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 broad 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 tourism and the gastronomy since graduating from the tourism specialized bilingual high school in Balatonfüred. Every summer I would work at Lake Balaton. I then proceeded to attend The Budapest Business School to study more. It was more 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 Colorado to work in a 5 Star 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 wines. The training was very professional. 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. There was a lot of emphasis on training and I’m lucky to have worked alongside 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 and money learning the basics, 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 more respect, on the same level a Michelin star chef might be recognized.
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 wines you learn about instantly. Most of the time, you just admire and hear about how a $3,000, $10,000, or even a $40,000 wine is like. I could taste a very good selection of the world’s best wines there. I knew there was nothing like this at home. The hotel sponsored us to take the exams of the Court of Master sommeliers, and I was able to complete the first 2 while working there. The exam consists of 4 levels in order to become a Master Sommelier: the introductory, certified, advanced, and the master sommelier exam itself. Now I’m facing the third, so I’m excited to be going to the US in April to start it.
Have you encountered Hungarian wines abroad?
Yes, but it’s a sad thing that we never had more than 2-3 (mainly dessert) wines from Hungary. If it comes to Hungary, most of the people think of Tokaj and the dessert wines. On the East and West coasts they have better access to Hungarian wines but you know, they are quite expensive compared to well known international wines and the quality could be inconsistent.
Is there any Hungarian winery that you could highlight for some reason?
It is very rare 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 vinification a lot. So I can’t say any specific names. There are authentic wineries that usually make good wines. They’re good but none of them is outstanding on a high, and most of all, constant level.
What do you think about your profession in Hungary?
Honestly, there is room for improvement. There are excellent sommeliers, but everyone should be more focused on the lexical knowledge because that’s the core of everything. A couple of days ago we’ve been talking about it with Fiáth Attila how an upside down situation it is. I think first a sommelier should learn the wines of the world. Only then you can put the wines and regions of Hungary in perspective. Except Tokaj.
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 studying. There are people who are spending 10-12 years to become a proper sommelier. It’s less important how you’re holding a tray or how you’re opening a bottle, those things can be taught…what really matters is what you know.
You’re always learning, right?
This is the only way. And the more you learn, the more you find out that you know very little.
What do you want to do if you pass your upcoming exam?
Well, that would be a dream come true but I would want to keep working on the floor and if I see a chance of moving further, I would definitely take a shot at the master sommelier exam. But that is even further away.