– interview with Monika Bielka-Vescovi, sommelier, author, coach, wine expert from Poland
A leading sommelier in Poland and one of Central Europe’s internationally best known wine specialists, Monika Bielka-Vescovi has a genuine passion for wine and the ability to get people excited about it. „The more I know, the more I want to share” – she says about being a book author, blogger, university lecturer and radio broadcaster focusing on wine and oenology. Having visited Hungary a number of times, now she shares her throughts about Tokaj and HOLDVÖLGY, as well as the common Polish-Hungarian wine heritage, also giving some insight into her work as a wine professional.
In Hungary it is widely known that one of our most prestigious sweet wines, the Tokaji Szamorodni got its name from a Polish word. How strong is the same perception of a common Polish-Hungarian winemaking heritage in Poland?
People are very much aware of our countries’ shared history including in wine trade, and we also use the word „samorodny”, although with a different interpretation. While in Hungary this means a sweet wine made of bunches having both healthy and botrytised berries, in Polish this term means „self-made”, referring back to the historical times when Hungarian wine was sold and transported to Poland while it was still fermenting. The old saying „Hungariae natum, Poloniae educatum”, meaning „born in Hungary and educated in Poland” shows the way in which Polish aristocracy used to import wine from Hungary several hundred years ago. With such strong historical ties, Polish wine-lovers very well recognize wines from Hungary even today, especially the sweet wines from Tokaj.
Last year you organised a HOLDVÖLGY Masterclass in your School of Sommeliers, as well as two HOLDVÖLGY wine dinners in Krakow and Warsaw. How did you first meet the wines of HOLDVÖLGY and what impressions, feedback from guests have you got since then?
I have been to Mád twice, and I first met HOLDVÖLGY last year on a visit to the estate, with the members of the Women and Wine association I am the President of in Poland. My first impression was that HOLDVÖLGY was extremely modern, unlike some other, very traditional Tokaj wineries. I found it interesting that you work with all the six Tokaj grape varieties, and I was impressed by both the ancient cellar system and the production line. The fact that HOLDVÖLGY is taking forward tradition in a very modern way, while using all the grape varieties inspired me to follow up my visit with the wine tasting events back home in Poland. When designing the menu and the wine list for the dinners, I worked together with recognised Chefs who are also known for combining traditional ingredients with a modern style. Our aim was to show contemporary Polish cuisine in harmony with the modern face of Tokaj. Both the dinners and the Masterclass were successful, with lots of very positive feedback from guests and participants.
How do you see Tokaj compared to other wine regions in the world producing premium quality sweet wines?
Tokaj has got all what it takes to become internationally acclaimed: it has the unique terroir, climate and grape varieties and it has its history and traditions as a great wine region. However, I feel that it still has not been widely discovered, and it still needs more marketing. The aim would be to raise the awareness of this wine region among top international wine judges, journalists and experts, and to work more on international markets. To me, my visits to Mád were great experiences and I hope to see more leading sommeliers and wine specialists coming in and learning about all what Tokaj has to offer.
Monika Bielka-Vescovi began her carreer in the US as a Restaurant Manager. She completed her training as a sommelier at the International Sommelier Guild in 2007. Later, she obtained an Advanced Level & WSET Teacher Certificate in wines and spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in 2009. In Austria, at the Weinakademie Österreich, she received a WSET Diploma and obtained the title of Weinakademiker in 2016.
In the meantime, from the US, she travelled as a sommelier and WSET teacher to Thailand where she started writing about wine for magazines. Upon her return to Poland, she founded the Women and Wine blog and association – with the slogan „Wine on Heels” − and she founded the School of Sommeliers. She is the Ambassador of the European Association of Sommeliers in Poland. She sits on juries at international wine competitions and lectures at some of Poland’s most prestigious universities. She is also a water sommelier and the Ambassador of the King Pienińska water in Poland.
As a female sommelier with extensive experience, do you see any difference between female and male professionals?
The biggest difference is that there are much more men in the business globally than women, which is clearly due to historical reasons. However, we can see this old trend changing, with more and more women involved in wine from amateur winelovers to top sommeliers, wine merchants, coaches. People often ask me if there are any differences regarding the skills, or smelling and tasting senses of men and women. It has been scientifically proven that while 50% of all people are average tasters and 25% are below average, the remaining 25% are super tasters, and there are more women among them than men. This might have biological reasons, like for thousands of years it was women who were dealing with food, and they had to use their noses to check if the food was fresh and suitable to be eaten. This advantage might be useful for women who want to become wine professionals, although the nose is just one thing if you want to become a sommelier. Whether a woman or a man, you have to learn and practice a lot, and constantly develop yourself and your understanding of wine, or other drinks, such as spirits, coffee, tea or even water, for that matter.
What are some of your professional or personal plans for the future? Do you have a wishlist of wine-regions to visit or any new carreer development goals?
Sure, I am dreaming of a whole list of places to go to! Apart from wine regions, however, I am a huge fan of mushrooms, especially of truffle, so it would be lovely to go to Piemonte on a truffle hunting trip! I have been on such a trip in Hungary, in the Bükk mountains, where we were searching for truffles with specially trained dogs. I really enjoyed it – just like I always love being outdoors in nature, surrounded with all the wonderful smells of the forest and the flowers, fruits… And, regarding my next professional goal: I would like to become a Master of Wine. That is certainly the next thing to work on in the future!