Awarded first place in the national sommellerie competition in her native Argentina three years ago, in February this year Valeria Gamper won the ASI Best Sommelier of the Americas contest 2022, which was held in Santiago, Chile. A WSET diploma student, she currently works at two-star El Molino de Urdániz in Pamplona, Spain.
‘My earliest wine memory is of taking a very basic three-part course as part of my hospitality degree many years ago. I remember trying one very unglamourous white – whose name I’d prefer not to mention! It was a Chardonnay. Bear in mind, I didn’t really drink wine, not even a glass with meals, back then, But something within made me think: “Wow there really must be something more to this.”
‘It’s an honour to win the Americas contest because I was competing against the best sommeliers working across both continents. We all got on really well, they’re all lovely people. It’s a privilege because at the end of the day only one person can win a competition, but it’s also a great responsibility to represent Argentina in the world competition in Paris in 2023. It’s a great feeling – but I need to keep moving forward.
‘I love suggesting Argentine white Torrontés to guests because, in my opinion, it’s underappreciated. We always talk about Gewürztraminer or Assyrtiko and other exotic aromatic whites, but Torrontés is special, unusual and very gastronomic. Once people try it, they are easily captivated by it.
‘While studying hotel management, I worked at Four Seasons Buenos Aires in banqueting and restaurant administration. It was fantastic schooling in service with very high standards and I learned a lot – although not so much about wine as there weren’t any sommeliers working at the hotel at the time; the profession was still very new in Argentina.
‘Seeing guests enjoy their experiences awakened something in me, and without really knowing what sommellerie was, I signed up to CAVE wine and spirits institute in 2008 and started studying for the sommelier degree.
‘In the run-up to competing in the ASI contest of the Americas 2022, I had a very strict calendar that I had to stick to because if I didn’t, everything would have started to snowball. I had to cover theory, culinary products, tastings, spirits, service… It’s almost impossible to know everything, so simply knowing that helped me keep calm. I also struck a balance with my personal life, relaxing with my daughter – and that was key.
‘Regions and styles that excite me at the moment include wines aged under flor, which besides Jerez, many in Spain are experimenting with. I also really enjoy wine from the Canary Islands and am an advocate for Salta’s high-elevation Torrontés, as it’s an underappreciated grape. I’m also into sampling autochthonous grapes, curiosities and fully support winemakers’ creativity, such as skin-contact pét-nats that are readily available in wine stores in Argentina.
‘Drinks-wise at home, anything goes, to be honest. But I do enjoy whites. I’d rather have a glass of aromatic white, or a white blend by Susana Balbo or Luigi Bosca’s Gala 3, for their combination of freshness and complexity, than a red. And a simple easy-drinking white is delicious with a piece of tortilla!
‘The most memorable wine I’ve ever drunk is Lagarde Semillón 1942: pure liquid emotion. I tried this vintage for the first time at the ASI’s world competition held in Mendoza in 2016. It has a very special story behind it and also shares my dad’s year of birth. Totally unique.’