Sommelier and wine buyer Andrea Alonso is a native of Uruguay but spent 15 years in Argentina before settling in Spain where she now works for multinational wholesaler Makro.
What made you decide to start your career as a sommelier?
It wasn’t by choice but by necessity – I needed a job when I was 22 years old. I initially worked as a supervisor in a restaurant/bar in a 5-star hotel and I had no idea about wines. Over time I became passionate about being a sommelier and the world of wines.
How did you move from sommelierie to wine buying?
Being responsible for wines in the restaurant meant that I also had to source and assess new wines for the wine list, working closely with wineries. Buying wines and negotiating on price was part of my job as a sommelier so it was a natural progression to move in to a buying role.
Having the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits is, without doubt, something positive, not only in increasing your knowledge of wine, but also, having a wider perspective of wines from around the world.
What are the key differences in looking at wine from a buyer’s as opposed to sommelier’s perspective?
In a restaurant, a sommelier sells direct to the customer who will consume the wine. At Makro I am selling wines to the entire on-trade channel and I have to be much more commercial. I need to source wines that can cover the demands of customers in all types of catering - wines at all price and quality levels that can work for venues ranging from bars to Michelin starred restaurants. What is also very different is the volume of wine I am buying – I currently buy around 20 million bottles a year! But I still have the same objectives - to meet the needs of my customers and make the business profitable.
What are the main changes you have made since becoming wine buyer at Makro, Spain?
Since I started working at Makro, the main change I have made is the development of a range of own and exclusive label brands for the group, which has given us differentiation in the sector. From a personal perspective, I have had the opportunity to buy wines from all over the world at every price point.
What are the current wine trends in Spain and how do you manage to find quality at an affordable price?
Wine consumption in Spain is very regionalised. This is a plus for a wine buyer as it allows you to work with a wide range of DOs in your quest to buy the best value for money wines for each region. There is currently a great demand for organic and biodynamic wines as consumers are aware of their health benefits. On the other hand, the consumer is also looking for something new - attractive labels, wines with a history - that are easy to drink and affordable.
How has your WSET qualification helped you in your career development?
Having the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits* is, without doubt, something positive, not only in increasing your knowledge of wine, but also, having a wider perspective of wines from around the world. It is also an internationally accepted certification that provides a point of difference and supports you in your career development. I am looking to start studying for my WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines next year.
You have won some impressive awards. Tell us which ones you are most proud of?
Winning Spain’s ¨La Nariz de Oro” (“Golden Nose”) award, organised by Wine & Gastronomy magazine, in 2010 made a huge difference to my professional career. I went from being an anonymous sommelier to being more recognised and valued among my colleagues. Of the 400 sommeliers who entered the contest, there was only one winner. I am very proud of this achievement.
*Replaced with the Level 3 Award in Wines