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WineWise DipWSET graduate Stijn Verleyen shares his knowledge about special, lesser-known or forgotten wines and distillates with us. Tribute to ‘Tokaj’: the wine of kings, the king of wines.

“Vinum regum, rex vinorum” – this is reportedly how Louis XIV reacted when he tasted the aszú wine from Tokaj. Indeed, Tokaji Aszu was for a long time highly renowned in the royal courts of Europe and beyond.
I had the pleasure of doing a personal and in-depth visit to the region at the end of 2019 hosted by Royal Tokaj. In this contribution, I provide a brief overview of historical antecedents and look at past and present winemaking practices. We end with an overview of the trends and perspectives for this region whose potential for the production of top quality wine is now undisputed.

Tokaj’s geografical assets

The Tokaj region – in full Tokaj-Hegyalja (Hegyalja means “at the foot of the mountain”) – is located in north-eastern Hungary, a two-hour drive from Budapest. The Zemplén hills at the edge of the Carpathian Mountains do not only offer a beautiful landscape. They are also an ideal terroir for viticulture. Bacchus amat colles, as the Romans knew. The hills protect against cool northern influences and provide a multitude of unique plots and microclimates for the growers to play with.

The Tokaj region is essentially a collection of extinct volcanoes. These give rise to the distinctive soil type: rhyolitic tuffeau, with crystalline soil types such as opal and obsidian. Sedimentary soils such as loess are also present (for example, on Mount Tokaj), as are areas of limestone that recall the Pannonian Sea that once covered these regions.

Another important factor that makes the production of quality wine possible are the rivers. Just outside the town of Tokaj, the small Bodrog River flows into the larger Tisza, one of the main tributaries of the mighty Danube. As with the Ciron and the Garonne in Sauternes, the contrast in temperature between the two rivers creates autumn mists that rise from the marshlands around the river. This haze covers the vineyards and promotes the development of botrytis cinerea, the noble fungus indispensable to Tokaj’s prized aszú wines. 

The early history of Tokaj

Communisme and renaissance

It is impossible to discuss Tokaj’s history without mentioning the “dark ages” of communism. The broad outlines are well known: collectivisation and emphasis on quantity rather than quality (the steepest slopes, impossible to mechanise, were given up in the 1950s). However, these changes were never as profound in Tokaj as in other places in the Eastern Bloc: private ownership never completely disappeared and local vinification techniques were maintained.

It is certainly true that Tokaj produced and shipped a lot of mediocre wine to the East at that time. But the bulk of good aszú wines still found their way to the West, keeping the flame of Tokaj burning.

The end of communism heralded the beginning of Tokaj’s renaissance. The well-known wine writer Hugh Johnson convinced some investors to establish the Royal Tokaj Winery in 1990. The ambition was to bring international fame back to this once famous wine region.

Others followed suit: Axa millésimes bought Disznókő in 1992, while Spanish icon winery Vega Sicilia started Oremus in 1993. Dereszla is owned by Patrick d’Aulan of Château Sansonnet in St-Émilion. And these are certainly not the only examples.

Today, Tokaj is firmly back on the map, at least among wine lovers. Of course for its aszú wines, but also for the dry Furmint, a grape that is demonstrably on a par with Riesling and Chenin.

Grape varieties in Tokaj

Apart from Furmint, there are other grape varieties in Tokaj. The other two classics are Hárslevelű (“linden leaf”) and Sárga Muskotály (also known as muscat blanc à petits grains). Kabar (a cross between Hárslevelű and Bouvier) and Zéta (Bouvier x Furmint, known locally as Oremus) complete the list.

Furmint is without doubt the star of the show. There are several clones in production. Some are more suitable for aszú (compact bunches that facilitate the spread of botrytis), others for dry wines (looser bunches, small berries). Furmint is very sensitive to terroir fluctuations and often has a strong mineral backbone. The grape has a high, refreshing and natural acidity that also brings such a beautiful balance to sweet wines. Furmint expresses itself beautifully on the volcanic terroir of Tokaj, which lends tension and energy to the wines. 

Great variety of wine styles and winemaking

One of the most fascinating aspects of Tokaj is the wide variety of wine styles: from sparkling wines, bone-dry white wines, to off-dry, late harvest, full aszú and finally eszencia.

For dry white wines, vinification is fairly classical. Winemaking conditions improved considerably with the influx of investment in the post-communist era. Temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel is now standard, sometimes (but by no means always) followed by maturation in barrels. Often MLF is blocked to emphasise freshness (Royal Tokaj does this for most of its dry wines). The best wines have serious ageing potential with honeyed and nutty notes emerging over time.

An important recent trend is the emergence of sparkling wines according to the traditional method. Furmint clearly has what it takes to make good bubbles: high acidity and not too aromatic, so suitable for absorbing aromas from ageing in the lees. Some producers, such as Dereszla, have even made it the cornerstone of their production. Others outsource the technical aspects of sparkling wine production and just produce the basic wines (usually from drier vineyards, oriented to the north or east, where botrytis is rare).

The picture becomes more complicated when we move into the realm of non-dry and sweet wines. Off-dry could be the style of wine that wins over Tokaj to a wider and younger audience, for whom dry white wines might be a bit harsh. The vinification in this case simply consists of stopping the fermentation with about 10 grams of residual sugar in the wine. Then there is the late harvest category where the wines are already considerably sweeter.

Aszú remains the showpiece

The showpieces are, of course, the aszú wines. I will not go into all the intricate details. The basic principle is to add a paste of botrytised grapes to either must, fermenting wine or finished wine. This paste weighs about 80% less than the same quantity of non-botrytis affected grapes. This explains its high price: a kilo of first-class aszú berries will cost you around 8 euros.

The ‘puttonyos’ system originally referred to the number of ‘baskets’ (or ‘puttonyos’) of aszú paste used. In modern times, the indication corresponds to the residual sugar content: 3 puttonyos (the basic category) indicates at least 60 g/l, 6 puttonyos at least 150 g/l. In practice, of course, the products respect the minimum values, but many wines have a RS content that would justify bottling in a higher category. The labels have thus become “wine style” indications rather than strict measures of sugar content (like the German Prädikate, one could say).

In 2013, the system was reformed and imposed a minimum of 120g/l for aszú wines. However, producers are still allowed to list lower categories on the label (which Oremus does for its 3 puttonyos, for example).

The former aszú eszencia, which denoted the sweetest style in the range, was also abolished to avoid confusion with the actual eszencia, the free-flowing juice of botrytised berries. Needless to say, it is produced in small quantities and is an extremely fascinating wine with baffling analytical values (500+ grams of sugar combined with over 15 grams of total acidity are no exception).

Besides the historical style of forditas (second pressing of the aszu berries), the category of szamorodni (literally “as it grows”) also deserves a special mention. This exists in both dry (sarasz) and sweet (edesz) styles. Often, the wines are flor-affected (depending on the vintage) and exhibit distinct aldehyde aromas akin to sherry and vin jaune. The grapes for these wines are a mixture of normal healthy grapes, shrivelled grapes and grapes with botrytis. You can find wines of amazing depth and complexity here.

What does the future hold for Tokaj?

Dry and off-dry white wines will remain Tokaj’s main stronghold. The market for sweet wines will probably not return to its former strength any time soon.

Furmint certainly has the potential to showcase the full breadth of Tokaj’s terroirs. I had the opportunity to taste some world-class examples that show a real sense of place. It will also be worth keeping an eye on a possible breakthrough in sparkling wines.

On the other hand, premiumisation in the sweet categories likely offers potential. There is little doubt that Tokaj still deserves its place among the iconic sweet wines of the world.

The bad news for wine lovers is that aszú is rapidly becoming more expensive. But if you take into account the stellar quality of the best wines, combined with the careful vinification process and small harvests, they still offer good value for money. In any case, I will continue to stock up on these wines!

Guest author : Stijn Verleyen, DipWSET

Sara & Adriaan from ‘Hungry for More’ followed the WSET level 2 course  at WineWise and described the journey.

‘We recently completed the WSET wine training (level 2) at WineWise. Today we would like to share our experiences. It was an exciting journey through the wonderful world of wines. One that leaves you wanting more: more knowledge, more wine and more experience.

Wine… It is a very fascinating theme that immediately makes you happy. Happy moments, delicious meals, beautiful journeys, every association makes a certain wine unique for someone. As nice as they are, such associations should not be used as criteria for judging wines. This requires objective standards that are as separate as possible from a person’s personal taste preferences or experiences. That is one of the first and most important guidelines in the WSET approach that promotes an objective and systematic way of testing. If you really want to build up wine knowledge and be able to assess a wine correctly, you cannot ignore this method. That is why the WSET today is regarded as the educational institution when it comes to wine education. In Belgium, they are represented by WiseWise, which helps students of all levels – from professionals in the hospitality and wine business to hobbyists – to brush up on their wine knowledge. This is based on theory in order to better understand and apply practice.

Recently, we enjoyed immersing ourselves in the wonderful world of wines during the WSET level 2 course at WineWise in Antwerp with Sybille Troubleyn and Piet Vannieuwenhuyse. Piet & Sybille also teach the different levels of the course in other places in Belgium, they organise thematic master classes or provide in-house training at companies active in the wine sector.

At the start of the course, the quality of the training and the group immediately stood out. Known faces active in renowned restaurants, wine bar managers, aspiring sommeliers and even bloggers with a healthy interest :-), the participants of the course all had one thing in common: a strong drive and an enormous desire to learn more about learn wine. In contrast to the majority of wine courses that you can take, e;g., at wine merchants or in hobby clubs (and which certainly also have their usefulness and target group), the WSET is not about drinking or tasting wine. However, it is about understanding the wines, and that includes both theoretical knowledge and practical application. After all, in order to understand how a particular wine should  taste based on the facts (and the info on the label), it is necessary to know more about the grape variety, the climate, the soil, the winemaker, the aging of the wine after harvesting, the way the wine is stored, and so on.

The WSET course (level 2) at WineWise is very logically structured. Theory is always alternated with trial sessions. In this way it not only remains exciting and fascinating during the lesson, but you also immediately learn to use the subject matter in concrete cases. As a result, the knowledge sticks much better. In fact, they always work ‘brand neutral’ when testing. The focus is on the variety of the grape, the region and the process of production and storage, not the house.

We start the course with general info about the winemaking process. From planting the vines, growing and harvesting the grapes, to making and storing the wine, all this info is explained in detail. Subsequently, the taste profile of various wines is considered and a jump is made to ‘food & wine’ pairing, so that you understand why a certain wine goes well with a certain dish. The general guidelines on this can be found in an article we wrote about the food & wine pairing guidelines of the WSET.

The main part of the course concerns the discussion of the different grape varieties. The starting point is to always consider the regions, the winemaking processes and possibly the commercial or other aspects. Successively, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are reviewed. But also local grape varieties such as South African Pinotage or Chenin Blanc are discussed.

Time for the real work… and that’s the homework. The WSET course is linked to an exam that is mandatory if one wants to ‘continue to evolve’ to the next level. Although most people don’t like to dive into textbooks, the exam system is definitely a good thing because it forces you to actively engage with the material. And that is exactly where the WSET training makes the difference. By really understanding the wines, you will appreciate them

At the end of the course, sherry, port and spirits are briefly discussed, so that the students have a solid basic knowledge.

We found our participation in the WSET training to be a very exciting experience. We realise that we only know a little about wine, and that there is still a lot to discover. And that is exactly what stimulates curiosity and motivation.’

Guest authors : Sarah De Hondt & Adriaan Van Looy – Hungry for More

WineWise DipWSET graduate Thijs Akkerman shares his knowledge about special, lesser-known or forgotten wines and distillates with us. This time, the spotlight is on Lambrusco.

The unstoppable rise of Prosecco.

Prosecco, the festive sparkling wine from the north of Italy, has been on the rise for years. For the past six years, more prosecco than champagne was sold. Yet the wine makers in the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene have not rested on their laurels. Traditional production methods like the fermentazione sui lieviti are rediscovered and for more sophisticated bottles the metodo classico is chosen more and more often. In addition, forty-three vineyards (“crus”) have now been identified, and the designation of origin Prosecco DOC Rosé has been created.

Lambrusco, so much potential and diversity

Barely 200 kilometres to the south, the Po Valley produces a sparkling wine that is becoming increasingly popular. Lambrusco, like Prosecco, suffered from a poor image for a long time, but in the last few years it has been on the rise. Although its popularity cannot yet be compared to that of Prosecco, the most famous red sparkling wine in the world has at least as much potential. Especially the diversity is an important trump card: from frizzante to spumante and from very dry to slightly sweet. Not to mention the white and rosé varieties.

Lambrusco and gastronomy

Many people still think of lambrusco as the two-litre bottles on the bottom shelf of supermarkets, filled with a sweet bubbly wine that you can get drunk on the cheap. I too, bought these bottles in an enoteca with classmates during my high school trip to Rome in 1996 and then hung tipsy around the Fontana dei quattro fiumi in Piazza Navona until the police came to sweep the square.
But good lambrusco is a great aperitif and gastronomically versatile. The rosé variety, for example, goes very well with the local salumi such as mortadellaprosciutto di Parmacoppa di Parmasalame Felinoculatello di Zibello and salame strolghino. The combination with (matured) Parmigiano Reggiano is also classic. The red version is an excellent accompaniment to stuffed pastas such as tortellini in brodolasagnazampone and bollito misto. The refreshing cherry fruit, the pleasant acidity, the usually modest mousse and the unique pink foam head provide an invigorating contrast to the rich meats, cheeses and sauces.

Lambrusco, grape variety or wine?

• Lambrusco descends from wild vines
The confusing thing is that lambrusco is both the name of several related grape varieties and the wine made from them. There are more than 60 known varieties of lambrusco throughout Italy, particularly in Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna. Lambrusco” (the Etruscans spoke of “lambrusca”) means something among “wild grape” and research confirms that the entire lambrusco family indeed descends from wild vines.
• Lambrusco di sorbara, the most noble variety
The prodigy of the family is the lambrusco di sorbara. It is the most noble variety, named after the village of the same name in Emilia-Romagna. It is mainly planted in the plains around the city of Modena, known for Ferrari and aceto balsamico. It is the main variety in Lambrusco di Surbara DOC and is also widely used in Lambrusco Mantovano DOC. The wines of this grape are often pink in colour, smell like ripe cherries and have a fresh acidity and not too much tannin. Traditionally, they are drunk young as an aperitif, with or without cold cuts and cheeses.
• Lambrusco grasparossa, ideal with local dishes
Lambrusco grasparossa grows on the slopes around the village of Castelvetro, just south of Modena. The wines of this variety are deep and dark in colour. They usually have more tannin and a higher alcohol percentage. They are an excellent match with local dishes.
• Lambrusco viadanese, to be drunk on the spot
Lambrusco viadanese is mainly planted around the fiddlers’ town of Cremona and Mantova, the birthplace of Italian opera. Locally, it is also called lambrusco grappello ruberti. It is widely used for Lambrusco Mantovana DOC, which is mainly drunk locally.
• Lambrusco maestri and lambrusco salamino
Other noteworthy relatives are lambrusco maestri and lambrusco salamino. The former gives a large yield and, at best, somewhat rustic wines. The bunches of the latter somewhat resemble a sausage, hence its name. It is the most widely planted variety and gives the most full-bodied and aromatic lambruscos. It is therefore often used in a blend, but also makes up at least 90% of a Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC.

Origin of the Lambrusco

The wines that bear the name “lambrusco” are, as mentioned, produced in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy. On the label, in addition to the general IGT Emilia, you can find nine DOCs. These designations of origin are all located between Modena and Parma in Emilia-Romagna and Mantova in Lombardy. Reggiano is the most generic DOC, Sorbara the most prominent. The remaining seven are Grasaparossa di Castelvetro, Modena, Salamino di Santa Croce, Mantovano, Colli di Parma, Colli di Scandiano e Canossa and Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa Montericco rosato.
• Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC must contain at least 60% lambrusco sorbara, supplemented by a maximum of 40% lambrusco salamino. Nowadays, some top producers use only sorbara. As said, this is an ideal aperitif wine.
• Lambrusco Grasparossa del Castelvetro DOC is the smallest designation of origin. The rules prescribe a minimum of 85% Lambrusco Grasparossa. The wines are darker in colour, with more tannins. For this reason, they are an excellent match with the local dishes.
• Lambrusco Mantovano DOC is the only lambrusco that does not come from Emilia-Romagna, but from Lombardy. Both lambrusco maestri, lambrusco marani and lambrusco salamino and lambrusco viadanese may be used. They are usually very good wines, but unfortunately they are mainly drunk locally and rarely exported.
Like most prosecco producers, many winemakers in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy make several types of lambrusco. The variation is mainly in the production method.

Production methods

Since the 1970s, most Lambrusco has been produced using the metodo martinotti (or, as the French say, méthode charmat). The second fermentation does not take place in the bottle, but in a closed tank. This relatively cheap method is mainly used for export under the umbrella of IGT Emilia.
In 2010, Cantina della Volta’s winemaker Christian Bellei was the first local winemaker to rediscover the metodo classico. In recent years, more and more producers, with Paltrinieri as the driving force, have returned to the metodo ancestrale. This method results in a lightly sparkling wine with often some sediment. The wine is bottled before all residual sugar has been fermented. The fermentation continues in the bottle, where the released carbon dioxide cannot escape. No dosage is added. Whatever method is chosen, the current trend is towards secco (maximum 15 grams of residual sugar per litre of wine) rather than sweet.

Discovering and tasting

Because Lambrusco can be used so widely in gastronomy, it is very interesting for specialist wine shops and sommeliers.
For example, it is advisable to include a Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC (aperitif) and a Lambrusco Grasparossa del Castelvetro DOC (meal accompaniment) in the assortment of one producer.
Lambruscos made by the metodo ancestrale are now in great demand worldwide among lovers of natural wines and Pét-Nats. Moreover, like many Italian wines, lambrusco meets the growing demand for indigenous grape varieties.
A good place to get to know lambrusco better is Enoteca Lambruscheria in Modena, which has dozens of specimens on the menu.
If budget allows, dinner can then be enjoyed at Massimo Bottura’s three-star restaurant Osteria Francescana. Bottura is a great lover of lambrusco and serves some fine examples.
Interesting winemakers to visit next are Christian Bellei of Cantina della Volta, as mentioned before, the one who rediscovered the metodo classico for lambrusco, and Paltrinieri, pioneer of ‘crus’ and champion of the metodo ancestrale.
Many winemakers, by the way, have a loft for their aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena DOP, which is made from grape must and matured in small wooden barrels according to the solera system. It says a lot about the culinary richness of the region. That is also the challenge: you can go there, but how do you get back?

Contributing author : Thijs Akkerman DipWSET


We are writing at the beginning of 2020, not a speck in the air. The Millennium had just turned 20. The vines that were planted in 2000 are now mature . The millennials who want to dive into wine professionally are now ready to taste the real work “on the field”.
We traveled the world without any worries. From Ningxia to Napa, from Zaragosa to the extreme south of South Africa. Tastings were regularly organised for the general public, sometimes for a select group. The working week for most sommeliers was in many cases mainly the weekend.
The stock of wine had to be monitored everywhere. The accountant or the financial manager kept telling us that we had better be careful. But business was going well, the guests also ordered nice bottles. Now and then the choice was made on a budget, usually when it was for their own account.
We made plans for the coming weeks, months and even years. Which wine region did we want to discover on the spot? When would we head to our favourite winemaker or region again? We would want to revisit our meanwhile friends and like-minded people. And to taste and evaluate recent vintages and new wines. Very often, one or more “older” wines were tasted, in order to demonstrate how beautifully the wine can mature.

Lockdown 2020

March 18, 2020, Belgium goes into lockdown. Fortunately, the sun shines a lot. It would take three weeks.
Quite frankly, we had the impression that most of us didn’t mind at the time. Sommelier challenge groups were set up. On social media, it was widely shared which wine we were tasting again. Personally, I took the time to go through some old and new wine books a little more thoroughly. The evenings were warm and long, above all we had no obligations. The ideal moment to catch your breath in an instructive way.
But the weeks turned into months and everything had already been polished and polished a second time. The container with empty bottles to take to the glass container often turned out to be quite full. Here too we noticed that we were not the only ones. People found that they still enjoyed a glass of wine regularly and with pleasure. What a luck!
The first webinars were organised, some more professional than others. As befits a sommelier and the wine world in general, we are inventive, creative and professional enough to adapt. Not only the Belgian sommeliers, but also colleagues from all over the world did something in their own way online or on social media. All with the same goal: to pass on the passion and love for wine.
So and there is the trigger point of this sanitary crisis. After the first lockdown we luckily had a few summer months where we could perform the beautiful job full of surrender. It was extremely busy in most cases. The people almost all drank nice bottles, even if it was on their own account. They had left again and despite the many rules, everything went beyond expectations.
But most of us wouldn’t survive a second lockdown, yet it was inevitable and it was like that again at the end of October. They said it wouldn’t take very long. Unfortunately, we are now more than five months later and a clear perspective is still not available. Everyone has a certain date in mind, but nobody knows for sure when we can really get back to work. Which when, is a matter of time.

Time to taste and deepen our knowledge

In the meantime everyone had the time to think carefully, and many people came to the realisation that there is also a life besides that great job. I heard two clear tendencies from several like-minded people. On the one hand the group of passionate stress-seeking catering fanatics, on the other hand the rational and honest employee or employer who can now also appreciate life in a different way.
I saw sommeliers immersing themselves and deepening their already broad knowledge even further. There were Toppers in the trade who did winter pruning in Flemish vineyards. Others tasted more wines from our own regions than before. Internationally acclaimed colleagues were more easily accessible online (zoom, Teams,..) than before. Winemakers from all over the world made very instructive films about climate, terroir, new techniques, classical methods,…

The future of the sommelier

The profession as a sommelier was already a bottleneck profession. I’m afraid it won’t get any better after this crisis. But hopefully we are moving towards a brighter future. Why a bright future I hear you ask?
When everything can more or less go back to normal, more than likely, improved working conditions will be taken into account. This had been going on for a while, in an important part of the hospitality industry. But it will now have to be accelerated. The government will play an important role in this. If they do not do this rigorously, the sector will bear the consequences of this crisis for many years to come.
It will be no less than 9 months that we as a sector were technically unemployed. The compensation you got was really just a small cloth for the bleeding. Because (almost) everyone I spoke to is eager to pamper their guests again. To provide fun combinations of text and explanation, to introduce new and old discoveries. To launch or confirm tendencies and trends. To submerge the guests in a responsible way in a delicious and honest wine bath. To use the right glassware, the right temperature, the right choice. To do what we love to do: provide people with that little bit extra, the perfect wine experience.
Because no App, no webinar, no virtual wine tour or tasting can even come close to the original. Enjoy a nice bottle at a restaurant, together with friends, family, acquaintances or business associates. Be impressed by the right choice and passionate explanation of the sommelier.
However, in the future we will be able to travel from Ningxia to Napa, from Zaragosa to South Africa in a few seconds. I still wish to use ALL my senses when we talk about wine. Feel, smell, see, taste and hear what the sommelier has to tell us. Because it is precisely the latter that is the extra added value that people are happy to spend some money for. There has been a lot of time to learn and hopefully the right lessons will be learned. But mainly because sommeliers are positive people, who want to take good care of the guests.
Finally, tools and systems have also been developed in recent months that can support the profession even better. The most important thing will be that, just like with a good wine, the right balance is found between all elements. Then you can be sure that we still have a very bright future ahead of us.

Contributing author : Kris Lismont, DipWSET

New Wine Lady Sybille Troubleyn teaches Belgians to drink wine. With her company WineWise, Sybille is the only one in Belgium to offer the renowned WSET courses (Wine & Spirit Education Trust).

Sybille Troubleyn had already gained a lot of wine knowledge before obtaining the WSET diploma. Her passion for wine started at the Hotel School ‘Spermalie’ in Bruges. She then perfected her skills in Bordeaux. For a few years, she backpacked through the vineyards of the New World, from which a book emerged. She worked at ‘Sopexa’, ‘Vinopress’ and ‘Syntra’, after which she founded her own wine school, ‘WineWise’, which she now runs with her partner, Piet Vannieuwenhuyse.

Did you expect this honorary title?

I found it surprising, as it is a public award and I am not active on social media. I am very proud and I hope that the wine lover will find the way to our courses even more. Better knowledge leads to a better quality offering, in the trade and at restaurants. It is also an honour to follow in the footsteps of my predecessor Virginie Saverys.

Women in the wine world could use some extra attention.

In Belgium they could use some extra attention, but in the rest of the world, women are very well represented in the wine business. In most countries it is about a fifty- fifty representation.

How do you explain this backlog?

I think it depends on the women themselves. I don’t have the feeling that women are offered fewer opportunities. In any case, I have not experienced that myself. I have seen many promising young girls who faded away afterwards. Sometimes it is a pity that they are immediately placed on a pedestal. If they do not quite live up to expectations, they disappear into thin air. Men can work their way up more steadily. We give young women too little opportunity to grow in the profession. When I studied in Bordeaux, not many women took that course. I was a kind of guinea pig, their first international student.

Why did you return to Belgium from a wine country like France after the studies?

To be able to do the studies, I took out a loan in Belgium. It seemed the logic itself to start working in Belgium to pay back the loan.

What else does WineWise do besides the WSET courses?

WineWise also provides in-company training, based on the WSET curriculum, but tailored to the company in question. We work with their wines, check what their staff need, give refresher courses… We have 16 trainers in different regions.

What skills should a good sommelier or wine lady have?

First of all, perseverance, especially if you are self-employed. You also need to have your own vision. That is not the easiest way, but it is the most honest and fair way. You have to be very eager to learn, because in the wine & spirits business you are never fully trained. You always discover new things and meet new people with a completely different vision and insight. That’s what makes it so fascinating.

Can you learn to taste?

Yes, anyone who is eager to learn, can learn to taste. Some will master it faster than others. Prior knowledge of tastes and smells is a plus. You have to teach children to smell things. You cannot name something that you have not registered. Many people can’t tell the difference between acids and sugars.

Can they easily mislead you?

Yeah, luckily. We don’t fixate on dates. There is nothing quite like looking for what’s in the glass and putting the puzzle together.

Do you learn to enjoy wine more when you know more about it?

Absolutely. More knowledge also opens you up as a wine merchant or sommelier to people who have a smaller budget. More knowledge also ensures that you drink less but better.

Is wine also important in your private life?

I can still enjoy it very much. But I don’t drink wine every day, I do taste wine every day.

What are the latest discoveries?

A lot is happening. It is no longer the case that only the know-how of the old world goes to the new world. Classic wine countries are also learning from the New World wines. There is really an exchange between young people there, which is a very good thing. In the future, we will see bubbles emerging, and I am talking about much more than champagne and France. Countries also learn a lot. People sometimes pity South Africa, but that country brings top players. Every country has its own input and merits. People are coming back from wood and are moving towards more accessible wines that focus more on fruit.

Do you see a future for Belgian wines?

It remains a niche product, Belgian wines are also quite expensive. There will always be beautiful Belgian wines and I see a clear improvement, but in terms of production quantity we don’t mean much to the rest of the world. I will never choose a Belgian wine purely out of chauvinism. The quality has to be there, from whatever country.

Are there still too many label drinkers?

Unfortunately, yes. That’s why we called our basic course ‘Looking behind the label’

What do you think of wine lists in restaurants?

The wine lists have evolved positively compared to say, 15 years ago. Certainly in the better restaurants there is a varied selection in different price categories. In brasseries there is still a lot of work to be done. A course such as WSET is never wasted, it is an investment that pays off many times over. It gives you more self-confidence so that you can advise your customers better.

Wine Lady of the Year, a word of explanation
The Wine Lady of the Year is elected by internet users and is an initiative of Foodprint, Meyhui and Winterhalter. A total of around 7300 votes were received. A special election to endorse the importance of women in the world of wine who are all too often overshadowed by men. In a world where masculinity is still the magic word for gaining power and responsibilities, the Wine Lady of the Year sets things straight. Because boys and girls are not judged the same. So it’s high time to change that.

Source: Foodprint