"It's all about teamwork, the perfect balance and connection", said Gwendal Poullennec, MICHELIN Guide International Director, who introduced Marc Almert as "a sommelier who has unique skills and, in addition, knowledge about all the wines he serves". No mean feat, because his domain, the restaurant Pavillon in the Baur au Lac in Zurich, offers around 700 different wines, with the in-house wine shop Baur au Lac Vins adding another 3000 to 3500.
The award is a great motivation
The 28-year-old made his way to the stage, as many colleagues patted him on the back, and expressed his thanks with a modest smile. "It is a huge honour and a great compliment to Laurent Eperon and Aurélien Blanc's whole team at Pavillon. Many thanks also to everyone at Baur au Lac and Baur au Lac Vins. This is a big motivation to continue the great work", he said, "also with the Swiss wines that we serve in our restaurant. Merci!" with a final nod to award sponsor, Swiss Wines.
The core theme: harmony
Originally from Cologne, Marc Almert came to Zurich in 2017 after stints at various luxury hotels, clinching the ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019 contest. First impressions: he comes across as highly professional, conscientious, modest, calm and attentive. He is a team player, and sees his win as a team success: "Our menu is called 'Harmony' and that is our core theme. It also refers to the very close collaboration with Laurent Eperon, whose cuisine is classic French with international touches. We run through everything together a few days or weeks before the menu is launched, to see whether, for example, we need to adjust any sauces, until we find a great combination". He doesn't want to judge whether it's perfect or not, because, says Almert, "perfect is always a judgement. The exciting thing about food and wine is that taste is something very personal.
Curious, internationally minded and a cheerful disposition
Almert finds his personality traits a perfect fit for his profession, which for him is clearly also a vocation: "I am curious, I love travelling and discovering new wines and food. Since I am from Cologne, i.e. a Rhinelander, I was certainly born with a cheerful nature. It helps in catering when you are happy to approach people cheerfully. I also have a very international background, I went to an international English school, I travel a lot in the wine world and speak three languages fluently.
Wine connects across borders
"I find it very exciting that wine creates connections across national borders. Over 50 different nationalities work here in our hotel alone and of course many international guests come here. This gives us an atmosphere that I really appreciate, and you also get to know different ways of looking at a wine," enthuses Almert in his passion for contrasts. While the Riesling grape variety influenced him in his first job in Wiesbaden, he is currently very enthusiastic about Swiss wines, which you rarely get to taste outside the country due to the low production volumes. "It is really fascinating how an enormous diversity of grape varieties is created here in this small wine country!"
The taste of the Swiss mountains
As Almert reveals, there is actually such a thing as the "taste of the mountains" in Swiss wines. "Since it is cooler here than in many other wine-growing regions, we have wines with incredible elegance and freshness, with a moderate alcohol content for the most part – and that is something that is currently in greater demand internationally. In addition, there are indigenous grape varieties here that are only found in Switzerland, sometimes only in individual villages." In his quiet manner, he laughs, "this means I have new arrows in my quiver, not only, say, a classic Pinot Noir, Riesling or Chardonnay, but many small, unique grape varieties with which to surprise guests." On the menu, for example, we had the Amigne, which only exists around the village of Vétroz in Valais, a grape variety that is very versatile, as it can be made really sweet but also dry. It has a strong minerality and can therefore accompany many dishes.
So much more than 'just' a wine waiter
Almert loves the varied nature of his job: "I have to take care of all of the drinks. We sometimes mix a cocktail for a menu, pair a liqueur with some desserts, or sometimes add sake or beer to the menu. It's exciting that we not only serve a variety of wines, but also everything liquid, including top-notch non-alcoholic drinks. A sommelier is often only seen as a wine waiter, but we are a whole lot more!"
Pictures: Marc Almert © Baur au Lac