Master Sommelier & Vice President of UK Sommelier Association ‘Eric Zwiebel’ talks Cypriot Wine

eric zwiebel

ERIC ZWIEBEL

“CYPRUS WAS ONE OF MY MOST EXCITING WINE TRIPS.”

Executive Head Sommelier and Vice President of the UK Sommelier Association

Interview by Sarah Coyne

Éric Zwiebel, Master Sommelier, recently visited Cyprus on a two-day research trip before taking part in the Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa Competition, which will take place in November in Limassol. The Cyprus Sommelier Association is organising this prestigious event for 2021, and Éric will be representing the UK as their candidate in the competition. At Cyprus in Style Magazine, we took the opportunity to speak with him and find out what he thought of Cypriot wine, the wineries he visited, and about his long career in wine.

Éric grew up in the Alsace region of France. He was always destined for a career in hospitality, as his parents, Bernard and Arlette, ran a restaurant. After his studies, he worked in the prestigious 3-star Michelin restaurants, Auberge de l’lll in Alsace and Le Pavilion Élysée Lenôtre in Paris. He then relocated to the UK.

Today, he works at the Summer Lodge Country House Hotel in the UK, where he has been for the last sixteen years. During this time, as the Cellar Master, he has personally curated the cellar to include over 1,600 wines, which he describes as an expression of himself and shows his philosophy on wine. He has previously represented France at international wine competitions and passed his ASI Certificate Gold Diploma, which in 2018 made him the only platinum level holder in the world of this certification. He is Vice President of the UK Sommelier Association and a member of The UK Technical Committee for Wines and Spirits.

WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU IN THE WINE INDUSTRY?

When I moved to the UK, I was fortunate to cross paths with my fellow Frenchman, the late Gerard Basset. We formed a long friendship that centred around our mutual love of wine. He was undoubtedly my mentor and inspiration to follow him into attending wine competitions. I worked for him for over five years at his hotel, Hotel du Vin in Winchester, which he co-founded.

He also owned the Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest, in the UK. He was a world authority on wine. On his death, he was the only person to have held the collective titles of Master of Wine, Master Sommelier, Wine MBA, OIV MSc in Wine Management and World’s Best Sommelier, which is something to aspire towards.

WHICH WINE COMPETITIONS HAVE MEANT THE MOST TO YOU?

It is not the ones where I have actually won. In the World’s Best Sommelier Final in 2007, I did not win but made the final four. The other three finalists were outstanding, including Gerard, and for me, this was a special moment to be in such esteemed company. Before that, in 2004, I won the Best Sommelier in the UK. This was also very special for me, as in previous years, I had often come second. Another moment that stands out was passing my ASI Certificate Gold Diploma in 2018 when I was awarded the highest marks. Recently, I was also very honoured to have received the title of ‘Cateys 2021 Wine and Spirit Ambassador’ in the UK.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF CYPRIOT WINE?

As part of my work, I travel extensively on wine trips. I have to say that this visit to Cyprus was one of the most exciting wine trips I have ever taken. I was particularly impressed with the indigenous varieties. Obviously, I could not visit them all, as I was only on the ground for two days, but the wine scene is developing from what I saw in Cyprus. I was surprised at the return to traditional techniques and the quality of the local grapes such as Xynisteri, Maratheftiko and Vasilissa. I admired the freedom the wine producers have adopted to make their wines. All the wines were excellent, and I was amazed at the quality!

YOU JOINED US AT OUR WINE CLUB EVENT DURING YOUR VISIT TO CYPRUS, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE GRAPE VARIETIES VASILISSA & YIANNOUDI?

I really enjoyed the evening, and it was an excellent opportunity to try these varieties. I was struck by Vasilissa and believe it possibly has more potential than the ever-popular Xynisteri, which I have tried before. Vasilissa could form a significant part of the future of Cypriot wine. Yiannoudi was also a surprise and above my expectations.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE CYPRIOT GRAPE VARIETY?

During my two-day visit, I went to Vouni Panayia, Kyperounda, Vasilikon, Ekfraseis, Tsiakkas, Zambartas, Argyrides, Vlassides and Ayia Mavri wineries. It was a whistle-stop tour in the time available, but it gave me the chance to see and taste some of the wines of Cyprus. I enjoyed both the Mavro and Xynisteri wines. I was lucky enough, at many of the wineries, to try different vintages.

What is happening in Cypriot wine is very stimulating at the moment. The new varieties and techniques, combined with the modern wineries and local producers, result in an impressive production of wine. I am particularly interested in Commandaria wine, and some of the examples I tried on my trip were exceptional. I felt a lot of positive energy from all the wine producers and see a very bright future for Cypriot wine, as it takes its position on the world wine map.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

At the moment, my main priority is to prepare for the Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa Competition. After that, l will start my preparation for the selection process of the Best Sommelier of the World, which will take place in 2023 in France.

WHAT WOULD BE YOUR BEST ADVICE TO A YOUNG SOMMELIER?

For anyone starting a career in wine, I would always advise them to realise that wine is a passion, not just a job. Therefore, a few courses under your belt will never be enough. Ideally, it is best to take the time to learn the knowledge and form a solid foundation. However, it is essential that as you progress, you always trust your own judgment on wines. Remember, it is not all about working in a famous hotel but more about having the highest level of understanding.

IF THE WORLD WERE TO END, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR FINAL WINE?

That is a tricky question, as there are so many options that come to mind. However, if it were just one, it would be a bottle of Egon Müller Riesling Kabinett from 1959!

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Published by Cyprus in Style Magazine | October 2021 | #InStyleBusinessNetwork | Eric Zwiebel

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