His “love” for wine and the title of the first Greek Master Sommelier

His “love” for wine and the title of the first Greek Master Sommelier

Greece has an old and rich history in vine cultivation and wine production, which corresponds to centuries of tradition and cultural importance. Since ancient times, wine has been closely linked to Greek society and institutions, using the art of winemaking as a way to honour Dionysus, the god of wine and celebration. Greek wine, with its fine varieties and unique flavours, continues to represent an important aspect of culture, offering a gustatory connection to Greece’s past and culture.

Lefteris Haniialidis was born in Paleo Faliro and eighteen years later, after finishing school, and as a new entrant to the Electrical Engineering TEI in Chalkida, he went out in search of work. He dropped out of school in his second year, already working in the restaurant business. From his first job as a teenager in a restaurant chain, he left after four years, having reached the role of assistant manager.

Lefteris Hanialidis’ rendezvous with wine began in 2009, when he was working in a wine cellar. That’s when he started reading the first books, the “classics” about wine, such as “The Oxford Companion to Wine” by Jansich Robinson and “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Robinson. Customers in the shop kept seeing him over books. He stayed in the cellar, tasting and reading, for eleven years. In 2014, he took his first wine studies at George Loukas’ Genius in Gastronomy School, one of the country’s private schools that lay the groundwork for wine making. As of the end of 2016 he sets his sights on achieving the Master Sommelier diploma. In 2018, he is taking the ASI Diploma (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale), which requires knowledge outside of wine, about spirits and cigars, charcuterie and cheeses and various culinary pairings.

In 2020 he wins the title of Best Greek Oenologist. In June 2021 he found a new job and is now the manager of the My Cava shop in Pagrati.

The title of Master Sommelier is not just a distinction. It is the ultimate distinction in the world of wine worldwide. It is a closed, global club called the Court of Master Sommeliers, born in Britain. Since 1969, when the first examinations were held in London and later in America, Asia and Oceania, fewer than 280 people have so far managed to pass all three tests. However, a few weeks ago, Lefteris Hanialidis, one of the two candidates for 2023, took the Master Sommelier title and became the first Greek to do so.

To achieve the diploma, which is the fourth and final level, three exams precede the diploma – introductory, certified and advanced. The exam for the fourth and most difficult one is divided into three sections: theory, service and tasting. On average, candidates take the exam two to three times, some up to six times, before finally giving up. They have three years to pass all the tests. Usually, it is the tasting that most people struggle with.

A master sommelier can work as a wine director in large restaurant chains, wine import companies, international hotels with a robust food and beverage sector. A realistic salary for a master sommelier in the US or Australia is estimated at $165,000 per year. In addition to a good salary and a title, the MS gets recognition from the international community and of course feels fulfilled.

Lefteri’s career has been steadily upward, with titles and awards, but it took a lot, a lot of hard work and personal work, which he did quietly, to get to this point. We eagerly await his next accolades.