Every Glass A (Fine) Story

Starting his career in an F&B fine dining environment, Menno Verhaar’s attraction to the world of wine comes naturally along the road. Now enjoying his work as Double-Six Luxury Hotel’s Head Sommelier, the Dutch-born gentleman sat with PASSION and ‘uncorked’ some of his insightful thoughts; from how he started in the business to what it takes to become an adept sommelier. Here it goes..

Tell us a bit about your background. Was there any distinct moment that propelled you into a career of working with wine?

I would not say that it was one particular moment. It didn’t happen in just a snatch. I’ve been in F&B business for a pretty long time as a manager back in Holland for several different restaurants before I started climbing ‘that ladder,’ I guess. Basically, being interested in food and working in a fine dining environment, you sort of develop an interest in wine naturally, it just sort of comes together. It is worth mentioning that my brother works in the wine field as well, although he is more on the retail side. He owns quality wine shops in Amsterdam.

Describe your wine list in a few short sentences

Here at Plantation Grill we have quite an extensive wine list, especially for Bali standards. I want The Plantation Grill, or Double-Six Luxury Hotel if you will, to be known for that wine list, as well as for all other things such its extensive dining options. So, we have around 250 wines from different parts of the world listed.Plantation Grill has Australian imported dry-aged beef in different cuts as its signature dishes, therefore, generally red wines are more represented on the list than white wines, but quality is still the most important. I have travelled extensively, I have visited a lot of wineries around the world, and from my own experience it’s always good to mention that to the guest. The stories that I share—I’ve been to the winery, I talked with the wine maker, I’ve seen the process and I have tasted all the wines, that’s so important—that you have your own story about that particular wine.

What was the most challenging thing you had to conquer while studying to be a sommelier?

That’s a difficult question. I guess the most difficult thing was not one particular thing, but more the whole education, especially at one of the first restaurants where I worked. I was green as grass and they really threw me in the deep right away. We’re talking about a very high-class restaurant with a very, very high demanding clientele. I was handling very expensive bottles, and I remember a 1975 Château Haut-Brion for a very difficult table. I mean we’re talking about a thousand dollar bottle with a 40-year-old cork, and with all eyes on me. But the only way to learn is by actually doing it, so I did and thank God I didn’t break the cork. I learned so much in that place, and it made me who I am today.

What is the fundamental difference between white wine and red wine that common people should know?

That’s a difficult question too, because there’s so many different personal tastes, but in general you might be able to say that white wine is more accessible because you drink it cold, and perhaps, depending on the wine of course, it’s something that you can easily drink without eating. Red wine might have more gastronomical value, which means it might be more approachable when you pair it with food. But again, it’s all personal, and for me they are the same.

What traits or skills are required to be a successful sommelier?

I think experience is very important.Travelling, visiting wineries, tasting the wines and knowing what you are talking about from experience is important, and not just from a technical point of view.

What about palate?

Of course you have to have a bit of a sensitive palate, but you can train that in the course of time. Same thing: you can learn it by actually doing it. Tasting as much wines as possible and, whenever you have the opportunity to do so; travel as much as possible, talk to the winemakers and dig into their story. Every other technical aspect is learned through experience, basically by “just doing it” I would say. When I was working in Europe I used to go to wineries in France, Spain and Italy quite frequently so I would know what these guys were doing and how they were actually making their wine. As I said, we’re not only selling a bottle of wine, we’re selling a story.

Any funny / memorable stories from service involving wine?

Once, back in Holland, I had a table of four ordering a massively expensive bottle of wine. So I opened it and I served it. They were raving about the wine, how beautiful it was and so on. They didn’t finish the whole bottle and left some in the decanter so I’m immediately thinking ‘yes!’, I can taste it. I mean, it was an expensive wine, I don’t get to taste stuff like that every day! So I poured the small amount of wine left in a glass and started sniffing… The wine was corked as hell, and it was not good at all, totally off. We’re talking very wealthy guests, who really seemed to know what they were drinking. I told the owner after the guests had left and he started laughing, he said ‘this wine is (beep), totally off!’

On a side note, it’s a funny story, but it raises a question too. Many sommeliers taste the wine the guest had ordered to make sure the wine is not off, it might be that the guest is not capable of tasting that for him or herself.

This restaurant owner, who taught me a lot about wine, told me never to do so because the guests can decide that for themselves, but it does make you wonder. The best thing about being a head sommelier in Plantation Grill is that I handle all the wines with care—I know the suppliers, how the wines are stored and served, and so I am confident that all the 250 wines we have are good quality bottles.

On a parting note, do you have any piece of advice for our readers?

If you’re interested in wine but you find it difficult to pick from a big wine list: write down what you drink when you like it, or take a picture, it will help you remember what you liked and what you might want to drink again. You create sort of a portfolio of wine experiences. You can mention it to your sommelier as well: I drank this and this, there and there, then and then and I enjoyed it so much, you have anything similar? It’s knowing what you like and dislike, much so about wine and about life!


Double-Six Luxury Hotel 4th floor, Seminyak, Kuta, Badung Regency, Bali 80361

Phone: +62 361 734 300, www.theplantationgrillbali.com