Michael Pyrgos is the familiar face you may have seen around town while making the agonsising decision of what wine to match your meal. For the uninitiated, it’s always best just to leave it to Michael. He’s a Sommelier who has graced several of the Gold Coast’s finest dining establishments including The Fish House, Hellenika (Gold Coast), Fins, Videre at Royal Pines and Vanitas at Palazzo Versace.
In his wine career to date, Michael has also won 3 ‘glasses’ (the prestigious awards for a wine list, the equivalent of chef hats for food) as a sommelier in three different venues. Only the best wine lists in the country receive 3 glasses, so yeah, you could say Michael knows a thing or two about the delightful grape juice we all love. We caught up with Michael to give us the low-down on all things wine, but most importantly, how to match it to cheese….
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I moved from Cyprus to Australia in 2000, lived in Canberra for a while, then moved up to the Gold Coast in 2001 after a mate showed me photos and told me he was moving up. I knew then that the GC would be my new home.
What do you love most about living here?
The thing I love the most about living here is the laid-back lifestyle and of course, the weather.
Tell us about your career thus far?
I grew up from a young age in restaurants – being Greek, someone in the family always owns a restaurant! There was never a dull moment working in this industry from Greek taverns, to hotels, to fine dining restaurants, I have always had fun. The greatest part about a career in hospitality is that you learn something new everyday and you meet so many different people from all walks of life.
Tell us about the role of being a sommelier.
There was always wine on the table growing up and we were allowed to have a dash at lunchtime. I knew it as only white wine or red wine (never named by the grape). My wine journey started when I arrived here in Australia. I very quickly fell in love with the Canberra Riesling, Hunter Semillon and of course, the Barossa Shiraz. It was all about different varieties, vintages, terroir and labels. There was so much to learn about wine and the only way to learn was to drink the wine. I started buying wine each week from the bottle shops and every week it was a different grape and different area. It was educational and at the same time a lot of fun. I attended every tasting I could and loved listening to others talk about wine. My first Sommeliers role was at the Palazzo Versace Hotel. Their policy back then was that the Sommelier had to taste every bottle that was opened, as you would never serve anything you wouldn’t drink to a customer. I loved that policy…
What is it that intrigues you about the wine industry?
Good question. Years ago, it was all about putting well known, big name wines on a list and almost to try to include as many as possible, to make a list look “great”. Nowadays, things have changed for the better. Chefs are more involved and provide their input on wine lists, as there is nothing better than choosing the perfect wine to compliment and enhance an amazing dish, rather than just having a wine chosen purely for its name. This means that restaurant wine lists are much smaller however, a lot more interesting. Wine lists are also ever-evolving, for example ten years ago the organic wine selection would have been at the very end of the list, whereas now they’re much more popular and likely to be at the beginning of a list. How things change.
For the uneducated (us), what type of wines would you never buy a cheaper version of?
A common question I’m asked is what should I and what shouldn’t I be buying. My answer to this is ‘Drink what you like and like what you drink’. Everyone’s palate is different, as is everyone’s budget.
Thoughts on organic wines…
Organic wines are the way of the future. Don’t let the term ‘organic’ scare you though, especially when it comes to wine making. Wineries have adapted to sustainable farming methods which means they aren’t using artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides like they used to. Not only is this better for us as humans, it’s great for the environment, thus nowadays we are given a choice for organic, biodynamic, preservative-free and vegan friendly wines.
Are organic wines healthier?
The answer is yes.
Tell us how you would match wine to cheese?
Let’s keep things simple with this one.
These are a few basic wine and cheese rules, however it is important not to stress about getting the pairings exactly right, instead go with what you enjoy.
Let us in on a secret, what are your best wine and cheese matches?
Sweeter style wines work wonderfully with ‘stinky’ cheese. The sweetness in the wine helps balance the funk in the cheese and makes it taste creamier, so next time you are eating a washed-rind or blue-veined cheese, try a late harvest dessert wine or a port and enjoy the magic. These are my favourite cheese and wine matches.
Are there any other food additions I should add to my cheese platter that match with wine well?
There are so many additions that go well with cheese: fruit (fresh or dry), apples, pears, grapes, peaches, bread or crackers, olives, mustards, honey or jams, nuts and of course, cured meats. My favourites are fresh figs and honey – you can’t go wrong.
Tell us your favourites on the Coast…
Restaurant for dinner: Flavours on Charcoal
Bar or pub for a drink: Cambus Wallace
Café for breakfast: Blackboard
Coffee spot: The Lott
How does your weekend usually look: Sunday is usually a family day at home, a Cypriot BBQ, ouzo and a good bottle of wine is how we get through our day…