Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World - Antoine Lehebel
Winner of the Best Sommelier of Belgium competition in 2014, Antoine Lehebel, will represent the Belgian colours at the World Best Sommelier Contest which will take place from 10 to 15 March in Antwerp. Born in 1982, Antoine gained the WSET diploma and Advanced Sommelier title from the Court of Master Sommeliers. He has accrued a lot of experience and has worked in England, France and then onto Belgium. Today Antoine is a sommelier in the Michelin 2* restaurant Bon Bon in Brussels.
How old were you when you had your first "wine moment" and what was it?
It was actually quite late, I must have been 21 or 22 years old, as I was just starting out in the restaurant trade. My manager at the time brought a German Riesling from the Moselle for me to taste. At that time, I did not know anything and I think it was like a click. I never thought a wine could be so delicious ...
How many years have you worked in the wine business and can you tell us a little about your career?
It must be about 15 years in the world of wine and sommeliers. I only gained real interest in wine during my first professional experiences in London, at the opening of an Indian restaurant for which I worked as a waiter. I helped putting the cellar in place initially, and from there I pushed myself a little deeper into the world of wine. A few years later I went back to France where I visited some big traditional châteaus and domains. Then in 2013 I arrived in Belgium to work at the Villa Lorraine, and since a few months ago, I now work at Bon-Bon.
What are the most important qualities to be a good sommelier?
For me I would say service and hospitality, but also curiosity and modesty.
What will you give as a trick to the young sommeliers who admire this prestigious contest and wish to participate one day?
A trick? I would rather say do not be afraid to participate, even if you do not always feel up to the level. The most important thing in this contest, is to meet people as passionate as we are when participating, and then I find it very motivating on a personal level to get out of my comfort zone.
What is your biggest challenge as a sommelier?
To perfectly understand what my customers want. It's not always that easy...
Do you see new trends with Belgian customers?
I would say that they are very curious and do not have too many preconceived ideas so we can explore the entire wine world and constantly discover great wines.They are generally very aware of trends, so we must also be very knowledgeable.
Do you have advice to give to customers concerning the wine list?
Obviously! I try to orient them above all according to their desires, adapting myself also to what menu will be served to them.
How can we better use the sommelier?
I think it’s best to be straight with him in terms of expectations, budget, the desire whether or not to discover something new etc ... always talk a little with the sommelier and then let them do their thing. I think it's the best thing to do. Anyway, that’s how I work when I go to a restaurant.
Which wines could we find in your cellar?
In my personal cellar there is a bit of everything, more and more magnums, classics but also wines that come out of the ordinary, or almost unknown regions. I always bring back some bottles of the regions I visit.
If you hadn’t become a sommelier, what would you be doing today?
I would probably work in real estate, which I was passionate about until I first started my career in the exciting world of wine.