Mondays off?
MB: A perfect Sunday for me is waking up late and having a long breakfast hopefully in the sun on my balcony and then a nice long walk and a stop by the grocery market to shop for the evening and then some lunch at a restaurant and then finishing of with having a nice long dinner at home with friends, good food and great wines.
Sunday´s is the best day to be off because no company will call and disturb you;
GFR: Ha! Not in Canada Mercedes…
MB: If I have Mondays of I will be working all day anyways with e-mails and phone calls so I prefer to have Sundays off.
GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine and drink in Stockholm. Perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of your wonderful city?
MB: To dine I go to Rolfs Kök, Adam & Albin Matstudio, Deville, Matbaren, Råkultur, Djuret and to drink I go to The Burgundy, Gaston wine bar, Gondolen wine bar and Sture Hof for wine, for cocktails I go to Le Bar Rouge, Pharmarium, Guld Baren at Nobis, Tweed and Tjoget. There are so many more great places but this is a few that I love.
GFR: Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
MB: Yes I love to cook. I would say Osso bucco alla Milanese is one of my favourites but for an every day meal I love pasta.
GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters recently?
MB: Yes a Boeuf Bourguignon that I let cook much to long, don´t cook, clean, do an interview over the phone and iron at the same time.
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? Have you had the opportunity to try any recently actually?
MB: Unfortunately I have very limited experience with Canadian wines, I have only tried a few Vidal Icewines, and we see very few Canadian wines in Sweden. I am coming to Canada in May and I am really looking forward to discovering your wine country
GFR: Would you consider coming to visit? As there are lots of exciting things going on here… although saying that, our cold winter has decimated many of our vineyards this year.
MB: Yes, yes, yes!! Sorry about your vineyards but I am really looking forward to coming to Canada, I will be in Canada in May for the Terroir Symposium.
GFR: Why do you think there is such a strong Sommelier community in Stockholm?
MB: Gastronomy and sommeliers go together and Sweden is one of the leading countries in Europe in gastronomy and I think the awareness off wine and food pairing is really getting through with in the last 10-15 years in the Nordic countries.
GFR: How do you feel about Stockholm as a wine city? Where do you go if you need to get your wine on?
MB: I think Stockholm is a divided city between the natural wine lovers and the traditionalists. But its absolutely a wine city even if we do not produce a lot of wine but we import a lot from all over the world and I think because we have very limited production ourselves we are more open minded to wines from all over the world. To get my wine on I go to Gaston wine bar, Gondolen wine bar, Sture Hof or to The Burgundy wine bar and many more places.
GFR: Is there a wine that you feel is particularly suited to your long winters?
MB: Not really but great wines in general help us cope with our long winter.
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not a Sommelier?
MB: I would still be working with wine and food in some way, I love what I do and I will be in the industry for the rest of my life I am sure!
GFR: What does your Mother wish you were doing?… I know that mine probably wishes I were a Doctor…
MB: Both my parents are now fine with what I do they actually like what I do because they see that I love what I do and I am good at it. They had a lot of objections when I started out though, they would probably have preferred it if I would have become a doctor, layer or worked with any other academic job.
GFR: Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?
MB: Many but to say one I think one that all sommeliers can relate to is when one of the main characters in the movie SOMM is absolutely sure that the wines he’s tasting are switched around. That is what extreme stress and nerves can do to your tasting abilities!
GFR: I know that you have non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?
MB: I think they find it exciting even if I unfortunately can’t come to every dinner or party they have because I am working a lot of evenings. So they miss me and I miss them, but they understand and I am great full for that because I could not live without my friends.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting?
MB: It´s always good to keep an open mind and a trained palate so I am for it.
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
MB: Without, I am kind of dying when I have a hangover and only craving for a Coca- Cola.
GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?
GFR: What is “hot” in the world of wine right now in Stockholm?
MB: The old world regions are hot right now as well as fortified wines
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour in Stockholm?
MB: New world wines from warm countries.
GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated?
MB: Many things, for example Beaujolais is now very hyped up in the Nordic countries, I do not really understand why, maybe it’s just not for me but I never found Gamay to be a grape to give complex wines.
GFR: That’s fightin’ talk Mercedes!
What is the most outstanding food/wine pairing you have experienced lately?
MB: A fantastic broth of charcoaled chicken wings with morels, spring herbs, noodles & poached egg combined with a Vin Jaune 2001 from the producer Tissot in Jura France at Adam & Albin Matstudio – Great pairing!
GFR: Okay… three pairings with me on the spot?… but with… some rather unconventional Swedish dishes
MB: Isterband is a smoked sausage served with pickled beetroots and creamy potatoes with dill
This is a lunch dish that combines well with a glass of cold milk, not really a wine dish… this you will only understand when having the dish.
MB: This is fermented herring, can only be eaten outside and I would combine it with a
Nogne Wit (Norwegian Weiss beer) and OP (Swedish traditional aquavit)
3. Flygande Jacob (Flying Jacob)
MB: Have you Googled Swedish dishes Jamie?
This is a horrible 80s dish that is almost never served. It has chicken, bacon, bananas, peanuts, cream and chilli sauce.
If I must eat it I would go for a German Riesling, a Forster Pechstein GC Riesling Trocken 2001 from Dr Bürklin-Wolf, Pfalz, Germany. You have really chosen three not very good or very wine friendly dishes.
GFR: Hehehe… perhaps…
Do you often drink beers or spirits?
MB: Not really, I drink the occasional beer and I like cocktails if I go out as well as a nice grappa, alcohol blanc or a cognac after a big dinner. I am mostly a wine person.
GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as Sommelier? For me it was doing inventory…
MB: Inventory of course!
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
MB: My Laguiole
GFR: Speaking of which, where do you stand on the screw cap vs. cork debate?
MB: Screw caps have their function but I am a cork person.
GFR: and your thoughts on Natural Wines?
MB: I am a traditionalist, I think the Vin Nature trend is a bit too hyped up. There are some good Vin Nature wines but unfortunately also a lot of oxidized and defective vines being promoted as very interesting terroir typical wines, which they are not, they are just defective wines.
I personally am a little fed up about the discussion, it´s very big in the Nordic countries.. Try the wine with an open mind and make up your own opinion, I as many others love great wines but they need to be correct and if you can give me a correct great Vin Nature wine with little bottle variation I would absolutely buy it other wise I am sticking to the traditional wines. But that is just my opinion.
GFR: Sommeliers often have quite the increased tolerance for wine/booze. What is your limit?
MB: I have always had a high tolerance of alcohol, don´t know why.
GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time?
GFR: Do you smoke cigarettes? Some of the best tasters I know smoke quite heavily, so I’d love to get your thoughts on this.
MB: No I don´t smoke, I only smoke the occasional cigar so I wouldn’t know but I think it doesn’t matter it if you are a smoker when you start your sommelier training you train your palate as you go with what ever habits you have.
GFR: Are you familiar with anyone in our industry suffering from gout?
GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week?
MB: everything from 20-400 deepens on the week; it deepens if there is a tasting that week or if I am working from my office or in a restaurant that week.
GFR: When do you choose to spit or swallow?
MB: When I am working in a restaurant or I am at a tasting I would spit other wise I would drink the wines.
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
MB: I always have red and white Burgundy’s and German Rieslings.
GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?
MB: 1990 Romanée Conti
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy night at the restaurant?
MB: Champagne preferably a Blanc de Blancs
GFR: Ooooooh, fancy!
And now the cheesy question Mercedes… If you were a grape varietal what would you be? And why?
MB: I would be a Californian pinot noir, because I am classical, elegant but a bit more fun than the traditional version 😉
GFR: Thank you for taking the time Mercedes!
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution.
Peter Boyd has been a part of Toronto’s wine scene for over two decades. He has taught the Diploma level for the International Sommeliers Guild, and has been the sommelier at Scaramouche Restaurant since 1993. He also writes about wine, food and pop culture and raises show molerats for fun and profit. He’s also one of the most solid guys in the business.Trust this man. Seriously… he knows his shit and is slowly taking over this city.
A well-known and much respected figure on the Toronto food and wine scene for almost twenty years, Potvin has worked in many of the city’s very best establishments including Biffs, Canoe, and Eau. In 2004 Potvin opened his incarnation of the Niagara Street Café, a restaurant that has gone from strength to strength year after year, with universal critical acclaim. Anton spends much of his time traveling and tasting wine and has been ranked highly in consecutive years of the International Wine Challenge. Anton is currently working on his exciting new project Gwailo with Chef Nick Liu.