The ASI is a family, but it is a family scattered across the world. This newsletter marks the debut of a recurring series of member interviews intended not just as a virtual “round table,” but also a platform for dialog and cultural exchange. We kick off with three remarkable women working in Europe, Eurasia and the Americas.
Nina Højgaard Jensen
Nina Jensen rose quickly from a waiter’s apprentice with a hatred for comté cheese to become sommelier at the Michelin-starred Copenhagen standard Kong Hans Kælder. She was the winner of the 2017 and the 2019 Danish Sommelier Championship and runner-up at the 2019 World’s Best Sommelier Competition.
A lesson about how to properly hold a wine glass ultimately was the first step on a journey that has led Dayana Nassyrova to take home gold at the first Astana Sommelier Cup. She is currently working as a wine Brand Manager for MonteBianco LLP in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Pascaline Lepeltier photo11
Pascaline Lepeltier is a Master Sommelier, as well as “Best French Sommelier” at the Union de la Sommellerie and laureate of “Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France – Classe Sommellerie,” the first woman to ever achieve this title. She currently lives and works in New York.
Question 1: Globally there has been a noticeable rise in the number of female sommeliers in recent years. What does this trend look like in your country?
PL: The US has been part of this global trend. More and more ladies are studying, passing examinations and getting some great positions in recent years. We’re also seeing a 2nd and maybe even 3rd generation of women sommeliers here — it is very important to have mentors and the help of models of women that paved the way.
The US is not necessarily at the head of the trend, as some positions are still very men dominated. But things are changing, slowly.
NJ: Lots of females are attending the various educational programs, but they don’t stay as long in the industry. This unfortunately leads to less “high-profile” women in our field.
DN: In Kazakhstan we still don’t have a lot of female sommeliers but I can see that women here are not about quantity but rather quality. We have about 7-8 women sommeliers and all of them are great professionals.
Question 2: What are the key things you think about when deciding whether to put wines on your wine list?
NJ: Is it a well made wine and what story is it telling? Price vs quality ratio? Does it fill a need or are there already good alternatives listed?
PL: The integrity and commitment to real farming – organic, biodynamic, respect of biodiversity, no use of synthetic products in the vineyard, etc. — and the inner quality of the wines made with the least amount of additives possible. We are also always looking for new young producers, regions, grapes as wine is getting to be a luxury product for speculation… offering good wines affordable for everybody is a big thing for us, not only providing the cult labels to the 1%.
DN: First, I try to emphasize the concept of the place. Beyond that, I avoid the mass-market wines which you can easily find in all the neighboring restaurants. I want to help people discover something unique and rare without losing sight of value, because unfortunately rarity doesn’t always mean quality.
Question 3: Every sommelier hates the question “What is your favorite wine?” So let’s find out instead: which album or playlist do you prefer to listen to when drinking your favorite wine?
NJ: Classical music never fails me. Depending on the mood it can be Griegg, Chopin, Schubert, Debussy, Liszt, Sadie, Mahler, Tchaikovsky… Bach (Bach is king) but I especially love Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no.2 C Minor op.18:I. The version by Earl Wild & the Royal Philharmonic is something I can always listen to.
PL: My favorite piece of music of all time is the Bach’s Chaconne played by Itzhak Perlam in London St John in 1977 – perfect with a beautiful Tarragone jaune from the 1960s.
DN: I haven’t always been able to choose the right music when I drank my favorite wines, but I’m always happy to pull some corks to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s life”, “Esa Mujer” by Roberto Carlos or “Sway” from Dean Martin.