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Confessions of a sommelier: Maria Wallèn

Decanter talks to sommelier Maria Wallèn about her earliest wine memory and the best wine she's ever drunk, as published in Decanter's October 2013 issue.

Maria Wallèn is head sommelier of Coya, 118 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7NW +44 (0)20 7042 7118; coyarestaurant.com

What’s your earliest wine memory?
My dad was trying to make his own wine in the cellar of our house in Sweden when I was young. I remember the smell of the yeast and the grapes fermenting. As well, my mother was always making her own mulled wine for Christmas. These memories are still so vivid.

What was the bottle that stopped you in your tracks and got you serious about wine?
When I first came to London three years ago from my hometown of Malmö in the south of Sweden I tried the wines of Philippe Pacalet, who was the winemaker at Domaine Prieuré-Roch in Burgundy until 2000. His natural, terroir-driven wines opened my senses and my mind and made me understand the beauty of winemaking.

Since then, what’s the best wine you’ve ever drunk and why?
Another Burgundy – Domaine de Montille’s Les Taillepieds, Volnay 1er Cru 1997 in magnum. It was a wine that took me a while to understand, but in the end it amazed me.

Have you ever served anyone famous, and if so, who and what?
At my first job in London at Massimo restaurant, I served Johnny Depp and his then wife Vanessa Paradis when they came for dinner. His favourite wine was Haut Brion 1989, which he later ordered a case of.

What’s the hardest food and wine match, and how do you overcome it?
As long as you don’t limit your way of thinking, anything can be possible. When I first started to work at Coya I found it a challenge to match wines with ceviche, the classic Peruvian dish, but I found it – Grüner Veltliner with a bit of age is a marriage made in heaven!

What’s the most annoying customer habit?
When a guest asks for ice cubes to chill an expensive bottle of white Burgundy.

What wines are you buying for personal consumption at the moment?
I’m still enjoying exploring the wines of South America. It’s a new world for me since, before Coya, I had only worked with wines from the Old World. It is a bit of a challenge, but I believe in the potential of wines from this diverse continent and am excited to be discovering the many styles and flavours.

What’s the most valuable wine lesson you’ve learned as a sommelier?
There is always so much to absorb, so you should never remain complacent or comfortable with what you think you already know about wine. It’s incredible how much more your knowledge and awareness develop, and even change, once you are open and willing to learn.

Written by Decanter

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