From a childhood in Spain's Ribera del Duero, where his grandparents owned a vineyard, to hospitality school in Barcelona and a stint in London, Rubén Sanz Ramiro's career in wine service finally landed him, in 2010, at Manhattan wine mecca Veritas, a gem-studded mega-cellar in the tony Flatiron District. At the Wine Spectator Grand Award winner, Ramiro opened big bottles for high rollers under the tutelage of head sommelier Tim Kopec, whom Ramiro credits as one of his most influential mentors. They managed a treasure chest of 100,000 bottles spanning 3,000 selections. "It was a vast collection that the restaurant had access to, which was extraordinary,” Ramiro recalls.
But Veritas closed its doors in 2013. When Ramiro’s wife, Elna, was offered a job in her native Sweden, Ramiro soon found that the hotel and restaurant PM & Vänner had an open position for head sommelier. It was—and remains—an unexpected wine wonderland in the fairly remote town of Växjö in the Swedish hinterlands, but one renowned for its cellar, which those in the know consider among the best in Europe.
Over his four years there, Ramiro, now 39, has led the restaurant to a 4,400-selection cellar of both famous labels and new discoveries—and a Grand Award of its own in 2017.
Ramiro spoke with assistant editor Samantha Falewée about his favorite wines of the moment and the inspiration Sweden's countryside can provide for food-and-wine pairing.
Wine Spectator: What is unique or challenging about managing such a large wine cellar in a relatively remote area?
Rubén Sanz Ramiro: Well, it gives you a lot of freedom. We are not competing with other restaurants around us, in the sense that we are not in a town such as New York City or London, or other places where you might have many other restaurants that are trying to do [something] similar, that you are compared to. I feel that we are in our own little world. We just have to focus on what is our philosophy and what are the fundamentals of what we’re doing, which is an exploration of our surroundings and the region we’re in, gastronomically speaking. And to portray in the best way possible the range of produce that nature gives us throughout the year, and the committed farmers that work in the area we’re in.
I’m working now from a place that gives you a little bit more serenity and more focus in the work that we are doing, which, I think, is very special.
WS: Speaking of farmers and produce, is there a dish or pairing that highlights the bounty of your adopted home region?
RSR: This time of year can offer us a really extraordinary couple of components: crayfish—very typical here in Sweden and of extraordinary quality—and also langoustine.
Let me give you an example of a langoustine that we’ve been doing recently, which is prepared in a very simple manner. It comes with carrots, elderflower and an emulsion of the langoustine. It’s a wonderful combination of sweet and salty flavors, floral elements, delicacy of flavors and aromas, and also great intensity.
I’ve been pairing that with a wine [from Alsace] that really brings the langoustine back to the sea, with a very saline, mineral structure. Also the wine has great intensity of aromas and flavors that pull [the dish] back to the forests of this region at this time of year. The forests at this moment are truly a wonderful harmony of flowers and perfumes and smells that are reflected in the dish.
The wine in particular is a grand cru Muscat from a vineyard in Alsace called Goldert and made by one of my favorite producers in the world, particularly when it comes to white wine. It's a famous estate in Alsace called Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. We’ve been playing with the 2013 vintage. It’s a bone-dry style of Muscat, very delicate, sublime acidity, crisp minerality and beautifully saline. In my opinion [it’s] one of the greatest expressions of Muscat one can find.
WS: What aspects of PM & Vänner's wine cellar have you focused on strengthening lately?
RSR: Of course, I came on board and there was already a fantastic classic wine list to work with. We have increased our selections of wines from Burgundy quite significantly in the last four years despite the fact that it was a very solid foundation. We have explored certain areas, for instance in Spain, that might have not been highlighted before, that I’m very interested to develop. Wines from the northwest of Spain, from Bierzo, to certain areas in Galicia such as Ribeira Sacra, Rías Baixas, Ribeiro or Monterey, where I believe today, along with better-known regions in Spain, are producing some of the most exciting wines.
We’ve been looking to areas in Piemonte, where there still are [wineries] not so well-known by the large majority of consumers—let’s say all the umbrella of Alto Piemonte wine. I’m talking about regions such as Gattinara or Bramaterra or Boca, Fara, Lessona and so forth.
We're also representing other regions of the Loire that might not have been as popular: Montlouis, Cheverny … We keep an eye on all upcoming regions.