In part five of The Real Argentina’s somms series, we meet Paz Levinson, the second of two Argentine sommeliers competing in the A.S.I. Concours du Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 2016 (A.S.I. Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World). Currently ranked number one in both the Americas and Argentina, and the only Argentine to qualify as an Advanced Sommelier from the UK’s Court of Master Sommeliers, Paz will be going for a titles hat-trick at the world championship, which is being held in Mendoza for the first time on 15-20 April 2016.
Her story begins, naturally enough, with a glass of wine. Paz says: “My father is from Mendoza, and my grandfather was born in San Carlos in the middle of the Uco Valley, so my relationship with wine has been very natural – my parents drink a glass of wine at every meal, for example. I became a sommelier when I was studying Literature at university as I had to get a job to support my studies: I worked at Restó in Buenos Aires for five years, where I grew as waitstaff first and head sommelier later.”
Also somming at porteño restaurant Nectarine and collaborating with Unik, that latter connection took her to both China and France to work with its sister establishments. And, always keen to widen her palate and educate her nose, Paz has been working and continuing her studies in Paris for the past few years. Until recently, she was sommelier at the prestigious Hôtel Le Bristol in the French capital; ever the creative, Paz has also turned her hand to winemaking, collaborating on a white blend with renowned oenologist and friend Matías Michelini from Passionate Wines.
Talking about her move to France, she says: “For the Advanced exam, you have to study and taste a lot of wine! I went to France so that I’d have greater access to French and other world wines. But it wasn’t easy to prepare for because there aren’t any Master Sommeliers living there. It’s the kind of exam that’s best prepared for as part of a group with one or several mentors. I tried to find one in Paris but I couldn’t find anyone. So my prep work was a bit solitary and I had to be disciplined when it came to tasting and talking about wine in English.”
After taking the APAS Best Sommelier of the Americas title in Santiago, Chile, in 2015, Paz’s educational quest never eased off given that the world championship would take place just 12 months later. She says: “I really don’t know when I started to train for this. I haven’t stopped studying since last April for the Americas competition, plus I’ve also been studying for other exams. It takes six months of focusing with ups and downs.”
Over the past year she’s visited several of the world’s wine regions including Canada and South Africa. But of course, there’s nothing as unique as being on home turf. Paz adds: “We’ve done lot of work to qualify for the world championship and reaching the world is great, a great challenge. I was really happy when I found out I’d be representing Argentina and the Americas for the competition.
“It’s my second time competing [she ranked 12th in 2013] and the contest takes place in Argentina so no matter the results (which are, of course, important), participating in the world contest is something to celebrate.”
Besides winning the title of world’s best sommelier, Paz hopes to achieve a personal best. She adds: “I want to give it my all because I am competing against myself. I want to be better than in the last world contest, which is normal. It’s a personal challenge and a collective one; many people evolve during this learning process.”
Recently visiting Prince Edward County in Ontario, Canada, which, she says, has beautiful Cabernet Francs, Chardonnays and Rieslings, should she win, Paz will savour the moment like this: “No matter what the results are, I’ll be celebrating! And I’d like to celebrate with an old vintage of an iconic Argentine wine.”
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