10 questions with local sommelier Stefan Nielsen

Stefan Nielsen and I met while working at Obladee wine bar together a few years ago. Our friendship grew from our common interest in wine, and we shared many bottles.
Stefan became a certified sommelier (person who can knowledgeably serve wine and assess quality) years ago, and is constantly pushing his palate and discovering new varietals and bottles. He makes wine fun, so, I thought he could teach us all a thing or two.
What does wine mean to you? 
For me, wine is the one thing that has taught me how to disconnect from the rest of the world for a little while. So much of our lives are spent staring at screens or moving from one place to the next. Wine gives me the chance to stop all of that, if even just for a moment. When you’re smelling and tasting a wine everything else in the world doesn’t matter. When it’s just you and your wine, it’s easy to find peace.

Objectively, what makes for a good wine?

It’s something that’s appropriate for the occasion, and the company you’re around. The flavour profile has to be something that’s appealing to the people drinking it. A story or memory associated to the wine [can make it good.] The typicity of the wine, that is that it tastes, within reason or a certain margin, like the varietal that it is, is important. Everything must be in balance, and the flavours have to make sense together with one another.”

When buying a glass at a bar, or a bottle at a store, what are you looking for? 
With buying a glass at a restaurant or bar, I’m usually looking to try something new. With a bottle or at a store I’m asking myself if I want to take an educated guess and try something new or buy something that I know that I’ll like, or that I’ve had many times before.
As a sommelier, do you still ask employees questions at liquor stores? 
Yes. I ask questions about the wines at the private stores a lot, and at the The Port NSLC specialty store where there are many product specialists.
Which things should one avoid doing when ordering or buying wine? 
Don’t try to pretend you know how to pronounce things if you don’t, and don’t pretend to know more about the wine than you actually do. Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. Don’t use terms like sweet, and dry, and tannin, if you don’t know what they mean, because you’ll be led to a wine that isn’t right for you. Ask questions.
What are your favourite HRM wine places?
Bishop’s Cellar for selection, price point, and the staff who really make the store. Obladee, for selection, staff, and ambiance. And Jeff Pinhey’s (local, well-known wine enthusiast) peninsula wine tastings, where we have themes that are just different than a lot of other organized tastings, and people come who have access to wine that you can’t just pick up off the shelf. It’s nice getting together with people who are keen to taste wine, and keen to throw a food pairing into the mix.
Would you rather lose your sense of taste or your sense of smell, and why? 
I’d rather lose my sense of taste and keep my sense of smell because as much as I like drinking wine I probably spend about 90% of my time actually smelling it. I find a lot of complexity in the nose of a wine, and you can learn a lot about what’s in the glass. I make a lot of my decisions about the history or identity of a wine based on the nose, and usually I’ll decide if I like it based on the nose. If I don’t like the nose of a wine, chances are I’m not going to like the palate.
Which wines should we be drinking this summer?
Definitely rosé. I enjoy dry rosé, Provencal rosé, stuff like that Graham Beck Gorgeous Pinot Noir rosé available at The Port NSLC, is really good. I’ve had it about five times, great for the price. I like rosé because it has fruit character reminiscent of a light red wine, but it drinks more like a white wine; so it’s a cool marriage of the two. Rosé is refreshing, it’s crisp and sometimes pretty simple and easy drinking, and that’s sort of the point. It’s crushable.
Also, Gamay and Cabernet Franc in the summer. And Vino Verde (Portuguese effervescent white wine,) it’s delicious and cheap.
What do you like to watch or read about wine?
The wine sub Reddit, the WineAlign YouTube show called So You Think You Know Wine, winefolly.com, winethumb.com/blog, Instagrammer @marissaaross who writes for Bon Appetit magazine.
Who influences your taste in wine in this city? 
I’d say the people I taste with who’ve been doing it for longer than me. People like Ed Simmons, wine rep with Wine Visions and sommelier, Jeff Pinhey, wine collector, or Heather Rankin, sommelier and owner of Obladee. And people like you and Nicole Raufeisen.
What’s the best and easiest way to impress a wine nerd if you’re not one?
Decent bubbly, because everybody likes bubbles. Even decent Prosecco or Cava is fine. It doesn’t even have to be Champagne.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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