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interview • December 17th, 2021

Interview with Jeroen van Esch

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Jeroen van Esch is co-owner and sommelier at restaurant Hunker in Sittard. As a child, Jeroen’s dream job was to work for the fire brigade. But as he became older, he soon realized he wanted to open a catering business. After working in many restaurants, he discovered his love for wines, which he now utilizes as a wine expert at restaurant Hunker. The kitchen of Hunker is the cooking stage of award-winning chef Ward Kusters. Every dish is perfectly paired by sommeliers Jeroen van Esch & Lieke Vos. To get to know Jeroen a bit better, we asked him some questions about his background, favourite wines, and much more.

There are many different ways to become a sommelier, what type of educational path did you take?

I completed the WSET levels 2 and 3. I do still intend to go for level 4 someday. Apart from this training, it is really important to be curious, so that means doing a lot of experiments, and a lot of research in between. If you are not sure about something, look it up and broaden your knowledge that way.   It’s also important not to believe you know everything, because knowing everything about wine is simply not possible in my opinion. You have to listen carefully to what other people, like your guests, colleagues, winegrowers, importers, and so on, have to say. I don't use the word sommelier too often, I prefer to call myself a "wine lover".

It's nice to be able to surprise people

Jeroen van Esch

Restaurant Hunker

What characterizes a good sommelier?

A good sommelier knows how to put together a wine list that has a suitable offer for every type of wine enthusiast: from a great connoisseur to someone who is going to drink a glass of wine for the first time. If everyone says you have a good list, then you've done well.   Next comes the most important thing: you need to know how to surprise your diners with the listed food and wine pairings. These should be excellent in price-quality ratio so that even a true wine connoisseur surrenders to your selection because he has confidence in the choices you’ve made.

What are your personal rules for food and wine pairing?

Rule number one remains that the dish should not negatively affect the wine or vice versa, the wine should not affect the dish. They may of course influence each other if that causes a positive taste development.    But perhaps more importantly, know when to let the dish speak more than the wine. In short: sometimes the wine has to be placed in the background a little.

What are some of the most special wines you have and how are they different from others?

We have some beautiful white Burgundy wines that can easily match those established names in terms of complexity and quality. It's nice to be able to surprise people with that. It’s what we look for in all wines: what names and styles do we know, and can we find something that might be even better but not so well known?    Or a beautiful bottle of wine from Rías Baixas that has matured for 6 months at 9 meters depth in the ocean. A bottle of wine that is appreciated by many JRE colleagues. And so on.

What are the qualities to look for when purchasing wine?

The price-quality ratio is absolutely at the top. But also the time of year, if this wine fits in this season. Do I taste what I can expect from this wine region and this grape? Can the wine move me and do I long for the next glass? All elements have to come together. And restaurant Hunker is not Hunker if we don't look for the unknown and the surprising element in our wines.

What is the best wine you have tasted and what made it so great?

The best wine I've ever tasted is the Vega Sicilia Valbuena, the vintage I believe was 2011. Of course, it's the name and price that does something to you, I can't deny that. But if you pour the bottle into a beautiful glass and start tasting it, then you know why it’s so expensive.   It has so many aromas, so much length, so much complexity, and above all, there’s still so much life in the wine. Absolutely beautiful! I haven't even tasted their Unico yet. This one is on our menu, namely 2005. If you don't come and drink it soon at restaurant Hunker, duty calls and we will have to drink it ourselves.

What's one thing in the area that guests have to see or do?

Our restaurant is located in South Limburg. This already is a beautiful area, unique compared to the rest of the Netherlands. But we have quite a few vintners in the area who make fantastic wines and are really worth visiting. Of course for a wine tour and tasting, but you should also make sure to take a box of wine home with you.

Thank you, Jeroen.

Book your table at restaurant Hunker

Are you ready for an amazing food-wine pairing at restaurant Hunker in Sittard, the Netherlands? You can make your lunch or dinner reservation through our website.

Hunker