Every festive table includes a bottle of good alcoholic drink, be it champaign, martini or something stronger. However, everybody should know two things: how to choose a good drink and how to avoid sad consequences. Thus, ForUm has asked the best sommelier of Ukraine-2008 Oleksiy Dmitriyev how to celebrate New Year holidays with profit to health.

- "Good drink" for sommelier and for ordinary Ukrainians is two different things. From a professional's point of you, what qualities must a good alcoholic drink have?

- A good alcoholic drink must have the same qualities for both professionals and non-professionals. This spirit must leave a pleasant finish. If we speak about wine, it must be balanced slightly sour taste and roughness. If it is a red wine, it must be moderately fruity, berry. If it is a sweet wine, it should not be sugary. As for stronger drinks, alcohol should not dominate over the taste and flavour. Even vodka can be soft and fine. And you do not need to be a professional to feel it. As a sommelier, I degust wines. But even tasting vodka it is possible to estimate its quality, whether it is tasty or not. If alcohol dominates, the taste is aggressive and burns. And this is not good. The same thing concerns cognac. There are softer variants with fruity or floral taste, or more rough with the taste of rye bread, for example.

- What criteria should non-profession follow to choose a relatively good wine in a supermarket?

- There you are wrong saying that supermarkets do not sell good wine. In Kyiv, for example, there are ordinary supermarkets where you can find very decent samples. There are also specialized supermarkets, which sell only alcoholic drinks. And I can tell you such supermarkets also have affordable wines costing from 50 hryvnias and higher.

First thing you should pay attention to is grape variety. Don't look at fancy label or funny shape of the bottle, but read the name. If you look at "Sauvignon Blanc", you should know that this wine will be sourish with flavour of green apple, lime or gooseberry. Such wine is good with light snacks and cheese. If you look at "Chardonnay", and if it also written "reserve", know that this wine has been vatted. It is good with fish cold snacks and smoked fish. If you do not know what softer wine to choose, remember that "Merlo" is softer than "Cabernet". "Cabernet" is richer and goes with well-done meat and the source with rosemary, thyme. If you choose duck as a main dish for your table, it is better to take "Syrah" grape. 

- What is better to start with and what is better to leave for the end of the party?

- Always follow the rule we all know but often ignore: do not mix various types of drinks. If you started with light wine like "Prosecco", Spanish "Cava" or Ukrainian "Artemivske", continue with red or white wine and finish with cognac, grappa, port wine, sherry or fortified wine. 50 grams after heavy dinner will be very appropriate. It subserves digestion. If you want to drink beer and then vodka, it is possible. But never mix it with wine. Grape-based drinks should never be mixed with wheat-based beverages.

- Does the high price always mean good quality?

- Not always, but most often the price is justified. However, not every person can see the difference between a wine costing 200 hryvnias and a wine costing one thousand hryvnias. When people only start to get to know wines they can tell that both wines are dry and sourish. But when I explain what to pay attention to, they understand the difference. There is also a category price-quality. It would be perfect to find such wines. This is a different task, but not so difficult to accomplish.

- What is a minimum price for a good wine?

- Among wines costing between 50 and 120 hryvnias you can find a decent one. Chili wine, for example, is one of the best in the category price-quality. It costs about 80 hryvnias. Chili has a good climate and weather conditions, cheap production costs. Thus, for 10 dollars you can get a nice wine.

- How would you estimate the quality of wines of Ukrainian production, comparing to Russian and European markets?

- We are at the very beginning. Among the producers who really try, there are wines of the Guliyevy (Odessa), "Colonist", "Shabo" and "Esse" in Crimea. They are few in Ukraine, while in Europe they are many.

- What about Ukrainian consumers? Are we the nation of gourmets or not really? 

- I've been working as sommelier for over nine years, and I see that with every year the number of wine lovers grows. We travel, learn more and taste more. Moreover, there is more and more good wine being imported in Ukraine. Thus, people want to learn about it. If not to abuse, wine is very useful for organism, especially for cardiovascular system and against depression. The more people want to know about wine, the more people want to produce new wines in Ukraine.

- How to avoid counterfeit wines?

- Buy wine in trusted places or specialized shops, not in a small kiosk near your house.

- How did you manage to win the title of the Best sommelier of 2008 among 53 candidates?

- I was trying for three years. Two times I became the vice-champion, and for the third time I finally won. I had a lot of training, reading, tasting. Sommelier is an interesting profession, which requires constant self-development. Having won once does not mean I can stop. On the contrary, I have to train more to become more professional and to share my knowledge with theotherir people.

- Do you train you sense of taste and smell?

- Any theory must be backed w it practice. A sommelier who can tell you a wine story, but has never tried some sorts of wine is a catastrophe. If there is an opportunity to visit a winery or to go to another country for degustation I always use it. There is a special kit "Nose", which contains 54 flavours you can taste in wine. You sit at home and train your nose. It is even better to smell natural products. Wine can contain fruit, flowers, spices, chocolate. We have these products around us, but we do not pay attention. You can open your fridge, take out half of the products and play a game. Blindfold your friend and give him a product to smell, but not salads or cocktails, only a certain product, like paprika, tomato, pineapple. I am sure 50% will never guess. I've been practicing such games and very often people say that pineapple smells like strawberry, for example. Knowledge comes with practice.

- Do you protect your sense of smell?

- I do. I try not to eat peppery dishes. Anyway, I don't like spicy food, and it is really bad for sensory organs. I never use deodorants or perfumes before degustation. I gave up smoking long time ago. This profession is very demanding. It is important to keep in shape and practice in order not to lose the skill.

- A sommelier does not have much time to determine the taste of this or that client. How do you do it?

 - Sommelier is like a doctor. When a patient comes, the doctor asks about symptoms and checks the blood pressure. There is a number of standard questions a sommelier asks: red or white wine, what country. If a client cannot give an exact answer, I name three different sorts and the client picks up something. So I continue in that direction. For example, you say you prefer rich white wines, thus I understand that Italian "Soave" or German "Riesling" will do. It is great when a client trusts my choice. Moreover, a sommelier must have a good memory to remember what price range of the client is and what country-producer he prefers.

- The winter this year is cold, and Ukrainians often cook hot wine at home. Is it easy for a non-professional to cook authentic hot wine punch? Are there any special tricks?

- No tricks, everything is really easy. It is better not to take ready mixture for hot wine, but to buy ingredients separately - cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom. There is no need to buy expensive wine. Ukrainian "Cabernet" or Georgian "Saperavi" will do. Do not boil the wine, just heat it up well and add the spices and orange or lemon. You can also add some honey and 50 ml of brandy. Turn off the fire, let the hot wine draw and then pour out.

Tetyana Hryhoriyeva


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