Conversations with IWBS – Sam Stephens

He may not look it but Sam STEPHENS has over two decades of experience in the wine trade, spanning roles and continents. A WSET diploma-holder Sam is also undertaking the MW journey. As the brand ambassador for the region for Treasury Wine Estates Sam oversees activities for brands like Penfolds, a position he has previously handled for Europe. Here are some very wise words from the Sam that we transcribed over a casual, socially-distanced exchange.

What first attracted you to the world of beverages?

  • I grew up in South Australia and it is naturally a place where you are surrounded by wine. Even as a kid we would holiday near wine regions and I would play in the vineyards while my parents did tastings. As I grew older I was introduced to wine by my family, mainly my Grandad, and fell in love with it and I have worked in the wine trade for over 20 years now.

When it comes to wines, do you prefer Old World or New World wines, and why?

  • Being Australian that is an easy answer, New World. I love the Old World and the wines they produce but I really love the freedom New World winemakers have to experiment. The idea that we have regions in Australia where Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Riesling, Sangiovese and Fiano all grow next to each other and make outstanding wines is really exciting. The experimentation that this allows has been the backbone of Penfolds for over 175 years now.

Is there one wine no-no that most should avoid?

  • I would say people should never judge a wine without trying it. Many people will miss out on amazing wines they would love because they limit themselves to certain countries, regions or grapes. It is important to know what you like and drink what you enjoy but always be open to trying everything as the wine world is so vast.

And one no-no that you allow yourself to indulge in every now and then?

  • It isn’t a no-no, but I recently have found myself moving away from many of the traditional rules of food and wine matching. I have had a lot more red wine with fish and white wine with red meats recently, focussing more on texture, seasoning, sauces and flavour intensity rather than just matching the wine colour with the protein type. With a range as diverse as Penfolds this has opened up so many options for food and wine matching.

How will the wine scene change internationally?

  • I feel that a lot of people are moving to drinking lesser but better quality and I feel this will continue across the globe. Whether it is because of access to more choice, wanting to reduce drinking or being more confident in their tastes, I think drinkers now realise the reward for paying a bit more for higher quality. We find people enjoy moving up through the Penfolds tiers from Koonunga Hill all the way to Grange and seeing the quality differences on the way.

One wine you would like to recommend to us for the coming winter season?

  • When it turns cooler I always come back to the classic South Australian Shiraz. For me, the Penfolds BIN 28 Kalimna Shiraz is a perfect winter wine full of rich black fruit, intense spice, powerful yet with a smooth body and very food-friendly.

What is your favourite drink at the end of a busy day?

  • It changes depending on the day, mood and company but I am a big Chardonnay fan and love a crisp glass of something like the Koonunga Hill Chardonnay. It is a perfect balance between ripeness and freshness and the rest of the bottle usually finds its way on to the dinner table!

Any advice for aspiring F&B professionals especially this year when travel and hospitality are so reduced?

  • Knowledge is power and confidence is king! If you can learn new things about wine, skills such as service and tasting and qualifications that give you more confidence that will help you stand out from the pack and advance in the industry quicker.

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