Piotr Zielinski – sommelier, Belveder Restaurant in Warsaw

What does a sommelier do in the restaurant?
I’ve heard that a sommelier is like a spiritus movens of the restaurant. To put it briefly, he takes care of good mood of our guests, and there’s nothing better to an evening than an excellent drink, a glass of your favourite wine or a glass of your beloved whisky. This is to a large extent customer service, which aims at understanding their needs and preferences depending on the situation and circumstances. However, apart from bustling between tables, one should also find some time to search for new products, learn about them, pass this knowledge on to waiters, and often change spiritslists.

How are sommeliers trained?
In our country a waiter with a deepest knowledge of wine (and not only) often becomes a sommelier. Yet, it’s worth saying that you can become a sommelier having practically no experience in gastronomy. What matters most are passion and willingness to increase your knowledge. To polish or acquire your skills, you can take part in some courses organised among others at the International Bartender and Sommelier School in Warsaw or by the British organisation – Wines and Spirits Education Trust. As part of the WSET courses, you can obtain professional knowledge in recognising spirits and their technical specifications. You can also deepen your knowledge and improve your service at the international sommelier organisation – ASI. Participation in the Polish Sommelier Association ensures additional motivation and helps improve your skills. Yet, own work – reading, taking part in winetasting and master classes, travelling, and visiting vineyards – is equally important. For me, personally, quite long experience in services sales was important – I learned to understand customer needs, which is very useful.

What made you become a sommelier?
Tasty wine I drank at one of the restaurants in Warsaw after a hard day at work. It broke the image of wine embedded in my head under the label of some wine from Bulgaria, available in many convenience stores. Then, there were bottles from discount stores, specialty stores, books, tasting sessions, and courses. This is how it all started.

Does a sommelier have to like wine?
Like in most jobs, if we like what we do, then it’s easier for us, and we feel more joy in our work. In the case of a sommelier, this is even a requirement. I don’t imagine a situation that a person whose job is to turn guests on to passion for wine, doesn’t like it himself/herself. It’s easy to feel the difference in talking about wine between a person who sells wine because he/she does it just for a living, and a person who knows nearly everything about a given bottle. In this job love for wine opens door to people’s hearts, and lets us change a slightly alcoholic drink into feelings, good moments and memories in a magic way.

What do your guests order most often?    
Unlike in the Polish market, domestic wines prevail in my country. We have one of the widest selections of Polish wines in the country from different parts of Poland. This is practically a must-buy for many tourists since the chance to meet Polish wine abroad is practically zero now. We welcome the fact that the Poles themselves are breaking the stereotype of the Polish “vino” (winiacz) and buy bottles from native winemakers. Their faces often express astonishment, even disbelief, as far as the country of origin of a given bottle is concerned.

Do your guests in the restaurant often ask for help when making a wine selection?
Quite often. Our wine list has over 200 items, and it may take some time to go through it – not all our guests feel like doing it. We usually hear most requests for help when we tell our guests about some wine trivia. They most willingly listen to information about Polish wines, not known even among their fellow citizens. In the case of a tasting menu, our guests often decide to take only Polish wines, and together with our waiters, we try to interest them in the history of particular products and manufacturers. Sometimes there are so many questions that the food gets cold. This is very nice when our guests want to know something more, and we can share these few trivia with them in the form of a real dialogue.

What was the funniest situation in the restaurant?
All restaurants have a series of funny stories. We’ve also experienced some unusual situations. For example, one of our guests chose wine and when he saw the bottle, from 2006, he asked me about its price. I replied 360 zlotys. He laughed out loud and said that if it didn’t cost a thousand zlotys, then it was worthless. I considered suggesting him this bottle at a new price. Another guest claimed that pouring wine into a decanter would make it sour and unfit for consumption. I still remember an unusual story when a group of German chemists asked me for decanting a few bottles they bought. There wouldn’t be anything strange about that, if not the fact that upon the host’s request I had to decant wine on the table for 12 people, among the guests, and with every single move I was scared not to leave stains on the dress of the lady on my right hand side or that the candle would fall over onto the man on my left hand side. What’s more, they also asked me to describe the process in detail in English, with some elements in German, and answer the guests’ questions, which did not help, but I did it!

What’s your favourite alcoholic drink? 😉
Definitely wine 🙂 But discovering new tastes in various cocktails is also great fun!

Thank you.

fot. Belvedere Restaurant

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