Q & A with Master Sommelier of Jonah’s, Niels Sluiman
Niels Sluiman is Head Sommelier at Jonah’s. Overlooking Sydney’s Whale Beach, a historic and luxurious ocean-side retreat that recently celebrated its 90th anniversary. We meet with Niels and find a humble yet passionate food and wine lover who took a break from studying economic textbooks, only to find himself studying at the Court of Master Sommeliers and working at some of the world’s top venues.
How did your career in the wine industry begin?
It all started when I took a break from my Economic and Social studies at the end of 2008. Being from a family with a hospitality background, I decided to work for about a year in County Kerry, Ireland in one of the famous Manors recognised for its renowned restaurant and generous cellar.
I then met a talented and genuine Sommelier who was always willing to share his passion and knowledge with me. That was certainly the turning point which led me into the wine world. From there, I went back to my studies in Toulouse and obtained my first Sommelier certification.
Having worked in some of the world’s most outstanding Michelin star restaurants, what are your most memorable career highlights?
Working in prestigious places has always been an honour for me simply because I’ve had the chance to work alongside some extremely talented people. Working together towards excellence and perfection is a great ‘life challenge’ but it’s especially rewarding when the team is bonded like a family!
The biggest highlight would be my experience in Nottingham at Sat Bains Restaurant, where I did some work with Laurent Richet, Master Sommelier. Just an incredible human being, professional, highly skilled, super humble and the bearer of great wisdom. That experience proved an incredible learning curve where I also spent some time participating in Wine Competitions and the Court of Master Sommelier studies.
What’s the best part about being a sommelier and working at Jonah’s?
Sharing my passion, knowledge and experience are probably the best aspects of being a Sommelier. Working together with my colleagues on a daily basis and being responsible for one of the largest wine lists in the country are really rewarding feelings. Jonah's has such a great history and is situated in one of the most premium locations in Australia. It's a great restaurant with stunning views and a highly-regarded wine list that makes it an attractive place to work.
What sets Jonah’s apart from other fine dining establishments?
This year sees Jonah’s celebrating its 90th year of operation. This is a huge milestone for an Australian establishment where, generally speaking, the nature of the hospitality industry is fleeting.
Jonah’s has earned a reputation over the last century for being one of Australia’s most luxurious hideaway retreats. The boutique hotel and hatted restaurant is a destination both for locals who return year after year, as well as visitors who come from far and wide.
The expansive views over Whale Beach and out to the Pacific from our clifftop location, paired with the exquisite food and wine offering, is what makes the ‘Jonah’s experience’ unique.
With approximately 1600 wines on the list, how do you decide what labels make the cut?
I really want to keep the wine list active to offer a beautiful "melting pot" of classic, iconic domestic and international wines, and of course regional producers. I strongly believe that the major duty of a Sommelier is to promote and showcase local wines, especially if you have a wine region close-by!
Finding a spot on the wine list is easy if the wine is delicious and has a great story behind the label. Moreover, one of the factors of selection is linked to Matteo's [Executive Chef Matteo Zamboni] dishes. Indeed, I always try to find the perfect wine to match the flavour profile of the different food creations.
If you had to pick a favourite Australian wine on Jonah’s list, which one would it be and why?
An answer to this is really hard because it is linked to so many factors such as mood, atmosphere, and food, but my pick right now could be the Delamere 'Block 3' Chardonnay 2013 from Tasmania. It’s the product of an incredible boutique winery from the North East of Tasmania in the Pipers Brook area. The wine is coming from the best selected parcel and barrel, being made in tiny amounts. In this case, the balance between fruit, spices and minerality is mind blowing! Just delicious and perfect to drink right now.
What advice would you give to those pursuing a career in wine?
Stay open minded, genuine and most of all humble. It is a lifetime experience where you never stop learning, meeting passionate people and discovering new wines.
What’s your favourite wine varietal and wine?
So many are jumping to mind, I can't decide! Riesling, Pinot Noir or Barbera are the first three at the moment... But it could change tomorrow!
What’s your ultimate wine and food match?
House made gnocchi with braised duck ragout and parmigiana; it pairs perfectly with a slightly aged Pinot Noir from Tapanappa Winery in South Australia.
What is your current favourite:
Jonah’s menu item: Prawn Tagliolini
White wine: 2009 Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru 'Blanchots'
Red wine: 2014 Robert Stein 'Kinnear' Speciql Edition Shiraz, Mudgee
Sparkling Wine: 2004 Billecart-Salmon ‘Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon’ Rosé
Australian holiday destination: Tasmania
Read more fantastic wine industry profiles here.