Educator, writer and wine judge. Best sommelier of Argentina twice, Best sommelier in America, and fourth best in the world. To say that Paz Levinson, nowadays Executive Head Sommelier at the Maison Pic group, is one of the world’s top sommeliers is definitely not an exaggeration. Star Wine List’s Paris ambassador, Thomas Simian, has met her.
Paz Levinson started off her career as an assistant sommelier in a restaurant back home in Buenos Aires, and a few years later she ended up Head Sommelier.
”During those years I also studied to become a professional sommelier, and I learnt I lot while working the floor, that is really the best way to study and to get started in this business. I embraced service, and then I embraced wine,” Paz Levinson says.
Levinson says that through all her life, her dream was to research and to teach. Could’ve been literature or something else – but in wine she found the perfect combination of studying, researching, teaching and travelling.
”The combination of those things captivated me. In the wine world you always need to keep asking, keep learning. We are like detectives that collect all these different pieces of information and then communicate them to guests or students. Wine has no limits, culturally or globally, but also, for sommeliers it’s not only about wine. It’s also about tea, coffee, sake, cocktails, spirits, beer – and I’m into all of that.”
Paz Levinson is an experienced competitor, but she actually got into competing quite spontaneously.
”I was teaching a lot, and felt I needed to do some kind of exam, to measure my knowledge and evaluate how I could continue learning. So I thought it would be a good idea to do the America’s Best, even though I didn’t know anything about it. In 2009 I did’t even go to see the America's competition in Buenos Aires... and then 2010 I won my first contest, Best Sommelier of Argentina.”
The most important thing is to do it your way and to be happy with your choice
She says that competing has made her a better sommelier:
”Competing has helped me to not be so shy, to gain confidence and of course to continue learning. Each one of us in the wine industry has our own way of learning and I respect all of the choices; to compete, to not compete, to go for a Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, to travel, research, whatever. The most important thing is to do it your way and to be happy with your choice,” she says.
Since March 2018 Paz Levinson is Executive Head Sommelier at the Maison Pic group which includes restaurants in several countries. She says that the beverage program in each of the restaurants have evolved during this year, expanding limits, embracing diversity, both when it comes to wine and other beverages - even though the Maison Pic's origin in the Rhone Valley is demonstrated in the focus on Rhone Valley wines in the restaurants.
”We work a lot more with sake, cocktails, tea, coffee, beer and wines of the world today. Sherry and Madeira have gained importance. We also try to take the wine pairings program to the next level. I love selling bottles, but if a guest want to explore pairings it’s our job to be very accurate. And, the program can only evolve with the right people onboard, and I’m very satisfied with the Head Sommeliers that where working here already, and with the recruiting we’ve done since I started.”
What is your number one rule to live by in hospitality?
”Be at the service of others is the number one rule. We are servers and it’s our job to serve, to help, to assist. This rule is for the floor but it’s also for your company, your friends, your clients, your students, your readers.”
Even though you are now based in Europe, what is your opinion about the wine scene in Argentina right now?
”I think it’s at a superb moment. The palate of the winemakers have changed and their knowledge of international wine regions such as Bierzo, Ribeiro, Tenerife, Saint-Joseph and others has increased in the last few years. Also the winemaking techniques have changed, with much more wines made in a ‘hands-off’-way today.”
What is your advice to guests on how to read a big wine list?
"My advice is to relax and enjoy and trust the Sommeliers! She/He knows how to guide the client and can tell secrets about the list. "
Name three of your favourite wine bars in the world.
La Cave de Septime
Terroir Tribeca NY
Check out the wine list at La Dame de Pic in Paris through the link below - as well as the sister restaurant in London.
Paz Levinson on the most interesting wine regions right now
Anjou: ”For the diversity, complexity, quality, connection with terroir, incredible price-point and ageing potential of the wines.
Gualtallary: ”Because of the soils, it’s potential, the freshness, the combination of Malbec with Cabernet Franc. The wildness and the diversity.”
Ribeira Sacra: ”Because of the topography, the grapes, the freshness, the community, the winemaking, and just the deliciousness of the wines.”
By Thomas Simian