The latest in our series of profiles of leading European sommeliers attending next week’s Wines of Argentina Barullo event takes us to Finland as we ask Heidi Mäkinen for her take on the changes taking place in Argentinian wine and what she discovered whilst taking part in the Best Sommelier of the World competition in Mendoza earlier in the year.
Heidi Mäkinen is excited about sharing her experiences of Argentinian wines with UK buyers at Wines of Argentina’s Barullo event and seeing more smaller, and innovative producers exporting their wines to Finland.
As one of the finalists in the Best Sommelier of the World awards in Argentina what was your perception of Argentinian wine before the trip and what did you discover about them when you were there?
I had mainly been drinking Argentinian Malbecs and Torrontés before going to the country. I was also told there wasn’t much to be excited about in terms of things happening in the country. Which, to my pleasure, I found totally incorrect during my visit.
In fact I found there’s a lot of interesting things happening in Argentina, particularly among the younger generation of winemakers (people like Sebastian Zuccardi) who are into more delicate wine styles. I also discovered the differences between the various sub-regions. It’s not just all about the big, jammy and high alcohol commercial reds. There are wide differences in where the grapes are grown (different heights, windy sites etc) so it makes sense that they are producing very different wines.
How do you think Argentinian wines have changed in your career?
I think viticultural and winemaking knowledge is growing a lot in Argentina and this is why the range of wines produced in the country is widening. When I started there were only a couple of the bigger players in the overseas markets, but now there are also smaller producers available to us and the variation is greater.
What styles of Argentinian wine and regions do you think are suitable for restaurants and sommeliers for both red and white wines?
I believe the more refined, delicate and elegant styles are easier to combine with modern food. As the new Nordic cuisine and the emphasis on locally-sought quality ingredients is growing within restaurants the wines need to have that elegance so that they don’t suppress the flavours of the food. Wines with balance and freshness, both for reds and whites, will be the ones selected for restaurant wine lists.
What type of Argentinian wines do you have on your list?
Unfortunately I haven’t got anything listed from Argentina at the moment in my current job, as our policy is to only work with European wines due to a hopefully smaller carbon footprint.
What do you see as being the “cutting edge” wines from Argentina?
During my trip I only got to taste a couple of interesting new projects, but I’m really looking forward to what Michelini wines and the Per Se project will do in the future. I’m also super interested in a lot of producers I’ve heard of and I have a list of, but haven’t had the chance to try yet. I’d love to be able to taste wines from Patagonia and Salta too as I have mainly only ever tasted wines from Mendoza.
What would you like to see Argentina improve and develop its wines?
I hope Argentina would pay increasing respect to the different subregions and their uniqueness and let it be shown in their wines without trying to make wines that just please the international crowd / reporters.
If you could choose one Argentinian wine – or producer – of all the rest which would it be?
I would choose wines made by Matias Michelini and his various projects.
How did you find taking part in the Best Sommelier of the year competition? What did you do to prepare?
It was an amazing experience as I’ve never taken part in a world competition before. It was great to get to meet all the people and see how this kind of big event is organised and to make new friends for life. I was mainly studying theory so I spent a lot of time reading to prepare myself for the competition.
What lessons have you brought back to your every day job after taking part in the competition?
That a sommelier should be serving their customers with pleasure and try not to make themselves more important than their customers are. This is a profession of joy and shared moments of happiness, and that should be shown in our everyday work.
What advice would you give to other sommeliers looking to take part in national or world sommelier competitions?
Work hard, be motivated, be open-minded and have fun!
Describe the restaurant where you work and what your key responsibilities area?
I work in a small Finnish restaurant, called C Restaurant, using locally-sourced organic and biodynamic products. We are a small team with two to three people in the restaurant and three to four in the kitchen. I’m responsible for all the beverages, but I do everything in between opening and closing the restaurant for five nights a week.
What is the best way for wine producers or suppliers to contact you about their wines?
To come and visit me and let me taste their wines or to arrange a meeting and show me their wines at one of the wine fairs I’m visiting.
Mäkkinen will be taking part in a series of masterclasses and debates being held by six of the semi-finalists in this year’s Best Sommelier of the Year competition at Wines of Argentina’s Barullo event on October 25 at JJ Studios in Hoxton, London. The event has been designed to inspire and help fellow sommeliers and wine buyers discover the cutting edge wines and food coming out of Argentina. Barullo’s trade sessions take place on October 25 and 26 with the world sommeliers present on October 25. More details here and to register click here.