Ismael Álvarez is the head sommelier at Nerua in Bilbao.
He grew up on a small vineyard just outside Madrid, and has worked at several exclusive taverns before arriving in Bilbao seven years ago. Working with wine was not an obvious line of work for Ismael. He is a trained chef but quickly realized that the chef trade meant a lot more than reading cookbooks and cooking for friends. Instead, he realized that it was in the wine world where he was the most at home. The constant development of wine, new vintages and challenges give him energy, just as the feedback he receives from Nerua's guests. Ismael says there are three things that make a restaurant experience special: “You should eat well, feel well and drink well”.
—How do you work with kitchen manager Josean Alija?
—We work great together. Among other things, I have a chef's jacket with my name on it, as I often am in the kitchen with Josean when new dishes are created. The scent of new food that is being cooked gives me inspiration.
—You have a rather short but well-defined wine list, how do you go about creating it?
—I want it to be dynamic. Guests should be able to quickly and easily decide which wine they want. The wine bottles are here to be opened and the guests are here to enjoy them.
—Do you have any wine pairings that you have been particularly pleased with?
—It is very difficult to pair wine with artichoke. We had a dish with artichoke, bone marrow and lentil broth paired with De Muller, a wine from Catalonia from 1926. 1926 was the year when the architect Gaudí passed away. The wine is made in his honor, and the wine pairing was an amazing experience, both in taste and emotionally.
—If you invite friends to dinner at home, what do you drink?
—A simpler wine. With friends you should drink something that is opened, drunk and runs out, like Querido Toribio from Cantabria, an area where they usually do not do make a lot of wine.
—Cocido, a well-known Spanish soup with chickpeas as a base. For that you can also drink champagne, it works for everything!
—Which wine bars do you like to go to?
—I have two here in the Basque Country, Cork in Bilbao, with many wines by the glass and a wine list that is constantly changing, and the Essencia Wine Bar in San Sebastián. Angelita Madrid in Madrid is amazing. They also have a wine list that is constantly changing. A menu is constantly alive, so why should the wine list not be so as well?