The Right Notes
He was distinguished as Portugal's Best Sommelier, but for António Lopes, the official sommelier of Taste Portugal, the most important thing is to promote the beautifully unique wines of his home country
‘The main thing about Portuguese wine is the diversity’
THE YEAR 2014 brought great things for António Lopes. The head sommelier of the exclusive Conrad Algarve hotel, in the south of Portugal, was not only named Sommelier of the Year by the Portuguese magazine Wine - Essência do Vinho, but he was also chosen to be the official sommelier of Taste Portugal 14/15. However, despite the success he has achieved in just a few short years, his passion for wine is relatively recent.
“My family produces wine for their own consumption and that is one of the reasons I didn’t start liking wine earlier. I wouldn't say the wine is bad, but it isn't very drinkable,” Lopes laughs. “I still can't drink it.”
With most of his training undertaken at the Hospitality School in Coimbra, near to where he was born, in his short career, the 27-year-old has passed through restaurants such as Buhle and Foz Velha, both in Oporto, in the north of Portugal, and various hotels, including The Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, but it was his time at the 5-star resort of Vila Vita Parc, in the Algarve region of Portugal, that planted the seed of what would be a successful and incredibly rewarding career in the world of wine.
“It all began in 2008 when I was working at Vila Vita and I was placed as the assistant of sommelier Paulo Duarte. My passion grew from there and I embraced the profession that now fills my days,” says Lopes.
The sommelier at the Conrad Algarve's flagship restaurant, Gusto by Heinz Beck, since it opened its doors just three years ago, António Lopes's achievements speak volumes of the calibre of service nurtured at the Conrad Algarve. As the official sommelier of the Taste Portugal project, a “huge honour” for him, and named the Sommelier of the Year 2014 in February, the Portuguese sommelier believes that projects and prizes of this nature have opened many doors for him, but admits he is “unsure about my future”: “I'm on standby as my biggest 'problem' is that I love Portugal, and when I think of leaving, that's always a factor that holds me back.”
This loyalty to his home country is also translated in his love of Portuguese wines, and his ultimate goal is to promote the wonderful nectars produced in this part of the world.
“The main thing about Portuguese wine is the diversity. The wines in Portugal are totally different from the wines all over the world. If you go to California, you can probably find a similarly profiled wine to the French; if you go to New Zealand, you can probably find a wine that is similar to something Spanish; but you’re never going to find a wine that is similar to a Portuguese one because we have a very specific micro-climate, we have very specific soil, we have very specific weather, we have very specific indigenous grapes that are only blended in Portugal and if they’re blended in another soil they will taste completely different. Portuguese wines are remarkable in their uniqueness.”