A WORD WITH THE BEST!
Despite tough global competition, Swedes Arvid Rosengren and Robert Andersson recently managed to write their names into the wine history books at the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) world championships in Mendoza, Argentina. Both were part of the Swedish delegation and at the core of the Swedish team that took the ASI by force a month ago. With two Swedes in the semifinals, Arvid finally stood alone as the champion, with Robert finishing in an honorable 12th position. Considering that the whole world of sommeliers was represented, that’s pretty impressive.
The finals were contested over many hours and consisted of diverse and arduous tasks, both in front of the jury and a live audience. Contestants engaged in blind tastings, serving tasks, food and wine pairings, recommendations and hard theory tests, all against the clock.
Although France and Italy has taken most of the medals so far, the ASI singled out Sweden for high praise on its website. “Sweden has so far not been renowned for its viticulture, but it is now famous for its high-level sommeliers. After Mikael Söderström, Best Sommelier of Europe 1990 and Andreas Larsson, Best Sommelier in the World 2007, Arvid Rosengren, aged 31, just won the world champion title in Mendoza on April 19th.”
Robert Andersson is perhaps best known as the wine man behind the very successful wine bar Hornstulls Bodega, and he also runs up-and-coming wine importer Pompette. With experience from both the kitchen and as waiter and sommelier at prestigious restaurants such as MASH in Copenhagen and Fäviken in Jämtland, Robert also holds a Swedish championship (2012) and continues to compete at the highest level.
Congratulations on your great result Robert. How did you prepare for the world championships? Is there anything in the preparation you could have done better?
Thank you! The hardest test is always the theory, so you have to spend hours of reading everything. And reading everything is not only wine – you have to know coffee, tea, liquor, beer and gastronomy and so on. The preparation can always be better but I have still spent many many hours of studying to reach the level that is necessary to be in the top three. It takes a lot of time and effort and you still have to work, but it is fun to learn stuff.
You are running a few successful business dealing with wine – how do you also manage to practice for your sommelier skills?
When you run a wine bar you always have a lot of wine to try that is great. But we only serve wines from Europe so it is important to buy and try wines from all over the world. With Pompette I have the possibility to travel and visit the vineyards and mostly important speak with the winemakers. I think I have the more classic service skills in my backbone, as I have worked in some great fine dining restaurants, you just have to dust them off.”
How was the Swedish team put together, what were the criteria for you and Arvid to be selected for the finals?
The Swedish team is put together by the Swedish sommelier association under the direction of Sören Polonius. It’s created to help sommeliers that are competing. To make it to the team you have to be first, second or third in the Swedish national competition or compete for Sweden in international competitions.
You were a whole team at site, what roles did the other members have and who are they?
We help each other mostly with some written theory tests and some practical training, and of course pushing each other to developments!
The team is me, Arvid Rosengren, Frida Hansson, Johan Nilsson, Maya Samuelsson and coach Sören Polonius at the moment. They were all on site during the competition to support me and Arvid, cheering and giving us feedback.
What was the hardest task during the competition and how did you evaluate the contenders?
Theory is always hard, the stress and the long hours of waiting for your turn. I had number 59 (out of 60) so for the quarter-final I was waiting three and a half hours in a room for a practical test that took four minutes. I don´t really think about the other contenders, I just try focus what I will do next.
How do you see your successful result adding to your burgeoning career?
Right now I don´t think it’s going to change my career that much, I am not competing to get a career. I am competing to challenge myself and to push myself to learn more about my job and my passion.
Will your life change a little from this experience? And how do you think it will change for your team mate Arvid Rosengren?
I don´t know, I think the Bodega is perfect as it is and it should not be anything other than a fun and good bar. Pompette was just started a year ago and I’m really looking forward to developing and expanding and to doing fun things around it. Maybe some of the new contacts that I have got on this journey will help us. For Arvid, who is a great guy and really deserves this title, he now gets the chance to travel the world, to make the wine world more fun and I honestly hope that he will make money on the road as well.
What wines were served at the dinners and parties surrounding the event?
It is always the big sponsors’ wines that are served during parties and dinner. Some were good, some were a little bit boring.
What other world champs and contenders were there and how was the atmosphere on that level?
More or less all other world champions are in the technical committee and in charge of the competition. The atmosphere is serious when you do all the tasks but otherwise really friendly.
Will you give competing another shot and aim for a title in the future?
Yes I will be in Austria next year for the European sommelier competition. And now I know what I have to practice until then!
As one of the world’s top sommeliers, what wines do you suggest Swedes shouldn’t miss to taste this spring and summer?
There are so many good wines out there but in Sweden it is unfortunately hard to find the small unique producers as the Systembolaget mostly works with bigger brands. There are definitely some bigger brands that make great wines but overall they miss out on the personality of the wine. In terms of value for money I love wines from the Loire, with Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, as well as Charles Jouget and Château de Brézé.
When the Swedish strawberries arrive I love to make a bowl with strawberries and lemon sorbet and pour some Moscato d’Asti over it.
And your last tip for those out there who look up to you now and want to experience what you have done, perhaps a word of encouragement?
Be curious and never stop reading. In the wine world everything is changing all the time and that is the beauty of it, you can´t possibly know it all! Try to travel as much as you can and do your research before, so you’ll have wine visits planned and wine bars and restaurants pre-booked.
And have fun while you’re doing it!
Arvid Rosengren’s suggestion of what to drink this spring and summer:
”The crisp, light wines coming out of Spain at the moment. Especially Galicia, but also the Canary Islands, the Basque country and Catalunya are also strong. There’s still a lot of crap out there though, so tread lightly.”