December the 2nd, 2021
Marc ALMERT...the King of the Sommellerie world
The start of everything
Marc Almert was just sixteen year old when he completed his International Baccalaureate at the British School of Cologne. Many believed that the gifted young man had the makings of a physicist, attorney or perhaps a banker. Yet Marc chose a different path and started an apprenticeship in the hotel business and began his vocational training at the prestigious “Excelsior Hotel Ernst” in Cologne.
Still in the early days of his training programme, his exposure to wine had to that point been very limited. Sitting for his
tasting lessons with Theresa Stenzel, the hotel’s head sommelière, he discovered that some wines tasted better than
others. This small flame of curiosity soon grew into a blaze, and not long thereafter Marc put his ambitious plans of
becoming a hotel manager on ice — in favour of the path of the sommelier. No less ambitious, but with even more fire.
In 2014, against Marc’s wishes, Sebastian MacLachlan-Müller, his superior and the Chef Sommelier at Restaurant "Ente" at the
"Nassauer Hof" in Wiesbaden, signed Almert up for the “National Jeunes Sommeliers Competition,” run by the Chaîne
des Rôtisseurs. The senior sommelier personally prepared his 22-year-old mentee Marc Almert for the event. Marc earned the second place. Just one year later, Marc took part in that same competition...and this time was elected the Best Young Sommelier! Clearly, Marc had the makings of a “sommelier athlete.”
After becoming the "Best sommelier of Germany" in 2017, Marc flew to Antwerp, Belgium, to participate to the Best Sommelier of the World competition. You all know how this ended up...Marc was crowned with the tittle, at just 27 years old.
We had the honour to ask Marc a few questions, here are his answers :
Career focused questions :
Marc, in 2019, you were elected best sommelier of the world among an impressive list of very experienced contestants. How did it feel to realize that you won this title?
As captured on video (evtl. YouTube Link einfügen), it was to my utter astonishment and humbling honour. Even two and a half years after this title, it still seems partially surreal. I hope that I can now help other sommeliers achieve their dreams and ambitions thanks to the experiences I had the luck to accomplish.
When we look at the average age of the contestants that participated in this 2019 BSOW competition, you were (and still are) among the youngest. Was it something that disturbed you or impressed you before the competition? If so, how did you overcome that?
First of all, it is important to note that some of my fellow contestants and friends were even younger than myself. I.e. Nina Jensen, the runner-up, is one year younger than me. In addition I am merely the third-youngest world champion; Giuseppe Vaccarini was the youngest, and Enrico Bernardo won at the same age as myself. In my personal opinion, age is a number on a paper. It is what you make of it that counts; as a young person you can achieve a lot by being ambitious, disciplined and having an open ear to those more experienced than yourself, whereas some older people lack the openness of spirit to learn from their past and their surroundings.
When you were preparing for this competition, what was a normal week?
Was it "wine-wine-wine" or did you try to have other activities to help you in your performance/clear your head ? I worked at the Baur au Lac for five days a week, thus engaging with guests, colleagues, and of course delightful beverages (not only wine!). Furthermore, I tasted on a daily basis. Close to the competition it was approximately 200 wines, 50 spirits and 30 beers – per week. Theory (especially flashcards and Excel sheets), were my constant companion, usually for approximately two to four hours – per day. In addition, I trained stressful service situations as often as possible. Thanks to the support of the Baur au Lac team (notably Aurélien Blanc), the German Sommelier Association (under the lead of our president Peer F. Holm) as well as my personal coach (Master Sommelier and runner-up European champion Frank Kämmer) I was able to train a lot in different settings, with different colleagues, several products and also to attend international trainings such as in Belgium, Kyoto or Montréal.
You are now 30 years old and already reached the peak of the Mount Everest of the Sommellerie world. What are your plans for the coming years?
A life dream is to visit as many wine producing regions in the world as possible. In addition, to help to spread the knowledge around our profession by working closely with the ASI (international sommelier association) as well as with the Swiss and German sommelier associations. Furthermore, in order to stay on top of our craft I feel there is always an additional touch you can add to your service and tasting skills – by constantly practising and engaging with inspiring colleagues – as well as never ceasing to learn the theoretical knowledge and background of any of the products consumed within a restaurant.
In your different travels done in the last months, did you notice a new trend or a new influence in the winemaking techniques that you didn't see in the past?
Not so much in wine making, but more in wine offers in restaurants; the bottle lists seem to become more smaller yet more dynamic, whereas the by the glass lists expand due to guest’s curiosity as well as some technical aids like Coravin.
General questions :
Nationality : German
Birth year : 1991
What region would you pick for a bottle of your vintage? Douro / Napa Valley / South Australia / Côte de Nuits / Saar
What's your favourite varietal ? and why?
“Riesling was my first love…” My first sommelier job was within the Rheingau, thus Riesling will always carry a special place in my heart. Its acidity-sweetness balance, minerality and lightness are unique in the world of wine to my opinion
Any varietal you don’t get along well ?
Cabernet Franc is something which many of my sommelier colleagues cherish greatly. I do enjoy some, but it has somehow never “clicked” for me regarding this varietal in its entirety… I assume it is due to its strong stalky and meaty flavours.
What do you drink when you don't have a glass of wine in your hand?
In the mornings; strong Cappuccinos made with an Italian Roast coffee. In the afternoons; crisp and refreshing Green Tea, i.e. Sencha.
Let's say you are alone, at home, what's your favourite casual food and wine pairing for dinner?
Pizza Proscuitto and a Chianti Classico. The freshness and vibrant acidity of the Sangiovese pairs oh so well with the saltiness of the ham and the baked Pizza crust!
What is your favourite wine region, not to drink, but to visit ?
Venice is a culturally fascinating city and Veneto a marvellous region. I have yet to discover it’s compelling wines in more detail.
Do you/Did you have a role model/a mentor in the wine/sommelier world? If so, who ?
I have been honoured, humbled and lucky to work with several outstanding sommelier mentors. Theresa Stenzel (then Rokosch) was my mentor as a cheffe sommelière during my hotel training. One could say she ignited the spark. Sebastian MacLachlan Müller was my head sommelier at the ENTE in Wiesbaden, and he raised that spark to a fire, and enrolled me to my first sommelier competitions and exams. In Zürich, Aurélien Blanc, is my boss, friend and mentor. Born in Fixin, Best Sommelier of Switzerland 2018 and now our restaurant manager at Pavillon, he has helped me grow and learn for five years now. Role models to me are Serge Dubs (ASI Best Sommelier of the World 1989 and Chef Sommelier of Auberge de l’Ill) who is one of the longest working sommeliers in the trade and has inspired me with his humility, consistency, and passion to never cease learning; as well as Markus del Monego MW (ASI Best Sommelier of the World 1998 and Master of Wine), who was not only the first German to win the ASI Best Sommelier of the World competition but is also a true friend, companion and humble mentor. My understanding of Bordeaux has been greatly led by his experience and knowledge.
Best advice you ever received?
“Fast, efficient, friendly.” à Aurélien Blanc’s way of leading a 2* Michelin restaurant service.
“Parle moi du vin!” à Serge Dubs motivating me to use my heart and not only my analytics when tasting, describing and identifying a wine.
“I know that I know nothing!” à A quote from Sokrates, which I think runs true with any sommelier who seriously dives deep into the topic of wine.
Imagine you have been cursed !! You are only able to drink 1 red wine and 1 white wine until your life end. What would it be?
An off-dry Riesling from the Saar due to its quaffability (not sure if that is a word or a sentiment ) and an enticing Syrah from New Zealand, which to me is one of the most underrated origins of the wine world.
You already have an amazing career as a Sommelier. What is your next step/objective in the wine/sommelier world?
The team at Baur au Lac Vins and the Baur au Lac are great fun and good sport, and I would love to continue working with them for years to come. At the same time I’m spending a lot of energy and focus in aiding to inspire and educate young sommeliers around the globe, in order to help spread the know-how and experiences that some of us have been lucky enough to learn.
Champagne, Cava or Franciacorta?
All of them especially in drier styles.
15. b. A special question only for the German sommeliers : Riesling from Alsace...Mosel or another region ? Again, all of them The beauty of our wine world is the diversity and range of origins, characters and styles we encounter. Every Riesling has it’s guest/food/situation moment to be an excellent pairing.
In the city you currently live in, do you have a favourite wine shop for Champagne or other wine categories that you love to go to?
No surprise here, but to me the oldest wine shop of Zürich – Baur au Lac Vins, founded in 1844 – has a great and varied selection of gems both from sparkling and other wine categories, which I am honoured to help curate. In fact, we were awarded “Best sparkling wine shop” by Falstaff last year. You can find us next to the namesake hotel Baur au Lac, within the shopping area of Zürich’s main train station as well as in the suburbs Regensdorf and Küssnacht. And of course online.