Smiling and friendly, you might recognise her from restaurants such as Tranan or perhaps Deville. Having started out in the restaurant business over 20 years ago, Emelie Svensson has passed through some of the most iconic Stockholm restaurants, building her reputation in the business and among the Stockholm crowd.
For a long time and in common with many people in the restaurant business, she suffered from academic anxiety. While working full time, she also studied political science, sociology and statistics.
Eventually she ended up with a sommelier education and decided to follow her passion, her love for food, people, service and wine. About six months ago she opened up her own place together with Michael Björkman (who has worked at Lux and Nobu amongst others) and Theodor Siesage from La Vecchia Signora. Together, the trio have over 60 years of experience in the business, something that is now translated and realised in their acclaimed restaurant Agnes at Norra Agnegatan 43 at Kungsholmen.
We met up with Emelie at a wine tasting recently and decided to swing by Agnes for a chat.
You are well recognized and noted in the Stockholm restaurant life – is there anything or anyone that has made an exceptional impression on you among your peers?
The thing that overwhelms me in the restaurant business is all the people with so much passion. I grew up as a horse girl and was almost living in the stables. Early mornings, never celebrating holidays with your family, just really hard work and almost no pay. I see that same passion in people that work in restaurants. They do late nights, they’re working holidays, studying wine and food, talking about wine and food, spending all your money on drinking that wine or eating in that restaurant.
That said, I would also love to see our business being taken more seriously and that we really should take care of all that knowledge and passion. It´s a lot of hard work, and we should make it more attractive for people to stay in the business for the long run.
We had Swedish success in the world of wines with champion sommelier Arvid Rosengren – what is it with the sommelier job that intrigues so many people?
I think that one of the intriguing parts in working as a sommelier is that you really can be an expert in your area. By being really good at the theory part, testing sometimes uncomfortably large amounts of wines and travel, you have a great possibility for nerdiness.
I also think that the sommelier job offers a great opportunity for people that work in the business to develop and broaden the knowledge of the industry.
Why do you think Sweden, as a more or less non-wine producing country, has become such a leading nation when it comes to the knowledge and consumption of wine?
My reflections on that matter is that one of the important factors is actually that we don´t produce wine ourselves. I think we are open for wines from all over the world, and that we don´t have to be patriotic. Also, if we look at our restaurant and gastronomic success worldwide, it´s natural that the wine interest follows.
When setting a wine list for a new concept, like when you started Agnes, what is your first mission?
My first mission is to find out what kind of restaurant we want it to be. Who are the people that are going to visit the restaurant? What kind of experience do I want the guests to have?
In the case of Agnes, it is my own restaurant, so I also wanted my personal taste to show. I want my guests to have the ability to drink the wines that I love to drink.
What would you say is the hardest part versus the best part of being a sommelier today when the wine know-how among customers is constantly increasing?
Actually, in most cases it´s just really, really fun that the more regular consumers are getting more interested in what they are getting in their glass. People are willing to spend more money on wine, which to me means that they can drink much better quality.
I also think that most guests are very humble and opened-minded. When you find a perfect wine and the guest to match,it can make you happy for the rest of the evening. For me one of our most important things in our profession is to find out what fits that specific guest on that specific occasion. If we don´t succeed in this, we haven´t done our job right.
Do you see any specific trends emerging in your customers wine world?
Customers are getting more and more interested and knowledgeable about wine. That also forces us sommeliers to keep us on our toes, which I think is a good thing. When I started to work with wine, guests were mostly asking after a grape specific wine or a country. Nowadays they are asking more about the production of the wines.
I believe that when almost every restaurant has a trained sommelier consumers has slowly started to rely on the expertise that we possess. This in turn requires that we take responsibility, and really give our guests the best possible experience.
Please list some of your top regions, producers and varieties.
I love to find wines that give you really good value for money. Of course it´s sometimes really cool to drink one of those labels that you probably only will drink a few times in your life, but I like to drink wine (almost) every day.
At the moment I have a soft spot for Chablis, which for me has many faces. It can be really boring or truly amazing. Besides Ravenau and Vincent Dauvissat who are the uncrowned kings of Chablis, I love to drink Pattes Loup and Patrick Piuze.
If I were to mention other regions and producers it would be a long list, but Piedmont, Loire, Burgundy and Champagne are on top of that list. And Rhône and some of the new Spanish regions and producers. And Roussillon. Well you understand, I can go on and on. I just love great wine.
Does your list of wines to drink at home differ a lot from what you list for Agnes?
My tastes at home and at Agnes kind of mirror each other. Agnes shows a lot of my personal taste, it would be strange otherwise. Moreover, I have a pretty broad taste as long as it´s really nice and interesting to drink and a well-made wine. A good wine is a good wine.
If you could name just one wine with an ultimate food pairing, what would that be?
I am actually getting further and further away from the perfect food and wine combination. It´s of course very exciting to find that perfect match, but sometimes you just want a really great bottle of wine with your food, even if they don’t work perfectly together.
What would describe restaurant Agnes in three words?
Welcoming, unpretentious, enjoyable.
How would you describe yourself as a wine person in three words?
Curious, dedicated, thirsty.
Words and photos: Pär Strömberg