We chat to the Master Sommelier of the luxurious Amstel Hotel’s La Rive Restaurant, well recognised as one of Netherland’s top culinary experiences. Best known for his wealth of experience and regarded as a leading Maitre d’-Sommelier, Ronald shares his story with us…
Before you relocated to Amsterdam in 2008, you worked for seven years as the Master Sommelier at Restaurant De Vrienden van Jacob, situated on the breathtakingly beautiful Duin & Kruidberg Country Estate in the North of Netherlands. A lot of career highlights preceded the year 2008, what did these entail and mean for your career?
In the year 2007, I graduated and was honoured with the title of ‘SVH Wijnmeester’ – the highest degree of professional competence someone in the hospitality industry can achieve. That same year I was proclaimed as ‘Sommelier of the Year by Gault Millau’. It was very humbling and it felt greatly rewarding to receive acknowledgement for the work I had done setting up Restaurant De Vrienden van Jacob, as well as crafting my vison and philosophy on the wine program.
Career wise, this resulted in a wonderful opportunity, which also left me with a rather challenging decision to make in 2008… I was asked to join the Amstel Hotel and I knew I had to leave behind what I had created at the Duin & Kruidberg Estate.
La Rive Restaurant, which is part of the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam, is regarded one of the Netherland’s leading gastronomic experiences, consistently receiving worldwide acclaim. Tell us a bit more about your responsibility and role as Maitre d’-Sommelier (Master of Sommelier) at this prestigious restaurant, which is positioned amongst the top in the world?
As Maitre d’-Sommelier, I am responsible for the complete wine program at the Amstel Hotel. I have two great Sommeliers as part of my team, Ted Bunnik and Hans van Schaik, whom helps me a great deal with building, maintaining and nurturing our spectacular wine collection.
Sommelier, Ted Bunnik has been at the Amstel Hotel since 1980 and has been collecting prestigious wines ever since. He created the corner stone of the fantastic vintage depth collection on our wine list. For my wine pairing program, I always look at the seasonal changes to Chef Roger Rassin’s menu. With this in mind, I try to find pearls from all over the world to pair and enhance these culinary flavours.
You have understandably developed a passion for wine and fine wine over the past couple of years… In the global wine industry, what do you find most exciting?
Wine is a never-ending journey and I love the various interpretations by the different winemakers based on influencing elements such as the ever-changing climate. The decisions made based on these factors, help craft their unique signature, which is reflected in their wine.
What does it feel like being regarded as one of Netherland’s most admired sommeliers today?
I feel flattered by this and try to use this opportunity or platform to show the future sommelier generation the beauty of our craft. I aspire towards passing on this knowledge and passion of mine, to carry on this great craftsmanship for years and years to come.
When you dine out, what do you look for on a wine list of a restaurant? What makes a wine fine?
I always look for older vintages of wines that I have actually tasted before to experience the wine’s evolution over time. For me, it’s intriguing to see how a wine evolves over time and what this does for its aroma and taste profile.
How did you come to know of De Toren’s wine?
My first encounter with De Toren dates back to 2009. I attended a blind tasting where we were presented with the opportunity to taste older Bordeaux-style wines from all over the world. De Toren Fusion V 2001 vintage was included in this tasting and I was pleasantly delighted by this wine. This encounter then triggered my interest to learn more about De Toren and its philosophy, especially since this was only the 3rd vintage release.
We are honoured to have our wines listed as part of La Rive Restaurant’s prestigious collection. Do you have a firm favourite amongst our wines & if so, what dish from your restaurant would make for the ideal pairing?
Currently, the De Toren Z 2014 is my favourite – for its opulence of fruit, showcase of aromas, such as blueberry and raspberry and its liquorice hues. The palate is soft and exudes well integrated tannins with abundance of fruit and hints of earth, mocha, vanilla, which ends off with a silky finish. This combination goes extremely well with our famous Bison Steak. The steak is roasted on a barbeque and served with Chevril root, Chanterelle mushrooms, a crisp of Boletus mushroom, the jus of Bison with a hint of Arabica coffee beans. The De Toren Z integrates superbly with this meal – it picks up on the earthiness of the mushroom and the subtle coffee aromas show the wine’s abundance of fruit, perfectly complementing the roasted meat.
Looking back, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
One is never done learning in the fascinating world of wine. Go out and explore the wine regions of the world.
Considering all your noteworthy achievements, it seems your career is going from strength to strength. So where to from here for the famed Ronald Opten?
The Amstel Hotel has just been restored to its former glory and is ready for a new era. I would like to remain here, providing wine selection and culinary direction and continue teaching the younger generation about our craftsmanship.
A true inspiration to young, aspiring sommeliers out there… Ronald, thank you for chatting to us and we wish you all the best with this next phase in your career!