Can sommeliers make better wine, than winemakers?!

Here’s a controversial question – can sommeliers make better wine than winemakers? I’d like to argue the case for YES!

Consider this – most winemakers aim to make the perfect wine that is an expression of the grape variety and region it hails from. What they aren’t considering is whether it will match well with food – even though most people consume wine with food.

Last week I flew to Berlin for lunch where I caught up with Germany’s top sommelier, Andre Macionga, who completely turned my wine world upside down.

Like many celebrity chefs, and now sommeliers, Andre is being lured from the restaurant to take up new ventures. After all, you can only earn so much as a wine waiter before you hit a financial ceiling. The documentary Somm is a clear indicator of that. All four somms featured in the film have gone on to bigger and better things. They’re now ambassadors to wine companies, opening up bottle shops or have become wine distributors. None of them have become winemakers however, and this is where Andre Macionga is shaking things up, ably assisted by some of Germany’s most revered winemakers.

You see, Andre doesn’t care so much about the grape’s identity, he cares about the flavour and texture of the wine and how well it pairs with food and the overall final experience.

Andre is The head sommelier of top Berlin restaurant Tim Raue, winner of two Michelin stars and ranked in the top 50 restaurants of the world. He’s also held the title of “Sommelier of the Year 2013” by F.A.Z.  Lovers of Asian food should make a beeline to Tim Raue and taste the exquisite food on offer. Having worked in one of Australia’s top Asian restaurants, I can appreciate the tightrope you must navigate when matching wine with these delicate Asian flavours. Get it right, Nirvana. Get it wrong, and your mouth will be in pure hell as flavours fight each other to the death!

Lovers of German wine will appreciate why these gems are so perfectly matched to Asian food. Fragrances mesh in unison, the limy nature of the Riesling, the lighter texture of Pinot Noir – it’s all heaven. For Andre, this is not enough. He wants you to completely forget what you think German wine can taste like. He’s disrupting the industry by making completely new wine styles – made by blending the library stocks of the country’s top wineries.

Varieties you wouldn’t think would marry well together are now becoming unlikely bed fellows. Vintages – some old, some new, are being blended together in perfect unison where food compatibility is the only thing that matters.

To put it bluntly – the wines under the André Macionga Cuvée GmbH label are some of the most exciting German wines I have ever tasted, sporting a texture I just haven’t tasted in German wines before.

Working for one of Germany’s top restaurants, you can only imagine how every winery is beating a path to his door. The wine list is sensational, and so too are the relationships with winemakers he’s forged over the years. Wineries sunch as Horst Sauer, Markus Schneider, Klostermühle Odernheim and Neverland.

André Macionga Cuvée GmbH wines were founded in 2017 and now sports a total of six cuvées. All are limited edition and can never be repeated. Next year, he will release a raft of completely new wines.

What are your thoughts. Do you think more sommeliers should be working with winemakers to produce wine specifically for food matching? Or should Somms leave the wine making to the pros?  Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Guys like Dave Phinney (Orin Swift) or Kim Crawford built big businesses blending wine made by grapes they had bought from many growers, with no particular relationship between the grapes (well Kim Crawford was all Marlborough sauv blanc, But Orin Swift wines blended many varietals). If Simms can do a better job let’s see them. I imagine the devil is in the details.

    If you simplify the task and think of a wine like Mollydooker’s Two Left Feet. It’s a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet, and Merlot, all grown in McLaren Vale by the same people using the Sparky Marquis style of heavily watering the vines. If you had three barrels, one if each, how many different blends might you come up with? Would you find one “best” or multiple “bests?” I usd yo prefer their straight Shiraz and Cab Sav to Two Left Feet. Now I prefer the blend. I don’t know why. If I compare Kim Crawford to Cloudy Bay three days running I will prefer one on one day and the other the next for no obvious reason. Is it bottle to bottle variation? Or palate variation? Who knows?

    Have you ever tried tasting the same wine every day for two weeks? This is hard shit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ive tried these wines – but the point is that they aren’t made specifically for food. Wines that are blended together is only part of the equation here. The somm thinks about how the end wine will team with food. It’s quite a science. 🙂


  2. You are right. In fact all the wines I listed are wines that can be enjoyed without food – perhaps the opposite of the kind of wines that you describe?


      • This is a different topic, but maybe worth a blog post. Mollydooker, Orin Swift, Clio, Australis, Godolphin, El Nido, Martinelli – they’re all great to drink but provoke a love / hate response in wine lovers.

        If someone loves burgundy or Bordeaux there’s a 2/3 chance they’ll hate wines like this and think of them as fruit bombs, simple, slutty, overly extracted or some other metaphor.

        I love these wines, but give me something with a smudgion more residual sugar ( rombauer Zinfandel, the Abstract,..) and ilk make the same complaint. What’s that about? Do we all have a personal limit in the amount of residual sugar we will accept?


      • i love all wines – and these ‘fruit bombs’ have a place in food and wine matching too! Spicier food demands wines with a fruity kick – they would work very well with Indian foods I think!


  3. A curiosity, a unicorn or a Frankenstein – I question the need for this apart from driving up personal brand and dollars. Do you think it contributes to the wine world? Maybe it does, since I haven’t tried I can’t really say.
    Concept wise – I like the idea with having the perfect wine to match a dish but for some reason I prefer the idea of finding an existing wine to match. However, that’s the joy of wine for me.


    • i definitely think there is a place for such a wine. There is a real science behind the partnering – you need to taste the wine. I was blown away by how unlike anything else Ive tasted from Germany before!


  4. Interesting – you might be on to something! A couple of my favorite wineries from Washington State (Gramercy Cellars and W.T. Vintners) have Sommeliers as their winemakers. And these wines pair AMAZINGLY well with food! 🙂


  5. Somms and Winemakers should definitely team up as both bring very different but important knowledge to the creation of product. Somms can learn from winemakers and winemakers can learn from Somms, we all will benefit.


  6. In fact, all the wines I listed are wines that can be enjoyed without food – perhaps the opposite of the kind of wines that you describe?


  7. winemakers and sommeliers are in a oposite direccion. winemakers are in charged in the process of making wine, while the sommelier is all about service , and sales. but i agree that the sommeliers and winemakers should team up. nice conversation. thanks for the post.


  8. I see no reason why a sommelier, given a good nose, a memory for aromas and some solid experience might not be able to blend good wines for food. Then again, I see no reason why a priori a sommelier should be able to do this better than anyone else similarly endowed. There is a lot of good wine being made just this way everywhere in the world, not all of it by somms.

    Being curious about this sommelier, I checked out André Macionga’s website. It is a very nice site, by the way. Today he is offering 5 wines, one – “Es Ist Was Es Ist” in 4 different vintage versions. With each wine, he works with a particular winemaker, all of whom are well known in Germany.

    I find it positive that he discusses the taste profile of his wines both at opening the bottle and at one or two points afterwards. Wines do generally develop after opening, some for the better, some for the worse, and after all, this is how we actually experience the bottle

    It is interesting that in each case his wines are more expensive – some significantly so – than the winemakers own label wines. Although André emphasizes that the right glass is very important, he recommends a Burgundy glass for each and every one of them. And in spite of allegedly making these wines specifically for drinking with a meal, he makes no food pairing suggestions for any of the wines, nor does he discuss wine and food on his pages about himself, his philosophy and how he works. In the end, it seems, he is, too, is looking for a unique wine experience in the glass above everything else.


  9. Mhhhh, good question. But as a winemaker i should also point out that making good wine is an art thus even though sommeliers are good in identifying the wine and ofcourse be able to elaborate about it, to be a good winemaker they should also be good in the art of winemaking…


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