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Gastronomy and Wine Portal

Andreas Larsson

Andreas Larsson: «I wanted to be Mr. Perfect»

28.02.2021, Persona Author: Maria Pogoretska

The Best World Sommelier, the food pairings rockstar, wine expert, who’s video-tastings became super popular and the world’s winemakers are queuing up for it and known as a trendsetter for several generations of sommeliers gave an exclusive interview to Drinks+.


Drinks+: As we are informed, you entered a culinary school at the age of 16. But also you were seriously devoted to the music – jazz. What impact the most on the final choice of the future profession?

Mr. Andreas Larsson: Simply because you’ll always find a job as a chef (that I started as), being an artist is extremely difficult in terms of making money.

D+: Remember your first sip of wine: at what age and what wine?

A.L.: My first sips of wine were simple semi sweet stuff to get drunk with my friends, but when I started to cook seriously I bought some French wine I read about in the cookbooks. This was basically Bordeaux and my first wow with a nice dish was probably a non-classified Pauillac.

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D+: We read that during your trip to France in 1996, the wines of Burgundy and Rhone inspired your decision to give up gastronomy and devote yourself to the wine world. How did the realization of the new life path happen, and at what winery exactly did the understand everything?

A.L.: It didn’t really happen overnight, I still continued to work in the kitchen for a few years but I got kind of obsessed with wine and wanted to learn everything. I clearly remember tasting from the barrel with Marcel Guigal that was a wonderful experience.

D+: You studied at the Stockholm’s Restaurant Academy, and then you got a position at cellar-enoteca Vinkllaren Grappe. Was it easy to get hired at the place? With what main difficulties and insights have you met while working there?

A.L.: I got offered the job and it was a mind-blowing experience, very tough in terms of logistics as I consisted of carrying a lot of cases and bottles during the day and more of a regular service every night. However, this being a private club, meant that people mainly bought great stuff so night after night I had the chance of tasting most legendary wines that few young sommeliers get to taste these days.


My first sips of wine were simple semi sweet stuff to get drunk with my friends, but when I started to cook seriously I bought some French wine I read about in the cookbooks.


 

D+: Analyzing years from 2001 to 2007, your professional growth goes from “Best Sommelier in Sweden” to the titled recognition of the “World’s Best Sommelier”. To get the greatest “wine distinction”, is there a certain hierarchy pyramid: to be the BEST in the “country-region-continent-world”? Or something can be omitted (jumped over)?

A.L.: No clearly winning the world is the most difficult followed by the continental championships, Europe, which I’d say is the hardest competition, followed by Asia and the Americas.

D+: Try to remember the triumph at World’s Best Sommelier 2007. When did you realize that you can outdo anyone – had no peers? During which task exactly – can you describe your part of the contest in details? And how your life has changed: did you start to receive high-status invitations? Which ones?

A.L.: As far as concerns the final I was particularly well prepared, not only in terms of the knowledge, but especially mentally and physically. I did an attempt in 2004 and the competition took place just 4 months after the European Championship I just won, and the time to relax, restarting to prepare plus the everyday life and work struggle was simply too much.

When I went for my second attempt, I wanted to eliminate all risks, all stress and feel like Mr.Perfect! I recall the final as the candidate numbers were called out and we were four finalists (Gerard Basset, Paolo Basso, Eric Zwiebel and yours truly). I never ever had felt calmer and more collected thanks to my preparations. I knew I did everything as well as I could, no mistakes, being able to be relaxed, humorous, natural at the same time finishing all the tasks on time and pinpointing 12 out of 12 spirits for the tasting part.

Regarding how my life changed – of course, the first one or two years were quite hectic as I received invitations from everywhere to travel, taste and conduct various events all around the world. I always traveled a fair deal in wine regions but after the world championship I got to see new parts of the world in particular Asia, and since I’ve been back to Japan, China and Korea many time, and I adore it.

Regarding work you still need to work hard and structure your life to make a living and feeling well.

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D+: You have been working at PM&Vänner Hotel restaurant, in Växjö, as a Chief Sommelier for 13 years: what are your key responsibilities and what attracts you to this particular place?

A.L.: Well as a matter of fact I gradually stepped back – 5 years ago I gave the main responsibility to my successor Ruben Sanz Ramiro who’s a great guy. I gradually stepped back from the everyday burdens, but I`m still feeling very attached to the place, and I advise the wine list, various events and tastings.

D+: The principle of wines by the glass: we heard that PM&Vänner guests can enjoy the most premium samples, in particular, a glass of Chateau D’Yquem. There are not so many places in the world, which can offer the same – is it a risk for a restaurant? What goals did you pursue, offering guests such luxury opportunity? And did your business partners (if any) understand you at once?

A.L.: It’s simple. If guests can enjoy these treasures to a fair price they will buy it! I always tried to combine high quality with a decent quality/price ratio, I would never be able to work with an overpriced wine list. Today when there’s Coravin, you don’t need to worry about those three glasses of Yquem being unsold or spoiled.

D+: Have you ever seen yourself as a founder of the projects like: a wine bar, a wine boutique or an educational school? If so, why it makes an appeal to you?

A.L.: Not really. I was never the entrepreneur type. I always prefer my independence and freedom. I make a decent living being my own consultant without the responsibilities of taking care of staff having economical responsibilities, etc. Nonetheless, if the opportunity arises, I’d still like to open something in Stockholm with my brother who’s an excellent chef.


When I do a session, I work out in the morning, I drink coffee but don’t have breakfast or just a very light one, then I finish to taste before I have lunch. It’s impossible to come back in the afternoon slightly tired, not being able to do a good job.


D+: In your opinion, does the profession of the sommelier (as it happens, for example, in the modeling business) have age restrictions? Or, maybe, do you consider the age and experience as an additional advantage?

A.L.: There’s no obstacles regarding age or between men or women in this business. I’d say what young people lack in experience they compensate in having the energy and will to work long hours. In my opinion, to be a fully fledged sommelier, you have to work full time with wine for 5-6 years before everything is there.

You don’t need to be a profound expert of each and every region to make a good list and serve good wines. However, after more time we all develop various areas of expertise and become more profound in various areas. My knowledge is much higher today than 10 years ago even if I somewhat forgot some of the less interesting things I needed to know for the competitions. I don’t really care about rootstock selections, enzymes or being able to name all the appellations of Romania today.

D+: How do you see your future?

A.L.: I take the day as it comes and I feel good not having the pressure of having to fulfill projects on a limited time scale.

D+: How did the idea & vision of commented well-known video-tastings (that became highly desired by the top world wineries) come out?

A.L.: It was the idea of my business partner – I would never like to watch myself on vide – but there was obviously a demand for new communication and instead of putting a gold sticker on a bottle the best-rated wines can show a commented video instead.

With regard to applications and schedule, as well as conditions – these questions anyone can ask Anthony (ac@syrahmedias.com): he rather does all of the planning so I can solely focus on the tasting and not the logistical or commercial aspects.

D+: Do you remember, what was the first “video-tasted” wine sample? And have you ever refused to taste because you felt the lack of quality?

A.L.: Yes, I don’t comment wines that score less than 85 points – and then even scores like 86-88 can be very good wines, like a Côtes du Rhône with charm and character with a slight rustic touch for 5 Euros.

D+: Have your tastes changed in the last 10 years? What wine do you prefer personally?

A.L.: If I look in my cellar, the vast majority is still the cornerstones of Champagne, German Riesling, Austria, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône followed by Piemonte, Tuscany and Spain.

Nonetheless, I’m always open to try new things in wine bars and restaurants and buying new stuff in wine shops but what I buy to age remains very classic.

D+: You often give comments about the wines of the New World, such as Chile, Argentina, USA… and Old World: Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria… Do you have your own TOP-3 of Favorites: country/region/vintage, the manufacturers?

A.L.: Again, I think a good taster has to be equally apt to judge a diehard classic Cornas next to a glossy Napa Cab, next to a funky orange version, next to a 30 year old Barolo.

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D+: What do you think about Greek wines? Concerning the changes of tastes, nowadays people started to discuss the renaissance period of Greek wines. Can you predict other wine-countries that might become highly demanded in the coming years?

A.L.: I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been back to Greece for 10 years so if anyone would invite me to tour the vineyards I’d say YES!

However I did taste quite a few wines over the last years and having the strength of the indigenous varieties and long traditions paired with today’s technology of making purer, fresher and cleaner has certainly given the Greek wine landscape a new boost! I also see the same thing happening in central and east Europe as well as the cradle of wine around the Black Sea.

D+: How do you feel about spirits? What do you prefer to drink? Once tequila and absinthe were trendy, later on, vodka took the lead. What is your forecast – what spirits will be trendy among fashionable bars menu in 2019?

A.L.: Gin is certainly booming. I even make my own blend with the talented Simon Thompson, this one gets a finish in Sauternes casks. I was never much of a cocktail or drinks guy, except for G&T. I always loved Cognac, Armagnac and Japanese whisky. But I love to taste and discover everything.

D+: They say that wine is not only a terroir, aroma & taste but the concept of “wine affect” is also included: the summary of the atmosphere, mood, and environment. How to protect yourself from the influence that is caused by minor factors in order to evaluate wine properly? How do you prepare for your video tasting performance?

A.L.: By always tasting in the same environment in the same glasses, same temperature that solves a lot. When I do a session, I work out in the morning, I drink coffee but don’t have breakfast or just a very light one, then I finish to taste before I have lunch. It’s impossible to come back in the afternoon slightly tired, not being able to do a good job.

D+: In your opinion, “honest” tastings always blind ones? Why, and what attracts you due these tastings? Do you still have a feeling of “challenge” while preparing to conduct them?

A.L.: It’s first and foremost honesty towards myself. I know how much a label can influence you. I’m not saying blind tasting is the only solution but to me a very good one, however tasting some of the great wines of the world (like I just did with Bordeaux 2016), where you mostly have to visit the Chвteau to taste.

D+: Every two years, as a part of Asian Airlines cooperation, you, along with two other specialists, taste blindly about 300 samples to create a wine menu for passengers of the first and business classes. What task was set on you? What wines are you searching for and on what basis are you relying to form a menu?

A.L.: I left this project last year, but I’d love to find a new airline to consult. Being a frequent traveler myself, I know the importance of eating and drinking well at 30000 feet. The tastings were always carried out blind and the main goal was to find wines offering pleasure at the time of tasting, age worthy wines or other examples with high acids, rough tannins are not suitable for drinking in the air.

D+: You are known not only as a famous sommelier & influential wine critic but also as a lecturer and speaker. What kind of educational projects, their topics and audiences interests you?

A.L.: I like to speak to everyone, sometimes to well initiated wine lovers doing a vertical of Cheval Blanc to the basic ABC or wine tasting to new beginners. I do quite a lot of food and wine pairing trainings with my chef brother, were we educate restaurant on the basics of tasting, flavours, pairing and also doing cooking to various wine styles, that’s a very rewarding one. Then I did tastings on everything: from mustard to mineral water, to sake, scotch, and whisky.


I’ve been to most wine regions of the world, still not to New Zeeland, nor Madeira – they are certainly on my bucket list, however there’s always a small village or appellation and exciting wines to discover. Today there’s 40 commercial wineries in southern Sweden but I have never been there either…


D+: How often do you travel during the year and for what purposes? What are the most exciting during the wine trips?

A.L.: I travel more than I stay home – like 200+ days. The most exciting thing is always to see new places, tasting new wines and above all – the connection to the people behind the wines, and the culture that comes with it.

I’ve been to most wine regions of the world, still not to New Zeeland, nor Madeira – they are certainly on my bucket list, however there’s always a small village or appellation and exciting wines to discover. Today there’s 40 commercial wineries in southern Sweden but I have never been there either…

D+: Andreas Larsson`s wine trends forecasts: what types, styles, flavors, tastes, barrel, aging… of wines will be preferable?

A.L.: Always difficult to predict, people will always say fresher wines, less oak. But I think the bold and broad styles will always remain, however I like the diversity of the wine world just like food sometimes. I adore a sashimi or fresh oysters with a light crisp low alcohol Riesling, sometime that plush and powerful Napa Cab at 15 % fits like a glove with the braised veal shank.

D+: What is the dream of a successful, accomplished, world-famous icon – Andreas Larsson?

A.L.: Going on eating, drinking, tasting being happy and healthy.

D+: small quiz:

D+: Corkscrew – is a main weapon of the sommelier. What brand do you trust?

A.L.: Laguiole (there’s actually mine – an Andreas Larsson design with Swedish reindeer horns).

D+: A favorite glass is…

A.L.: Riedel.

D+: The handbook of the sommelier is…

A.L.: I don’t think there’s one complete book, my dear friend Jean Vincent Ridon – a French guy in South Africa, is working on an extensive guide to include all elements of service with all wine styles and other beverages. I took part in some of the chapters, and I’m looking forward to read it.

D+: It is very easy to find a decent wine up to $10 today. Do you agree with this opinion?

A.L.: Indeed, some markets takes and mark ups make wine more expensive. But in France, for instance, you can find excellent wines at these prices.

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D+: What kind of sport might be compared to the sommelier profession (are there any scandals, intrigues, investigations)?

A.L.: Not more than any other businesses – there will always be a few guys having a problem with the alcohol, some people stealing fine bottles from restaurants… and to a certain extent faking wines like we’ve seen a lot of recently. However, I try to be positive and think that the vast majority of people are nice, hard working and honest.

D+: Are you a classic type: red wine to meat, and whites with cheeses, fish or desserts? Or you are an avant-garde food pairings type? Tell us two or three favorite pairings for an example.

A.L.: I always think pairings are more dynamic with white wines, I love for instance a Swedish Gravlax with the sweet-sour mustard sauce paired with a Riesling Kabinett from Mosel. I love a fresh Manzanilla with sushi of sea urchin. With reds it’s easier, you don’t really need to be a genius to find a tasty full bodied red with your grilled entrecote.

D+: To be a sommelier – is challenging for your health.

A.L.: Always the risk of eating and drinking too much, we certainly need to exercise both for the brain and the body.

D+: If you agree, then how do you keep fit (what is your day-by-day routine – when do you wake up, any diet, sport, and bedtime)?

A.L.: On a perfect day I always start at the gym or a run/power walk but in reality, trying to do this with a hectic schedule is not always possible.

Photos: Andreas Larsson, Mackmyra, Black & Co, arkitektbolaget.se