Game, set, and match. Sommelier Martin Ho convinced me in three acts: The rosé vinified Nebbiolo Rosa Del Rosa (Proprietà Sperino), a grape variety which in Piedmont is usually used for full bodied Barolo, caught my attention. With its rich and complex overripe strawberry, mineral and herbal notes, this choice matched perfectly with the light «Carrot-Beetroot-Broccoli» starter. The Spanish red wine that was served next, made of Alicante grapes, is the result of a super small production of a Swedish individualist winemaker and triggered my curiosity.
It showed me that Martin Ho’s wine choices are no mainstream decisions. And, last but certainly not least, I was overwhelmed by the cider that was served with the cheese course. A surprising pairing that turned out to be just perfect. Not only unusual yet careful choices like that, but also the way Martin Ho explains the wines to the customers, convinced me. The restaurant Roseval is located in the authentic 20th arrondissement in 1 Rue d’Eupatoria. «I love this neighbourhood. It is less anonymous than many other areas in Paris. I see the same people every day and we greet each other!» says Ho smiling. Indeed, while sitting outside on the picturesque, simple and almost improvised terrace of Roseval and talking with Ho, he greets and waves at locals that pass by.
«My mum was an awful cook. Food at home was not really tasty and being modest, a very typical characteristic of Taiwanese, we rarely ate out» starts Martin on my question about how and why he became a sommelier. It was only at the age of 16, when he worked as a dishwasher in a Michelin starred restaurant, that he realised «food can be so good! » («Even just the staff meal tasted delicious to me»). This was his first encounter with good food. Years later, he worked as a cook in a small Italian wine bar in Copenhagen. «I turned out to be a quite bad chef. However, after work together with the manager Jos Kjer we usually drank a glass of wine. It was there that I discovered how interesting wine was to taste», explains Ho. Shortly after, the young Danish entered the wine business. Before coming to Paris in 2014 to work at Roseval together with the Italian chef Simone Tondo and manager Clément Boutreux, Martin Ho worked as sommelier in the prestigious Copenhagen Fiskebar.
Roseval, which takes its name from a French Potato variety, serves delicious dinner menus, prepared using only best local and seasonal produce. Martin discusses the menu with the chef and using his imagination, he chooses wines that match the food. I wanted to know how those pairings are created. «Besides the classical pairing possibilities of same food flavours with same wine flavours or working by contrasts, I like to add a flavour. This third way is however the most demanding and complex, but also the most inspiring approach to food and wine pairing.» explains Ho. He continues: «At Roseval, the food is in the focus, the wine steps back, also price-wise.» However, this does not mean that the restaurant’s wine cellar is not very well selected!
Not having a traditional formation of a wine academy, Martin Ho’s knowledge comes from his curiosity and positive attitude. «You have to be humble about wine. Everyday, there is something more you can learn. You need to keep a humble approach to this business. Keep yourself level-headed!» is his point of view. To keep the wine list unique and different from the rest of Parisian restaurant’s wine lists, Ho travels a lot, goes around to network with winemakers. Martin is convinced that «only by knowing the winemakers and how they work, I can better understand a wine.» This was beautifully shown with the Alicante wine, which -per se - is very special and peculiar, but being told the story about its origins, I started to understand and appreciate it.
«I only represent good people. I do not work with people I don’t like» is the young sommelier’s strict philosophy. That he knows his wines and who is behind them becomes clear when you see Ho during his work in the dining room of Roseval. He explains the wine, its origin, its flavours and why he chose it to serve with a certain course in a very nice and casual way, using a simple and easily comprehensible vocabulary. «Wine should be tasted emotionally and not too technically. I have to feel the people, their mood and the atmosphere. This changes continuously. I try to put myself in the shoes of our guests, try to understand them. I kindly push guests to try something new, but never push it too far. What I always attempt to do is to create an experience. Wine should never be seen in terms of money. It is all about sharing. When I visit winemakers they are happy to share, to see you smile. I want to give that same feeling of sharing to the guests.»
This philosophy of creating an experience, of sharing, came though also during our interview. Martin suddenly stood up to let me taste two wines. And with a nostalgic smile, he tells me about the producer Franz Strohmeier, about how he met that shy but extraordinary person that produced the Austrian rosé Trauben, Liebe und Zeit we were drinking. Then, tasting the Mâcon-Chaintré chardonnay white wine of Domaine Valette which was produced by a «cool family in very old school style», Martin starts talking more technically about the wine. But even when talking about the wine’s acidity and its slightly oxidised flavours, you feel Martin’s passion for that produce. His approach goes beyond naming the flavours, giving ranking points and seeing just the final end product wine. It is a holistic approach to this noble product, which means knowing the producer, having put your hands down and help in the production and knowing the terroir the grapes grew. Only knowing these backgrounds, you can represent a wine in a credible and deep way to really create an experience.
1 Rue d’Eupatoria