Talking Wine with...

Talking Wine with...

Robbert Veuger, maître-sommelier and co-owner of restaurant Aan de Poel**, Amstelveen, The Netherlands

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 honour to talk wine with Robbert Veuger, maître-sommelier and co-owner of Restaurant Aan de Poel** (Amstelveen, the Netherlands). Robbert turns out to be a big fan of Spanish reds, food trips to San Sebastian and those good old places with tacky tablecloths where they serve you a decent plate of food (and the Bentleys are parked in front of the restaurant).

📷 by Maurice Fransen



Ribera del Duero

Charles Aznavour


Vega Sicilia Unico
Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial
Opus One Proprietary Red

You have been working in top gastronomy for 20 years. Have you seen your guests' wine taste change during that time? What did people drink 20 years ago and what is popular now?

I've definitely seen my guests' taste change over the years. There is always a kind of cycle of things that become popular for a while, then disappear, and then come back after a while. Suddenly rosé is completely hip, then it's gin tonic and then something else again.
I started in wine when I was about 16 years old and that is when the new world just started to emerge. They took quite a large part of the market at the time, partly because they could offer good prices. I can see that this is now gradually disappearing again, people are returning to the classics: white Burgundy, red Bordeaux. Yet, I used to work a lot with Alsace wines of course and they really have completely disappeared. In addition, I guess that people are getting a bit tired of sauvignon, even though there are beautiful Sauvignons of course. I am noticing that Austria and Germany are becoming more and more popular. Guests who would ask ask for Marlborough Sauvignon 10 years ago, now want Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Vernaccia or Albariño. The general knowledge of wine has broadened considerably in 10 years’ time. You can really tell that people have started to learn more and more about wine.

You have been a maître-sommelier and co-owner of Restaurant Aan de Poel** in Amstelveen for 14 years now. How would you describe Aan de Poel's style and formula?

We started in 2007 with the idea for a restaurant where you can enjoy great food in a relaxed setting. That didn't really exist at the time. You could either go to a café or to a posh star restaurant, where the waiting staff wear gloves. We wanted to break with that old-fashioned style and above all, we wanted to have lots of fun. And I have to say, our concept was an immediate hit. After 7 months, we got our first Michelin star!

We walk around in jeans and sneakers here. Out with the old! After all, there are also plenty of young people who love good food and good wine. Our older guests obviously had to get used to this. They were used to classic Dutch establishments such as the Amstel Hotel or De Bokkedoorns. Ultimately, though, you see that casual style everywhere at the top of the hospitality industry now. Take, for instance, Sergio Herman, and De Librije (Zwolle). They also wear sneakers.

And are there any wines that we will never find on your menu?

I'm not really into that hype of natural wines, they just don’t do it for me. However, we do have Frank Cornelissen's Magma (made from 100 year old Nerello Mascalese vines on Etna) on the menu here, which is also a vin nature of course. But in general, I don't care much for it.

Robbert veuger: "We walk around in jeans and sneakers here"

What are the wines you like to drink at home?

I am mainly a red wine drinker. I also drink white, but after a glass or two I switch back to red. I am a big fan of Spanish red; great Rioja or Ribera del Duero. Houses like La Rioja Alta (Rioja) and of course Vega Sicilia (Ribera del Duero) but also Tertre Roteboeuf (St. Emillion) and Grange des Pères (Languedoc) are my personal favourites.
I like to drink those Spaniards slightly chilled, at 15 to 16 degrees. That’s how they best come into their own. I am also a big fan of beautiful red Burgundy, which you could also serve slightly chilled, of course.

I understand that your personal taste actually matches the wines you have on the menu at Aan de Poel?

That’s right, although I have to say that, for 80% of my guests, I don’t even hand them a wine list at all. They are now all acquaintances. At today’s lunch service we had 22 tables, 16 of whom I know personally. I know exactly who loves what and how much they want to spend. Of course, I sometimes throw in a surprise, or I take it to the edge a little bit, people like that too. And for new guests, I try to get a feel for what they like, so that I can lead them to a certain wine.
I recently had a guest who said: 'I love Pouilly Fumé and Pouilly Fuisse...’ So, what to do? I try not to talk directly about it, because the last thing you want to do as a host is to correct people at their table. So I’d say, for example: 'For this menu, I would go for the Pouilly Fuissé, it is a little more robust...’ or I’d say 'In this warm weather I would go for the Pouilly Fumé, which has a somewhat fresher style…' That’s how I try to guide them a bit, but the most important thing remains: always respect the guest.

What is the best food-wine pairing that you have come up with at Aan de Poel?

To be honest, I'm not much of a wine-food pairing guy. Actually, I'm a little tired of those packages. Some only want white, others only want red, the next only want organic, or they only eat fish, or they want a Designated Driver package, or only a quarter of a “Designated Driver package” (really!)… With all these exceptions to consider, it’s hardly doable. And of course all those wines are searched on Vivino. And I have to explain why we charge €7 per glass for “a €12 wine”. Sometimes you just get a little tired of it…I've actually reached a point a couple of times where I was on the verge of quitting wine pairing altogether. At the end of the day, all I want to do is serve people a little white, and then a little red.
But that doesn't mean that there aren't any great wine-food combinations. My own best wine pairing was when Stefan (van Sprang, chef and co-owner Aan de Poel) and I were still working at Ron Blaauw. We were asked to invent a pairing with Château d'Yqyuem, but it couldn’t be a dessert or a dish with foie gras. So, we opted for a dish with IJsselmeer eel, coated with yakitori sauce and we served it with Yquem by the glass. That was really divine, unbelievable. Later, we also put that on the menu here at Aan de Poel. Great, of course, that people could go home and say that they had drunk Yquem at Aan de Poel. At the time, I paid €80 per half bottle and charged the purchase price. I think we charged €35 a glass at the time just to break even. Yquem has of course become a lot more expensive since then…

One thing that sometimes happened, by the way, was that after I had poured the glass and left the bottle on the table for a while, people would start pouring themselves. That’s fine of course, but then I do charge for another glass. If you have the slightest idea what Yquem costs, you’d understand why… But then when the bill came, I had to explain myself again. So at one point I thought, you know, that’s enough! But now that I'm talking about it, I think maybe we should just try it again. It was very tasty!

And what about the most beautiful wine-food combination you were ever served yourself?

That was without a doubt a dish I ate at Restaurant Da Vinci in Maasbracht, by Margot (Reuten). It was crispy baked sweetbreads combined with Vosne-Romanée from Domaine Sylvain Cathiard, one of my favorite Burgundy producers. An absolutely stellar combination!

What is your favorite culinary destination in the world?

(Robbert takes less than a second to answer) San Sebastian! I've been coming there for 20 years, I've been there 22 times. The whole city breathes food and drink! That place is astonishing… nothing comes close. You can eat at a three star restaurant, but there are also great pintxos in the old town. I know pretty much where to go now, where to get the best meat, where to get the best pintxos and where to go for foie gras.

I usually go for 4 days and I often bring along a group of friends. And we don't take a hotel, but we rent a house on the boulevard, and on the first day we immediately fill the whole house with food and drinks. After going out for dinner in the evening, we come home to start an after-dinner on the balcony with wine, vodka and cigars. So much more fun than 4 separate hotel rooms! I prefer to go early or late in the season, when the angulas (young glass eels, a delicacy in northern Spain) are in season. They are only available from October to February. Angulas are fried in olive oil with lots of garlic. You really have to try fresh angulas! A tip: ask the price in advance. Unfortunately, they are getting more and more expensive.

Is there a restaurant left on your bucket list?

Phew, let me think about that. Maybe Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck in London? I've never been there and it's definitely on my list. François Geurds (chef and owner of FG Restaurant**), a good friend of mine, used to be the chef there. François is one of the guys I like to go to San Sebastian with and we always meant to go to The Fat Duck, but we haven’t gotten around to it yet.

And for our international readers, which Dutch restaurants with good wine lists do you like to visit?

’t Spiehuis immediately comes to mind, which is in the forest in Soest. It really takes you forty years back in time.. nothing has changed in forty years: tacky curtains, tacky tablecloths, you know what I mean. It is always busy and there are always Bentleys parked out front. A great business run by two brothers and their wives. You really go there for the classics: sole, strawberries Romanoff, tarte tatin with foie gras... I have never brought anyone there who didn’t enjoy ’t Spiehuis, that has just never happened.
And in Amsterdam I like Toscanini. Partly because I know everyone there and I have been coming there for 20 years. I also like grabbing a bite at Castell on Leidseplein. It is really a place for tourists actually, but I like sitting there at the bar on Mondays. Things always get out of hand of course… throw in a bottle of Marqués de Riscal Rioja, and at the end of the evening, staggering home.

I don't often eat at star restaurants in the Netherlands, I don't really like how pretentious they are. I much prefer real food: starter, main, dessert. But I do really like going to Zarzo* in Eindhoven. Adrian (Zarzo Habraken, chef and owner) is a fantastic guy and they have a nice Spanish wine list. You see, those Spanish influences again!

On our wine list (Restaurant Aan de Poel**) you will find – partly thanks to our supplier Best of Wines – an extensive selection of top Bordeaux wines: from Château Cheval Blanc and Château Valandraud to Château Figeac and of course Château Mouton Rothschild.

Do you often get strange wine requests from guests? What was the strangest request?

What often happens is that people call me and say: 'I still have a special bottle of wine at home, can I bring it and pay a corkage fee?' Well, that’s no problem of course. But people often think that the older the wine, the more special and beautiful it is, and of course that is not true. When I’m holding that bottle and I see the color and the fill level, I think oh dear…
These people are drinking disgusting wine of course. But anyway, usually that bottle has emotional value, and it is from their wedding year or something like that… so I don't say anything.

What's the biggest wine blunder you've ever experienced in your business?

I once bought a 3 liter bottle of Mouton at auction and put it on the menu. One day, a group of rich Americans came for a meal and they ordered that bottle. It involved an amount of 3.5 thousand Euros. I poured them a taste of the wine, of course. Well, it was "great". After they left, there was still a little bit in the bottle, so I carefully poured it into a glass to have a taste myself. I smelled that wine … cork! And it was a lot, too. I couldn’t stand the smell, it was that bad. But the ten of them had just finished that bottle. Nobody said anything. I was glad they hadn’t noticed!

Anyway, my own biggest wine blunder was in San Sebastian, quite a few years ago. I wanted to eat at three star restaurant Arzak and I called in advance to ask if I could bring my own bottle of Vega Sicilia. It would be my first Vega Sicilia, so very special. But as it turned out, they had that same wine on the menu, so no, they politely declined. I would have to order that off the menu. Of course I couldn't afford such a bottle at the time, so I thought you know what, I'll just take that bottle with me anyway and maybe I'll get the sommelier to let me have my own bottle after all. So I arrived at Arzak, carrying my bottle of Vega Sicilia in a bag. Needless to say, I was welcomed courteously. I was taken on a tour of the whole place, including, of course, the wine cellar which.. you guessed it.. was stacked with bottles of Vega Sicilia. When we came back from the wine cellar, of course I was still carrying my own bottle in my bag, and suddenly I thought: What if they think I took that bottle from the cellar! For the rest of the evening I was afraid that they would see my bag under the table or bump into it and that I would have to explain it… In the end I brought that bottle back and we drank it from plastic cups the next day at the campsite. Delicious of course, but that was quite a different experience!

Was that Vega Sicilia from plastic cups at the campsite your most memorable wine moment?

I recall another very memorable wine moment. That was during lunch with seven of my best friends, where everyone had to bring a special bottle. Preferably a magnum, because there were eight of us. So everyone had brought something truly special: a magnum Mouton, a magnum DRC and I had brought a magnum Vega Sicilia 1990 myself. And guess what: my Vega blew away all the other wines, including the DRC, which was still a bit on the young side, I admit. That Vega was so beautiful to drink, really the most incredible wine we drank that afternoon and probably also the most incredible Vega Sicilia I've ever drunk.

I am suddenly thinking of another very memorable Vega Sicilia moment. That was – yes, again – in San Sebastian, at restaurant Rekondo. They have this wine cellar, it is so immense, I think there is 25 million Euros worth of wine there. Unbelievable! I drank a magnum Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial there. Very special, because they are almost impossible to buy. I have been lucky enough to be able to buy two of these, but at Rekondo it was on the menu for less than I what I had to pay for them here in the Netherlands. That was very memorable too, I must say.

What does your private wine collection actually look like?

I have two wine fridges at home, where I store some of my wines. The rest is at a friend’s house, who had a huge wine cellar built under his house. I'm really a magnum collector. Actually, all the beautiful things I keep at home are magnums. It will not surprise you that there is a lot of Vega Sicilia among them, but also for example Opus One, of which I am a big lover, some beautiful Italians and of course beautiful Bordeaux. And speaking of beautiful Bordeaux… On our wine list (Restaurant Aan de Poel**) you will find – partly thanks to our supplier Best of Wines – an extensive selection of top Bordeaux wines: from Château Cheval Blanc and Château Valandraud to Château Figeac and of course Château Mouton Rothschild.

And finally, what is the most beautiful bottle you’re still keeping and when do you plan to open it?

I am going to answer this question with Vega Sicilia again. I am a good ambassador for Vega haha. I have a 3 liter bottle of Vega Sicilia Unico 2000, in a large box with a golden key. When exactly it will be opened? I honestly don't know yet, but it will be opened one day for sure. Maybe with that group of friends again. I'm sure they'd appreciate it!

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