Interview With A Sommelier – Onur Vardal
24th October 2023
The World of Wine is beautifully showcased by an army of talented Sommeliers, who help the consumer discover their next favourite bottle, understand the different regions and pair a delicious meal with the right Glass of Bubbly.
In this feature, I speak with a man who has helped many people to discover the vast world of Wines and Sparkling Wines, his name is Onur Vardal, let’s find out a bit about his life as a Sommelier.
Tell Us About Yourself
“Hi, I’m Onur Vardal, a 33-year-old Turkish native. I was born and raised in Turkey, a country known as the 4th largest grape producer in the world. However, over ninety percent of our grape production is dedicated to spirit production. Despite this, Turkey has a rich history in wine production that dates back centuries. As a professional in the field, I am delighted to witness the positive growth of our wine market.
While I initially studied mechanical engineering, my true passion lies in the world of tourism. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete my college education in that field. Three years ago, I made the decision to pursue my interest in wine by obtaining a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certificate. I have recently completed the WSET Level 3 in Wine and am currently working as a sommelier at the renowned Maçakızı hotel in Türkbükü, which is considered the best place to work as a sommelier in Turkey.
At our hotel, we boast an extensive wine list with nearly a thousand different labels. I am truly enthusiastic about wine and can discuss it non-stop, day and night. My love for this profession stems from my unwavering passion, as being a sommelier is a role that cannot be fulfilled without genuine dedication and enthusiasm.”
What Inspired You To Become A Sommelier?
“Becoming a sommelier was a natural progression for me, fueled by a combination of my love for wine and my fascination with the art of gastronomy. Growing up in a family where food and wine were cherished, I was exposed to the joy of flavors and the way they enhance our dining experiences.
As I explored different culinary cultures and indulged in diverse cuisines, I discovered that wine played a pivotal role in elevating the overall sensory experience. I became captivated by the intricate flavors, aromas, and nuances that wines offer, and I yearned to delve deeper into this enigmatic world.
I began studying various wine regions, grape varietals, and their unique characteristics. The more I learned, the more my passion for wine grew. It became evident to me that becoming a sommelier would not only allow me to explore my passion but also enable me to share my knowledge and help others appreciate the wonders of wine.
Additionally, I’ve always been drawn to the hospitality industry, and the role of a sommelier perfectly blends my love for wine with my desire to create memorable experiences for people. The ability to guide and educate individuals in their wine choices, to pair wines perfectly with their meals, and to create harmonious sensory experiences is what truly inspires me.
Furthermore, the sommelier profession is a continuous journey of learning and exploration. The ever-evolving world of wine presents new vintages, emerging regions, and innovative winemaking techniques. This ongoing education and the opportunity to constantly expand my knowledge and expertise are incredibly exciting and motivating for me.
Ultimately, it was a combination of my upbringing, passion for wine, desire to work in the hospitality industry and the opportunity for continuous growth that inspired me to pursue a career as a sommelier. I believe that this path allows me to not only indulge in my passion but also connect with people, create memorable experiences, and contribute to the rich tapestry of the wine world.”
During Your Time As A Sommelier, What’s The Most Surprising Thing You’ve Learnt?
“As a Sommelier, the most surprising thing I’ve learned is the incredible impact that environmental factors can have on the taste and quality of wine. I’ve always been aware of the importance of terroir, which encompasses factors such as soil composition, climate, and elevation. However, delving deeper into the subject has truly opened my eyes.
I discovered that even subtle variations in soil type can significantly influence the flavors and characteristics of wine grapes. For instance, the same grape variety grown in different soil types can produce wines with distinct profiles, ranging from fruit-forward and vibrant to earthy and complex.
Furthermore, climatic conditions play a crucial role in grape ripening and overall wine quality. Factors such as temperature, rainfall, and sun exposure can significantly impact the balance of sugar, acidity, and tannins in the grapes. I was amazed to learn how these variations can result in wines with entirely different flavor profiles and aging potentials.
Additionally, the influence of altitude on grape cultivation surprised me. As vineyards ascend to higher elevations, the cooler temperatures can extend the growing season, leading to slower grape maturation. This extended ripening period allows the grapes to develop more complexity and nuanced flavors, resulting in exceptional wines that showcase a sense of place.
Overall, the profound effect of these environmental factors on wine was truly surprising to me. It has reinforced my appreciation for the artistry and science behind winemaking and has deepened my understanding of the intricate relationship between nature and the wines we enjoy.”
In Your Professional Opinion, Out Of Champagne And Prosecco, Which Do You Think Does A Better Job With Complementing A Meal?
“In my professional opinion, both Champagne and Prosecco have their unique characteristics that can complement a meal effectively. However, the choice between the two ultimately depends on personal preferences and the specific components of the meal being served.
Champagne, traditionally produced in the Champagne region of France, is known for its elegance, complexity, and effervescence. It often exhibits crisp acidity, delicate fruit flavors, and toasty or biscuit-like notes. Champagne’s versatility makes it suitable for a wide range of dishes. Its high acidity can help cut through rich or fatty foods, making it a great choice for pairing with seafood, creamy sauces, or even fried dishes. The bubbles in Champagne can cleanse the palate and refresh the taste buds between bites, enhancing the dining experience.
Prosecco, on the other hand, originates from Italy, specifically the Veneto region. It is typically lighter-bodied, fruit-forward, and characterized by vibrant bubbles. Prosecco’s flavors tend to be more on the fruity side, with notes of apple, pear, and citrus. This style of sparkling wine pairs well with lighter fare, such as salads, seafood appetizers, fresh cheeses, or fruit-based desserts. Its refreshing and approachable nature makes Prosecco an excellent choice for casual or outdoor dining occasions.
When determining which sparkling wine to choose, consider the overall flavor profile and intensity of the meal. For rich and robust dishes, Champagne’s complexity and acidity can provide a complementary contrast. On the other hand, if the meal consists of lighter, delicate flavors, Prosecco’s fruity and lively characteristics can harmonize well.
Ultimately, the best way to find out which sparkling wine complements a specific meal is through experimentation and personal taste preferences. It can be enjoyable to try different pairings and see which combinations work best for your palate and the particular occasion.”
What Advice Would You Give Inspiring Sommeliers?
“Develop a Solid Foundation: Start by building a strong foundation of wine knowledge. Learn about different grape varieties, wine regions, winemaking techniques, and the factors that affect wine quality and style. Familiarize yourself with wine terminology and the principles of wine tasting.
Taste Widely and Curiously: Expand your palate by tasting a diverse range of wines from different regions and styles. Explore wines made from various grape varieties, both internationally renowned and lesser-known ones. Be open-minded and curious, as this will help you develop a broader understanding of the world of wine.
Pursue Formal Education: Consider enrolling in professional wine courses or pursuing certifications such as the Court of Master Sommeliers or the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) programs. These courses offer structured learning and help validate your knowledge and skills.
Gain Practical Experience: Seek opportunities to work in wine-related establishments such as wine bars, restaurants, or wineries. Hands-on experience will expose you to real-world scenarios, help you develop your tasting abilities, and enhance your understanding of wine service.
Build Your Network: Connect with other professionals in the wine industry, including sommeliers, winemakers, and wine educators. Attend industry events, tastings, and conferences to expand your network and learn from experienced individuals. Networking can open doors to job opportunities and provide mentorship.
Practice Effective Communication: As a sommelier, your ability to effectively communicate with customers is crucial. Work on developing your verbal and written communication skills to convey wine information and recommendations clearly and engagingly. Adapt your communication style to cater to different levels of wine knowledge among your audience.
Embrace Ongoing Learning: The world of wine is continuously evolving, with new regions, trends, and techniques emerging. Stay updated by reading books, industry publications, and online resources. Attend seminars and workshops to learn from industry experts and keep up with the latest developments.
Cultivate a Passion for Hospitality: Remember that being a sommelier is not just about wine knowledge but also about providing exceptional hospitality. Develop a genuine interest in understanding and fulfilling the preferences and needs of your customers. Offer personalized recommendations, create memorable experiences, and strive to exceed expectations.
Develop Business Acumen: Gain an understanding of the business side of the wine industry. Familiarize yourself with pricing strategies, inventory management, and wine list curation. Knowledge of sales and marketing techniques will also be valuable if you plan to work in a restaurant or pursue entrepreneurial ventures.
Seek Mentorship: Find experienced sommeliers who can guide and mentor you throughout your journey. They can provide valuable insights, share their experiences, and offer advice on career progression. A mentor can help accelerate your growth and provide support during challenging times.
Remember, becoming a successful sommelier requires dedication, passion, and continuous learning. Embrace every opportunity to expand your knowledge, refine your tasting abilities, and provide exceptional service.”
If You Sat Down For A Quiet Dinner, What Dish And Sparkling Wine Would You Choose To Enjoy Together?
“I would like to write my personal top 5 pairings:
Grilled salmon with lemon butter sauce and roasted asparagus.
Mushroom risotto with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil.
Herb-roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans.
Spinach and feta stuffed chicken breast with roasted sweet potatoes.
Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.
Champagne: Opt for a classic Champagne from the Champagne region of France, such as Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, or Dom Pérignon.
Prosecco: A sparkling wine from Italy that is often lighter and fruitier compared to Champagne. Some popular brands include Mionetto, La Marca, or Zonin.
Cava: A Spanish sparkling wine that can offer good value for the price. Look for brands like Freixenet, Codorníu, or Segura Viudas.
Crémant: This refers to sparkling wines from various regions in France, such as Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant d’Alsace. Louis Bouillot, Lucien Albrecht, or Bailly-Lapierre are some notable producers.
Sparkling wine from other regions: There are sparkling wines produced in many countries around the world, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Explore local options and find one that suits your taste preferences.
Remember, the ideal pairing is subjective, and it’s always a good idea to choose a wine and dish that you personally enjoy and find complementary to each other.”
Thank you, Onur, for sharing your words, knowledge and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!
Images belong to Onur Vardal. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission, to use them.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.