Talking Wine with...

Talking Wine with...

Geert Rutten, Wine Director Inter Scaldes***

In our interview series Talking Wine with..., we are talking with interesting people from the international world of wine about their love of wine.

How did they become wine lovers? What are their favorite wines? And which producers and appellations should we keep an eye on?

This time we have the honor to talk about wine with Geert Rutten, Wine Director of the Inter Scaldes *** restaurant in Kruiningen (Netherlands). Geert controls a wonderful wine cellar with more than 700 different references. He tells us all about the special corner in his wine cellar called 'The Treasure Room' where he keeps the really good things, gives us some recommendations to buy before he's gone and shares his dreams and ambitions for the future with us.

Read the interview with Geert here:






Geert, at the age of 27 you are the wine director of a three Michelin star restaurant: quite an achievement! Can you briefly tell us how you ended up at Interscaldes and what is it that makes this restaurant so unique?

I worked as an intern at Interscaldes ten years ago already. At the time, I was attending hotel school in Kokszijde in Belgium and got an internship at Interscaldes for the summer season. After I left, I went on to work at businesses such as Da Vinci and De Karmeliet. After that, I spent some time helping with the start-up of restaurant Meliefste, where I also had three fantastic years. But when Jannis Brevet called and asked me to come back to the old nest, I didn’t have to take much time to think about it. Knowing a little bit about what's in the cellar here at Interscaldes and what a sommelier gets to put in there, it’s easy to understand that I never had a doubt. I've been with Interscaldes for three years now and I enjoy it thoroughly. It really is a great company. I am free to do what I want, as long as I sell it all! I really think we have one of the finest wine lists of the country here, if not the world.

Another thing that makes Interscaldes special is that we offer a very pure and honest cuisine. It's really about letting the product speak for itself, whether that's luxury caviar or a beautiful, local celeriac. And all of this at 3 star level of course!

Interscaldes has a marvellous wine cellar and more than 700 different references on the wine list. You also have a special corner in your wine cellar, 'The treasure room' where the Contis and the Yquems are kept. That must be your favourite spot in the cellar?

Ah, it sure is! That is what's so nice about this 3 star level. People who come to spend an evening with us really want to drink the very best, so I get the chance to pick the best of the best.
For example, I sold 30 bottles of Romanée-Conti last month… people are going mental after the Corona time in which we had to close down. It really is madness! And yes, Romanée-Conti is something magical, even if it is way too expensive, of course. That wine is pure emotion. When I walk into the restaurant holding that bottle, the whole place falls silent. You can see people thinking: 'Wow, someone gets to drink that'. Not long ago, me and a regular guest pitted DRC Échezeaux '85 against Henri Jayer Échezeaux '85. That’s when the difference becomes clear. Jayer is of course very good and now completely hyped, but DRC is so much more refined and shows its style much more calmly. That is what makes DRC unique. And well, that simply makes me very happy!

And what other gems can we find there?

Of course, there is a lot of top quality from Bordeaux and Burgundy (I am still a very classic drinker myself), but I can actually say that we have the entire world top. For instance, I have ten different vintages of Hill of Grace. Beautiful isn't it? The other day, a guest ordered a bottle of Hill of Grace. I have those in separate boxes in the cellar, so I come to the table with one of those boxes and immediately, three other tables want to know what it is. All of a sudden, there are four tables next to each other drinking Hill of Grace and talking about that wine together, experiencing that wine together… we are talking about a 1500 euro wine though. Those people will never forget that evening!
Another thing that holds a special place in my heart is the top of Spain: Vega Sicilia, the better vintages of La Rioja Alta and, for example, Remelluri (Rioja). All fantastic wines, one by one.

We always like to know about the personal favourites of top sommeliers. Can you share some of your discoveries with us?

I am always delighted by the wines of Jorge Monzón from Dominio del Águila from Ribera del Duero. His red wine is great, but his white cuvée as well, I try to get as many bottles of it as possible; really a fantastic wine with nice acidity so that the wine is still easy to digest, as I like to call it. Wine has to be a "drink" and not become "food", if you know what I mean.
I am also a big Riesling fan and a few years ago I discovered the Spanish riesling from Celler Castell d'Encus, called Ekam. It is made in the Costers Del Segre in the Spanish Pyrenees at an altitude of 850-1,300 meters above sea level. Really amazing!

And in Burgundy, I love Lamy-Caillat's Chassagne-Montrachets. Their Chassagne “Les Caillerets” has such a beautiful, pure style. So grand! What I also really like, are the wines of Matthias Knebel (Weingut Knebel). A really cool young winemaker with a special history. That guy has endured terrible setbacks in his life and if you still manage to produce a 100 point wine after that, you really are a giant. And pay attention people, these wines are still affordable now!

Someone with respect for the bottle. I appreciate that very much!

What wine do you still dream of adding to your wine list one day?

Well, my dream of course is to have twenty vintages of one specific wine. Of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, I would like to have not just one, but five pages on my wine list! Or, for example, the Rieslings by Keller or Schäfer-Fröhlich, how cool would it be if I could offer five vintages of one cuvée?

I would also love to be able to serve a few very special wines, really the outrageous stuff, by the glass. Yeah, I still dream of that.

Do you ever keep bottles - personal favorites – off the wine list, because you only want certain regular guests to have them?

Yes, I’ve got to, or else it will be gone before it even makes it onto the list! Take, for example, certain Weingut Keller cuvées, they are so incredibly popular. If I put it on the menu, it would be sold out within a week. A sommelier always wants to keep certain things in the cellar and give it some time to age. Especially Riesling. To be honest, I also think that people should have a real appreciation for something that special. So, I start a conversation with people and inevitably notice if there really is a true passion for wine. Only then do I take guests into the cellar to show them some things that are 'off the menu’.

Actually, the same happens the other way around. I was once at L'Épicerie au Bon Manger in Reims, by Aline Serva. That place is pure gold. I wanted to drink La Closerie “Fac Simile” there, a magnificent champagne. “We don't have any”, answers Aline… Alright, well fine, so we drank something else that she chose for us, also fantastic of course. But then we get into a really nice conversation about that wine and she says: 'Shall I pour you something blind?' Well, you don't say no to that, of course. So we have a taste and it was exactly the profile of La Closerie's Fac Simile, but she didn't have any, so it couldn’t be that, right?!

Of course it turned out to be that bottle, but she just wanted to make sure I was someone who deserved to have it, before opening something so beautiful. Someone with respect for the bottle. I appreciate that very much!

Of course, you serve the local wines of De Kleine Schorre; the pride of Zeeland and The Netherlands. Do you like drinking Dutch wines and can we find more Dutch producers on your menu?

De Kleine Schorre is certainly Zeeland’s greatest pride and I am happy to serve it. Especially the cuvée 'Barrique' is really a great wine. Anyway, I think we have a total of 20 Dutch winemakers on the menu. I am originally a proud Limburger, so I work mostly with winemakers from Limburg. I think the wines of Harry Vorselen of Wijngoed Thorn are fantastic for example, as well as those of Jules Nijst of Domein De Wijngaardsberg. I really like working with them. Likewise, a wine like the Kruisboom Chardonnay from Klimmen… It is made by a man who makes wine really just for fun. It is hardly available anywhere, but that wine sure is top quality, I love that. Or the rieslings from Hoeve Nekum, located next to the Apostelhoeve in Maastricht. In particular after a few years in the cellar, those wines really start to shine.
And I would like to mention Genoels-Elderen from across the border in Belgium, their “Chardonnay Blauw” is simply delicious. And last but certainly not least, the winery of Jeanette van der Steen, Château Bon Baron in Dinant. Their chardonnay, that's just like great Burgundy. Not every harvest of course, but in the good years it is.

At Interscaldes you also offer wine pairings, in addition to the wine list. Do you notice that people are ordering bottles more often these days, or are pairings still exceedingly popular in Dutch top gastronomy?

Yes, pairings are still very popular, here too. A wine pairing is something that allows sommeliers to really express themselves and I really like to put a lot of thought into it. As I said, I think it's very important to keep it light and digestible. So I serve a fresh Riesling mid-way through the dinner to shake things up again. Oh, and I'll never end with anything sweet. I really think it knocks you out: just close your eyes and off to bed! That is why I always try to end with an invigorating wine, so that the guests leave the door all energised.
And yes, fortunately there are also still plenty of people who prefer to drink one or more beautiful bottles. I think the ratio right now is 60% pairings, 40% bottles. Although the wines in our pairings are of very high quality, you still always get more wine for your money when you order a bottle.

What do you think is the best wine-food combination that we can try at Interscaldes?

We serve a lot of caviar at Interscaldes, which is quite a difficult product to pair, but I've found that caviar pairs really nicely with Manzanilla sherry. The sherry should not have too much acidity, of course, because that would clash. Similarly, young, fresh champagne with caviar doesn't work either. On the other hand, mature, rich champagnes paired with caviar: now that is a match made in heaven!

Beside caviar, you will always get a dish with duck liver at Interscaldes. And while acids don't go well with caviar, they certainly do go well with foie. For example, I now serve the Mertert Herrenberg Riesling from Aly Duhr from Luxembourg with our duck liver dish. Delicious!

Let's just say there is one thing I do know for sure, and that is that fine wine will always be an important part of my life. No doubt!

What's the strangest request you've ever had from a guest?

I get a lot of requests, of course but hey, who’s to say they’re strange? I once had a guest, for example, who wanted to take my entire supply of Conti with him in the car… at the menu price.

And when I was still working at De Karmeliet in Bruges, I once hosted a group of businessmen whose hosts arrived before their invited guests. They ordered ten vintages of Château Margaux and asked us to place the opened bottles on a side table. When the guests entered, everyone was allowed to choose their own vintage to drink. There were only five of them and I think they finished a total of three out of the ten bottles, so we sat down that night with our little wine note books in our laps, tasting all those Margauxs. Those are the perks of this job, of course.

Some requests are much less fun, such as people who ask for “a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Oh, and some ice to go with that." Or people who want to drink their white Burgundy stone cold. I try to gently sway those people and I propose, for example, to let the wine warm up slowly, so that we get a chance to talk about the correct drinking temperature for a wine like that. And then we'll see whether they agree with me or would still rather drink the wine ice cold. And if that is the case, so be it. At least I tried!

And what's the biggest wine faux-pas you've experienced during your time in the top hospitality industry?

Haha, well, anyone who has ever worked with me knows that there are many things that I can’t stand. It really ranges from opening a bottle (that can really give me the creeps!) to sommeliers entering into a discussion with a guest. That’s just not done. I have also experienced this myself as a guest in other Michelin star restaurants abroad. When a wine clearly was corked, but the sommelier didn't think so. He probably thought: 'What does a young guy like him know about it?'. In my experience, it is often the young people who go to that type of business that are the biggest wine enthusiasts, who taste a lot and might even be in the wine business themselves. And those are the people with whom you can have the nicest conversations about wine, you should not underestimate them!

Are there any wines left on your bucket list that you would like to taste someday? Or has a top sommelier of a three-star restaurant tasted everything already?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I've tasted most of it already. That is the fortunate thing about where I work now, you get the chance to taste the most beautiful things and of course you get a lot of invitations. So on that bucket list, there are actually mainly certain mythical vintages, I do have a list of those in mind. For example, certain Bordeaux wines, Mouton from '45 or '46 or all cuvées from DRCs from '85, from the top of my head. They must be superbly good!

Can you tell us about your most memorable wine moment ever?

I always say there are two wines that are the most beautiful wines I've ever had. The first is the 2010 Montrachet from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. That wine is so unbelievably good, it's such a unique thing… there's nothing quite like it!

But the most memorable wine for me is, strange as it may sound, the 2009 Riesling 'Alte Reben' from Van Volxem, which I tasted when I had just returned to Limburg after my internship at Interscaldes. I was working at a restaurant and I was very undecided about whether I wanted to continue as a sommelier or whether I wanted to work as a chef. During a tasting, I tasted that Van Volxem, which is of course a very good wine, but not a big wine like the DRC Montrachet. But it was the moment when I tasted that wine that I realized: 'Wow, this product is so incredibly beautiful. This is what I want to keep doing." That was actually the pivotal moment for me when I decided to choose wine for 100%. So when someone asks me the question you just asked, I always think about that moment, that bottle of Alte Reben 2009 that really started it all for me.

Finally, you are already working at the top of your game at a young age. What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?

That's really difficult, I honestly don't know! I would of course like to start a top restaurant someday. But well, I am not a chef myself and it is so difficult to find the right partner. After years of seeing how the hospitality industry works, my experience is that sooner or later there is always going to be disagreement between the parties.
And of course I have also thought about starting a very nice wine bar, in Amsterdam or Rotterdam. A place where you can really drink the most outrageous stuff. I feel that that is important to me, to be surrounded by the finest of the finest. Serving 40 euro bottles, which - don't get me wrong - can of course also be fine wines, I don't see myself doing that anytime soon..
Will I still be working as a sommelier in the hospitality industry at the age of 60? Pfew, I don't think so. I have great respect for those people who are still on the floor at that age and of course it will always be the best profession there is. You are always dealing with cheerful people, who are out for the night and who want to have fun. You can get a lot of energy from that, but it also takes a lot of energy. Let's just say there is one thing I do know for sure, and that is that fine wine will always be an important part of my life. No doubt!

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