Peter Kovács has recently returned to his homeland of Hungary after several incredible years of honing his wine skills abroad in Aspen, Colorado. He has developed a huge knowledge of International wines and has brought his years of sommelier experience back to Budapest, and quickly joined Baraka’s team. He searched for a fine dining establishment that would allow him to use his expertise in international wines and at the same time explore the exciting developments with the wine scene here in Hungary. His passion and wide knowledge for wines from around the world help Baraka create some of the most interesting wine pairings that work wonderfully with our eclectic menu.
How did you become a sommelier?
I’ve have always been working in the tourism and the gastronomy field since graduating from the tourism specialised bilingual high school in Balatonfüred. Every summer I would work on the shores of Lake Balaton. I then proceeded to attend The Budapest Business School to study more. I studied a lot about the theoretical side, however Germany was the place where I felt the practical development in myself by learning a lot about time management, people, and different cultures. During my college years, I had a chance to go to the United States to work, so I travelled to Colorado to work in a 5 Diamond resort. I returned to finish my school, when I received an offer to work in Aspen, Colorado. I took this great opportunity and moved back to the US and spent another 3 years there working as a bartender, bar manager, restaurant manager and sommelier. This is when I totally fell in love with vines, and I had a chance to work very close to them. The training seemed quite a bit more professional there than my experiences here in Hungary. Every waiter was trained to speak about the wines with the same confidence as the sommeliers. It seemed like a lot at the time, but this is what lit the spark for me to learn as much as possible. In Aspen, there is a lot of emphasis on training and I’m lucky to have worked with a master sommelier who was very inspirational to his environment, and to me…
Well, it’s complex. In the US, being a sommelier has its own culture. They invest a lot of time learning the basics of all wines, which covers an enormous amount of information. I was inspired and encouraged to reach this high level of knowledge. Also, sommeliers in the states are treated with huge respect, on the same level a Michelin star chef might be recognized. They have quite profitable sponsorships from large well known companies.
My experience in Aspen allowed me some truly memorable moments in my career as a sommelier. It’s an incredible feeling when you can try the selected wines instantly you just learnt about. Most of the time, you just admire and hear about it what is in a $3,000, $10,000, or even a $42,000 wine. Well, the latest I haven’t taste yet, but I could taste a very good selection of the world’s best wines there. I knew there was nothing like this at home. The resort sponsored us to take the exams, and I able to complete the first 2 while working there. The exam consists of 4 levels in order to become a master sommelier: the introductory, the certificate, the advanced, and the master sommelier itself. Now I’m ready for the third, so I’m excited to be going to the US in April to complete it.
Is there an exam that you could nationalize or there’s no need…
There isn’t. There are only 244 master sommeliers in the world. My goal is to reach this level. It would be a tough feat as I work here in Budapest and there is a lot of hard to get materials needed to even think about reaching this level. Here, in Hungary there are not many possibilities for this profession. I heard of Baraka when I returned home in Autumn and now I’m here, helping building our wine program.
Have you met with Hungarian wines abroad?
Yes, but it’s a sad thing that we never had more than 2-3 (mainly dessert) wines from Hungary, however we had a very large and great selection from all over the world. If it comes to Hungary, most of the people say Tokaj and the dessert wines. On the Eastern and Western coasts, it’s a bit different, they have better access to the Hungarian wines but you know, they are quite expensive compared to the fact they’re not famous and the quality could be unreliable.
Is there any Hungarian winery that you could highlight for some reason?
No. there is no such thing that every wine of a winery is exceptional. There are good wines, great bottles from several years but we’re still experimenting with the grapes, styles, and methods a lot. So I can’t say any specific names. There are authentic wineries that make good wines and there authentic wineries that usually make good wines. They’re good but none of them are outstanding, however they could produce year by year some outstanding items.
What do you think about your profession in Hungary?
Honestly, there is huge room for improvement. I think the essential part is what we’re missing and this is the most important one. Here’s the education is not focusing on the lexical knowledge but it should, because that’s the core of everything. A couple of days ago we’ve been talking about it with Fiáth Attila and how an upside down situation it is. I think first a sommelier should learn the world, because here you couldn’t get the top of the tops. Only from Tokaj amongst the dessert wines. If you’re looking for other genre (style) which is not specifically Hungarian, like the juhfark (Somló), kéknyelű (Badacsony), you’ll find it abroad. A Hungarian sommelier usually taste wines first and then learns about them. It should be the opposite, I think.
So you rather believe in the lexical knowledge…
Sure, that’s the basis for everything.
Is there any good sommelier training here?
There isn’t but should be. This profession requires a lot of patience. There are people who are spending 10-12 years to become a proper sommelier. It’s not so important how you’re holding a tray or how you’re opening a bottle, those are more secondary…what really matters is what you know.
You’re always learning, right?
This is the only way. But I’m handicapped in Hungary: I have a list (for the third exam) with all the needed things, and sometimes it’s hard to get. Plus, you always need a mentor who helps you to reach your next level. But in Budapest you couldn’t find any who had that degree… The 5 people who did the advanced level work abroad.
No one could reach the master sommelier level?
No one yet.
What do you want to do if you pass your upcoming exam?
If I could do it, I have help from a master sommelier to go further. I have two ex-colleagues who have reached the this level; one of them became the North American ambassador of Moet Chandon, and the other is now the North American ambassador of the one of the most famous Australian winer They say, the sky is the limit…
How about teaching?
Always with pleasure!