Exclusive Interview with Top Dutch Sommelier, Lukas Wiegman…
We chat to Lukas Wiegman, a top Dutch sommelier, who is very familiar with De Toren, especially after having spent the recent 2019 harvest with us on the estate, as part of our annual harvest team. The former sommelier of FG Restaurant, a Michelin two-star restaurant situated in Rotterdam, tells us a bit more about his world wine journey.
Who is Lukas Wiegman?
A 26-year-old, Dutchman who fell deeply in love with wine, a mere three years ago.
Where did your love affair with wine began and progress?
My first encounter with the world of wine was whilst attending a hotel school, The Hague. I did a minor course in wine there, in addition to my Bachelor in Business Administration. Not taking this course too seriously at the time, it did however end up sparking some sort of interest, which ultimately amplified itself at the restaurant where I was working during my studies. The sommelier of this restaurant started to mentor me through my wine journey and from that point onwards, it really kicked off.
Becoming a sommelier doesn’t just happen and especially not just overnight…
What does the training involve and what are the attributes required to become a great sommelier?
I would like to believe that it is a combination of both experience and theoretical knowledge. The absolute best training for a sommelier, in my humble opinion, is to taste, taste and taste. However, I do believe a theoretical framework is necessary to create a holistic understanding of wine. Wine is not just fermented grape juice meant to quench your thirst. It is a combination of history, geography, climate, culture, philosophy, all alongside the meticulous efforts of the winemaking team. All these factors help you understand how to taste, and gives reason and substantiation as to why your pallet experiences the things you taste. So, in order to create that understanding, I firmly believe that one needs to be driven, persistent and consistent.
What have you studied (wine wise)? And tell us a bit more about your experience in the industry so far?
Currently, I am a student at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). Once the wine bug bit me, I started buying and tasting a lot of wine, along with reading a lot of books about wine (such as Wine Folly & The Wine Bible).
In July 2017, when I got back from a trip to South America, I decided to fully commit myself to wine. My thinking process at that time was to start at the very beginning, i.e. in the vineyards. Hence, I applied for an internship at Lise et Bertrand Jousset, in Montlouis-sur-Loire, France. Upon my return to the Netherlands I then decided to go for gold and applied for the Sommelier position at FG Restaurant, the two Michelin star restaurant in Rotterdam. I knew they had one of the most extensive wine lists in the whole of Netherlands, which would have provided me with a lot of learning opportunities at the time. During my time there I was very fortunate to have met Charles Williams, the Cellar Master of De Toren. As he came to present a masterclass of De Toren wines, he spoke with a kind of energy and passion for wine which was very captivating, and it immediately triggered my enthusiasm for De Toren’s wines. We stayed in touch and eventually, not too long after, I was invited to complete an internship for the 2019 harvest season at De Toren Private Cellar in South Africa.
What is your favourite varietal of wine grape?
As a sommelier, to me this is one of the hardest, yet most frequently asked questions. I believe there is a time and place for every wine (varietal). The key is to find that right moment and place, where the wine shows itself to what it is meant to or intended for.
Do you have any hard and fast tips you can give wine fanatics?
Try to experiment with wine. It is a substantial and very complex subject, but do not be discouraged. Taste consistently, preferably with others to get the discussion going, however never forget to enjoy the wine. A valuable lesson I also learned from a good friend was to never judge a wine negatively. It is easy to instantly pick out the negatives, but try to see what positives the wine has to offer. It changes your perspective; with wine, but also (and more importantly) in life.
In your opinion, what are the 4 things that one should consider when selecting a South African wine?
Wine-wise there’s a lot happening in South-Africa. The country boasts all variables necessary to make various styles of wine and that is what the people are seeking to experience right now. You see all these different regions popping up with well-crafted, unique wines.
Additionally, you start to see that winemakers start to take a more inward-looking approach in their winemaking methods and philosophy, creating a unique sense of place (or ‘terroir’ as we wine geeks like to call it) to be showcased in the wines, losing its ‘copy-paste of the Old World wines’ kind of approach. I think that’s the narrative that winemakers are focusing on, bringing forward their story, to share with people.
So, to come back to the original question, I would select a South African wine based on the understanding of the different regions (history, culture and geographic location) and the style of wine offered.
How did you come to know of De Toren’s wines?
The very first time I came to know of De Toren’s wines was during my time as Sommelier at FG Restaurant in Rotterdam. We had rather a good selection of De Toren wines on the restaurant wine list.
Which De Toren wine is your favourite & why?
This is a rather tough question. It’s like being asked to pick your favourite child as a parent, you just can’t. Each De Toren wine has its own attractive characteristics. I have to admit though; I have been blown away by some older vintages of the De Toren Fusion V. What I find incredibly unique about De Toren’s wines, is that each wine has great age ability, yet they are already so accessible in their youth. That’s not something you see very often with bolder style of wines. All the wines offer superb structure on the palate, whilst being very generous and giving. Ultimately, this makes them perfect for pairing with a lot of different kinds of food.
On that note… what is the perfect meal to pair with this wine and why do you think it works so well?
I would love to pair that aged De Toren Fusion V with a traditional French beef stew, Boeuf Bourguignonne. The voluptuous and velvety structure of the wine would beautifully complement the richness of the stew, while the jammy, plummy hints would bring some balance to those umami and earthy flavours of the dish. That combination of a new world wine versus old world food (so to say) would be really nice to see.
Any wise words to budding sommeliers and aficionados?
Just have fun and do not take it too seriously. Yes, wine is provocative, both emotionally and rationally, and us wine geeks can talk endlessly about phenolic compounds, tannic structures, vintage differences and tertiary aroma development in aged wines. However, do not overdo this – keep it short, simple and sweet. Especially in the restaurant, I want people to drink great wine and enjoy it. If they want to learn something about it, I am more than happy to share my knowledge.
So, where to next for you as esteemed sommelier?
I will be off to Melbourne, Australia to discover the food and wine world there. Melbourne is seen as the culinary heart of Australia and gastronomically there is a lot happening. Currently, I am also in talks with Dinner by Heston Blumenthal to work there as a sommelier. So, fingers crossed!
Lukas, you are a true inspiration to young, aspiring Sommeliers out there and it seems as though you still have big things ahead of you. Thank you for chatting to us and we wish you all the best with your future endeavours. You will be sorely missed by the 2019 Harvest Team of De Toren!