This Lady Knows Her Wine
This is a story about dreams. And sometimes the most important, life-changing decisions come to us at night in our dreams. Do you know people who dream of the future and make the decision to follow that dream? I know one here in Moscow. She has a rare profession for a woman. Her name is Kseniya Karpenko and she is the sommelier of Swissôtel Krasniye Holmy. I went to see her last week.
Ksenia Karpenko, Sommelier of the five star
Swissôtel Krasnye Holmy, talks to
Kseniya, were you familiar with the word ‘Sommelier’ before you actually became one?
No, and none of my family or friends were either. I don’t believe in fate, but about two years ago I woke up and had this word on my lips: Sommelier. I thought it sounded almost the same as ‘croupier’ at first, but I found the French dictionary and looked up the meaning. It said, “A person who advises and consults the guests in the restaurant about the wine menu and who must know a lot about wine.”
But it has nothing to do with a typical girl’s dreams: Cosmo Magazine, beauty, love...
Why not? It definitely changed my life. In three days I was already studying at the wine school of Arthur Sarkisyan. At that time I had a sling on my right arm and I couldn’t write, but I was so much taken by the idea of wine that everything seemed possible. I changed even the magazines, the books that I read. I wanted to know more and more.
What happened after you finished school – have you ever regretted the choice you made?
After the wine school I looked for where I could use my knowledge. I came to Swissôtel, and when they interviewed me and saw my enthusiasm, they took me! And no, I don’t regret it. The more I work, the more I go deep into the subject of wine. I see many reasons to like the work.
I know how wonderful it is to be a specialist in a small area of expertise such as wine. You are always consulted for advice. There are four hundred people working in this hotel and I am the only one who can advise them personally on the best wine for any occasion. And they listen to me! It is so pleasant to have a chance to share your enthusiasm and knowledge.
Is it possible to remember so many names, so many tastes?
It is not such an unmanageable amount of information. Wine has its own two hundred-year plus history. It is impossible to know everything, but I always try to catch something new, new information, new tastes, new experience. And when a guest comes to the restaurant and says he doesn’t like wine at all, I know how to persuade him or her to try and enjoy the experience of wine. After a little introduction, you see him sniffing the glass, examining the taste. That is the part of the job that is exciting to me – the discoveries of the uninitiated.
What is their reaction when they see a beautiful female Sommelier?
Always a surprise (smiling); I was born female and I can’t change that. And happily, I always offer them good wine. At the very beginning they are testing me, wondering if I am really good or know nothing at all. And when they are sure I do deserve to be a Sommelier, they come again, sometimes privately, and always to talk about wine.
Can you tell one wine from another? And the year, the place, the producer, the region where it was made?
Ah! I don’t have such an experienced nose. But once I did a blind degustation, which was a real discovery for me. I was given a glass to taste, and was frightened by the fact that the wine seemed to be my age. But I was right. I think that at the time it was just an instinctive answer; it was a Payak of 1982. That gave me more professional confi dence going forward.
Where did that happen?
It was in Australia, where I travelled this year ...
The first vineyard I visited was the Grosser Winery in Clay Valley. It was the first time I had traveled for the business of tasting wine. I was beyond being simply excited; it was hard to express the feelings I had. We visited fifteen vineyards. And at twelve of them I was met by the owners. It is such an honor when a woman like myself is a guest of an established vintner family. Their history began a long time ago with the smallest osier shoot, and when you taste their wines you can feel the history.
Australia is famous for its wine and it’s a beautiful country! If you ask me why I didn’t go to France or Italy or somewhere in Europe, I can say that people have individual tastes and may like unique wines from any country. Even I could not say that I have one favorite wine. They are all unique.
How can an ordinary person find his or her favorite wine?
There is only one way: taste. Take five kinds of cheese and a bottle of wine, and then your best cheese and five bottles of wine. You will find the best one for yourself. I think that wine is a communicator. It creates an atmosphere that brings people closer to each other. It can warm you on a cold winter day, and cool you on a hot and stuffy Moscow summer day. If you like wine you will understand. We try to balance our wine list so that every guest will fi nd what he or she wants at the moment they want it.
I can imagine that it is hard work. What was the most difficult, to find the wines or to bring them to Russia?
The work to establish our wine cellar at the Swissôtel started before me. I just came to continue the process. I have a dream and will try to make it true…
You dream about the wine list?
Yes. I like giving people new possibilities. They think they have already tried everything we have, but I will always bring out something new to surprise them, to give them a new view on wine, especially those people who are open to such discoveries. I want them to try everything. Old wines are history. I want to give them the chance to become part of Pushkin’s time for example; we have a wine of that vintage in our wine cellar. But that kind of wine is not to drink to compliment a meal. A few drops are a touch of history. It is an extraordinary feeling. For me that is what is most important in my sommelier work.