Exclusive interview with top Dutch sommelier, Koen van der Plas

Published: 08/09/2017
Author: Anja Bekker, Marketing Manager
  • BLOG-IMAGE_03-590px-WIDTH

Exclusive interview with top Dutch sommelier, Koen van der Plas

Published: 08/09/2017
Author: Anja Bekker, Marketing Manager

In this interview we chat to top Dutch sommelier, Koen van der Plas, better known as the head sommelier of Inter Scaldes, a two star Michelin restaurant in the Netherlands. In this article, Koen shares his passion for travelling, South African wines, exceptional food and wine pairings and his plans for the future with us.

Koen, thank you for visiting our home, De Toren, during your recent trip to South Africa. We loved sharing our wines with you and also what we do on a daily basis here on the farm. It is great for us to get to know you a bit better – thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule.

Tell us a bit more about yourself and your life in the Netherlands?

My name is Koen van der Plas and I’m the Head Sommelier of Restaurant Inter Scaldes in the Netherlands. We are a fine dining restaurant, awarded with two Michelin stars, and are located in the south of our country, close to Antwerp. As sommelier of one of the finest restaurants in our country, I think I can say that I’m always working… The hunt for new wines goes on and on – it never stops.

In my private time you will find me mostly in a restaurant, among colleagues or at wine tastings. It is very interesting to know what other colleagues do, how they build up their wine lists, which choices they make regarding wine, compared to my decisions. So I think I can say I really turned my hobby into a profession.

A few years back, you were awarded the honorary title of ‘Talented Sommelier Gault Millau 2014’. This is an astounding achievement - what did this mean to you and for your career?

It was great winning that award, especially because I was only 22 at the time! The Gault Millau Guide is a counterpart to the Michelin Guide. It is mostly read by people working in gastronomy, so it meant a lot to me. Even if somebody doubted my capability at the time, that award changed those opinions, as suddenly the telephone was ringing. Everybody wanted to sell some bottles to our restaurant and today they still do. It helped a lot, as my name was suddenly known in the industry.

BUT, in my opinion you should look at winning awards such as this one, as a bonus. It’s just proof that you are doing a good job in the restaurant. For me there’s nothing better than to see how guests enjoy their food and wine, and the combination – that’s the true reward.

Tell us a bit more about your journey into the world of wine and how that crossed paths with the wine industry?

It actually all started when I was 15 years old; my father wanted me to get a job. The options were either working in a supermarket or to do some dishwashing in a restaurant. Guess what I chose! The owners of that restaurant had a lot of experience with wine and that’s where I got dragged into it. I remember the first wine I tasted!  At that time the legal drinking age was 16(!), luckily they changed it to 18 nowadays.

Following this, I started studying at a Hotel Management School, where they quickly found out that I had huge interest in wine. They gave me some more space to focus on this subject. At school we had to assist at big wine fairs, where I got the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people from the wine industry. I had a good connection with some of them and they took me along on their great journeys in the wine industry.

At this wine fair, I was sitting at a private table behind the scenes with wine writers. They allowed me to taste many different vintages of Château Mouton-Rothschild before their tasting even started. I couldn’t believe my luck. They gave me one piece of advice whilst tasting - “don’t say anything, just shut your mouth and taste”. This moment I knew I wanted to have a career in the wine business.

You travel quite regularly and must see the most remarkable places. Which country is on your list to visit again in the near future?

My girlfriend Sofie and I travel as much as we can, last year we went to Spain, Dubai and Hong Kong for example. January we did a long trip through South Africa and I look forward to see where the coming months will take us. We are young, so now is the time to feel free!

My first visit to South Africa was in 2009 and I really loved it! I had such warm feeling towards the country from my very first visit, so I simply had to show Sofie! Usually a second time to a country isn’t as good and special as the first time, but South Africa is the exception! She loved it and I loved it all over again! After this trip we both said, if we could work in South Africa one day, we would do it, without a doubt!

When you dine out, what do you look for on a wine list of a restaurant?

That will have to be diversity… A good focus in the classical world as well as in the new world. My wine list at the restaurant for example, is largely Burgundy’s whites and reds, but there is enough to find outside of that… The reason for the skew towards Burgundy is the preference of our restaurant’s clientele. After that comes Spain and third will be South Africa!

How did you come to know of De Toren’s wines?

As I love South Africa and its wines, and our restaurant only demands the best, it was actually an easy match. The wines of De Toren show a lot of character without being too much of a New World style. With experience I can say, a lot of classic Bordeaux drinkers are very surprised by the De Toren wines.

I first tasted the wines in our restaurant, even though I have been at Inter Scaldes for 5 years now, the De Toren wines were there before I even started working there. I also had the opportunity to taste the entire range and different vintages of it, at a wine fair in Holland.

What is your favourite De Toren wine and why?

When I visited De Toren in January, I again tasted the whole range of De Toren wines. A positive fact in my opinion is that De Toren focuses just on a few different wines and not like twenty different ones. I think it’s a good way to keep on track and remain focussed on what you are best at.

During this tasting, I also tasted Fusion V 2001 vintage, which was quite an experience. I haven’t had the opportunity before to taste a De Toren Fusion V that was that evolved yet. And what a condition it had! Also considering the winery have not produced as many vintages yet compared to nowadays. The 2001 had a ripe nose with a lot of earthy notes and very noticeable evolution. It was very soft in taste, with tones of dried plums and blackberries and also bay leaf and juniper berry. The earthiness, vegetation and ripe spices set the tone - a beautifully developed wine. I only wish there were many more bottles left!

What are your thoughts on South African wines, having visited South Africa quite recently?

I am a big fan of South African wines myself. I love the diversity within grape varieties and the styles of winemaking. It actually is a very diverse country with light and fresh wines as well as heavy and severe wines meant for ageing. It’s a wine country on its own and we should look at it like that more often. In my opinion we, wine connoisseurs, always want to compare every region with another region. Why is this necessary? Can’t we look at a region being an individual with individual wines?

In your opinion, what are the things that one should consider when selecting a South African wine?

Like in every wine region in the world, there are a lot of custom made wines and also commercially made wines. Sometimes the line between them is very thin. Look for originality and purity in every wine you select. A key feature in a wine for me is the acidity, whether it’s light and crisp or thick and heavy - acidity brings life and tension in wine. Without it I will never be able to enjoy a wine.

You are currently working on completing the Master Sommelier diploma, the ultimate qualification in this profession – where to next from here?

I force myself to finish something once I have started it. So that also counts for the Master Sommelier diploma. Today there are 236 people who mastered the exam in 40 years’ time. I still need some more years to get there, but number 250 in the world sounds like a good number to me!

It seems you are a man with a vision and big dreams, what does the future hold for a top sommelier like yourself? 

As we already discussed, the world isn’t that big anymore. You hop on an airplane and within 24 hours you are on the other side of the world. So where I will be in ten years? I actually don’t know yet, to be honest. What I do know is that wine is running through my veins and as long as I am able to keep working in that niche market, I will be happy.

We are honoured that you work with the De Toren wines on a very regular basis and we look forward to visiting you at the restaurant again in the near future, Koen.

In light of Koen’s love for South African wines and the De Toren wine range, we share a glimpse of our beloved clients’ thoughts on our range of wines… Click here to read more.

To browse through our collection of De Toren wines, visit our online cellar here.

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In this interview we chat to top Dutch sommelier, Koen van der Plas, better known as the head sommelier of Inter Scaldes, a two star Michelin restaurant in the Netherlands. In this article, Koen shares his passion for travelling, South African wines, exceptional food and wine pairings and his...

South Africa's 2015 vintage of magnitude

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It is beyond any doubt that South Africa yielded a particularly reputable 2015 harvest. The 2015 vintage hails one of the most sensational, if not the greatest vintages yet. A vintage with a reputation that precedes it, destined to deliver some of the most exceptional wines yet. The wines from...

Winemaker Charles, on the protection of our biggest asset

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At De Toren Private Cellar, we pride ourselves on meticulous attention to detail, every step of the way. In this article, Charles shares his approach to protecting the integrity of the vineyards to ensure its long-term sustainability, quality and style of wine. As producers of premium and...

Pretoria, the first to taste the potential De Toren Z 2016 blends...

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A firm favourite for more than 20 years, situated in the heart of Pretoria, the newly opened Forti Grill & Bar was an absolute must for our first, annual De Toren Z Blend Tasting. The travel across Johannesburg to Pretoria, was well worth it, as the 9 blends on tasting was each...

A phenomenal venue & the 1st De Toren Fusion V 2016 Blend Tasting

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The Silo, a magical space towering above the V&A Waterfront with a 360˚ degree view! Surrounded by the natural wonder of South Africa’s Mother City, we hosted the very first De Toren Fusion V 2016 Vintage Blend Tasting at the spectacular Silo Hotel. It was an outstanding day,...

Panoramic views for the 2nd De Toren Fusion V 2016 Blend Tasting

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A day of appreciating the picturesque view and the signature experience of tapas for two at the renowned Chef’s Warehouse at Beau Constantia was an absolute delight. This, together with the enjoyment of an incredible selection of older De Toren Fusion V vintages, most definitely made...

De Toren Z 2016 Vintage Blend Tasting in the heart of the historic St James in London

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A private members’ club like no other, founded by wine lovers, for wine lovers. A home for the finest wines in the world, including the De Toren wines . It was only fitting to host the De Toren Z 2016 Blend Tastings here, in the classically elegant Lutyens Room, a private dining...

Available For Your Enjoyment Around The World

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In every quarterly newsletter we share stories and photos of restaurants and sommeliers from around the world with you. By now you might know that De Toren is available around the globe, but the question is, where exactly and how do you gain access to it. We thought it best to give you as much of...

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De Toren has always believed in making wine for the enjoyment and appreciation thereof, especially for the pleasure of our valued clients. Our aim is thus to always to stay true to our philosophy of Exclusive Craftsmanship, in everything we do; from the work we do in our vineyards right through...

Winemaker, Charles, reminisces over the recent 2017 harvest

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As I am writing this 2017 harvest report, my assistant winemaker, Martin, is gently pressing the very last vessel of our Petit Verdot. Harvest 2017 is officially concluded! I always find myself somewhat reminiscent on days like these, emotions similar to enjoying a great glass of wine with best...

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Not only is this one of the most frequently asked questions we get in the tasting room or via social media platforms, but this is also one of the top 10 most frequently asked questions about wine, according to Google… In this article, our Cellar Master, Albie Koch, better known to most as...

Exclusive interview with Top South African Sommelier, Tinashe Nyamudoka...

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Better known as The Wine Whisperer ,  one of South Africa’s finest sommeliers and sommelier for the top South African restaurant, the Test Kitchen … Tinashe Nyamudoka, chats to De Toren about where his career started, his absolute favourite things about his job and what the...

De Toren raises R800 000 for charity

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An annual highlight on the social calendar, an event regarded as one of the most extraordinary wine events internationally, an astounding celebration of South African wines - The Cape Wine Auction 2017 was all that and so much more... This is an annual event where the elite, from around the...

Winemaker, Charles Williams, on the 2017 vintage...

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The past few years have delivered exceptional vintages, leaving one hopefully wondering, if, with the right planning, experience and expertise, the next one can exceed the results of the preceding vintages. The vintage of 2017 commenced with the successful and gradual bud breaking during...

Belgium Sommelier, Luk de Rooze, on where it all started...

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During his most recent trip to South Africa, we were fortunate enough meet with Luk de Rooze, the youngest sommelier to ever be bestowed the honorary title as 'Belgium's Best Sommelier', at De Toren. In this interview, he shares his passion for fine wine, especially South African wine, with us....

The 2015 vintage of South Africa's Top Luxury Wine, Book XVII

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When real dedication, skill and immense knowledge meet meticulous attention to detail and intense passion, the outcome is bound to be remarkable. The renowned Book XVII is the result of our winemaking team's continuous quest for perfection and the extraordinary, soon-to-be-launched 2015 vintage...

Balance, complexity, elegance and structure - what does it all mean?

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The world of wine is easily cluttered with lingo and terminology that complicates, confuse and distracts from the wine itself. Words such as balance, complexity, structure and elegance are commonly used, without further explanation or consideration. We are frequently asked about the use of these...

One of Brugge's hidden treasures...

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A trip to Brugges in Belgium simply requires a visit to the famous wine shop and wine bar, Blend , partly owned by sommelier Luk de Rooze ( read more here on our interview with Luk ). The concept behind Blend , is to give the people of Belgium and the tourists of course, the...

An infectious passion for people, food and wine...

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Another must-see in Belgium is Brasserie Grand Cru , a restaurant that shows true passion for wine and exciting culinary creations to accompany the great selection of fine wines. This is evident in the spectacular menu and wine list, offering a variety tailored to each and every occasion or...

At home with Belgium's wine master...

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The last stop of our winemaker, Charles's European trip was a fantastic day at Hans Fonck's wine shop, named Het Huis van De Wijnmeester . Hans is known as the wine master in Belgium and is a proud ambassador of South African wines, including the De Toren wine range . His wine shop is...

A Zambian piece of paradise...

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Planning that next holiday? What better place to consider than one of Zambia's most luxurious lodges? The Royal Chundu , winner of the 'World Travel Awards' for 6 consecutive years, a mere 30 kilometres from the magnificent Victoria Falls, definitely deserves a place on that bucket list....

A summary of the annual ratings

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As we near the end of a great year and prepare for a new one with fantastic prospects, one tends to look back and recapitulate the past 365 days and evaluate not-so-good and more importantly the good. For De Toren, those highlights certainly include the appreciation of our wines by our valued...



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