Paz, the sole female sommelier of a three-star in France, has been blessing the Pic group with her extraordinary nose and palate since March 2018.
From words to wine. Born 41 years ago in Bariloche, Patagonia, Paz Levinson had planned to teach literature. By happenstance, she was introduced to the trade of sommellerie (ah, those student jobs!) in Buenos Aires, working for five years at Restó with María Barrutia. This mentor, a friend of French chef Michel Bras, founded CAVE, Centro Argentino de Vinos y Espirituosas, one of the best Argentina’s sommellerie school, where Paz held a teaching position.
But Argentina and books quickly seemed too dry to this prodigy thirsting to explore, and Paz put teaching on hold to hold a string of sommelier positions. In the United States with Rajat Parr. In England with Gérard Basset (Best Sommelier of the World in 2010). In Sweden with Rubén Sanz Ramiro. In Canada with Véronique Rivest. And the exponential ascension continued: best sommelière in her country in 2010 and 2014, best sommelière in the Americas in 2015, and fourth place in the 2016 Best Sommelier of the World competition (and she’s not done yet, as there’s always 2022; in the meantime, she’s focusing more on her personal life). This globetrotting sommelière travels incessantly to find remarkable wines. She lived in Shanghai for six months in 2013 “to learn about tea and understand Chinese society.” Then set her sights on Paris “to learn another language and by cultural affinity: Paris is a Latin city – it reminds me of Buenos Aires. A number of Latin writers lived here, like Julio Cortázar,” she tells us in the dining rooms of La Dame de Pic. And Paris is where she decided to settle with her husband, after five years of skipping from one time zone to another.
The search for truth
Her wine-waiting career in France began at Épicure, Le Bristol’s three-star restaurant, with Chef Sommelier Marco Pelletier. Then she landed at the one-star Virtus to work with Chiho Kanzaki and Argentinean Marcelo Di Giacomo: “It was exciting. We had to come up with everything, create everything.” In July 2017, she met Anne-Sophie Pic, the celebrated chef committed to a strong female presence on her staff (a management committee with a majority of women and everywhere else) and as passionate as Paz about the subtleties of accords: “We focus a great deal on finding food-and-wine pairings by exploring paths long neglected by overabundance of caution. We like adding foreign wines to our wine list, unusual and, above all, organic ones, favoring biodynamics, along with natural wines. I adore everything about the world of wine, especially the people behind the labels, not the stories crafted by marketing departments.”
In the Pic group, Paz Levinson also prioritizes her relationship with her staff (20 sommeliers, both men and women), even more than the contents of the cellars. She is powerfully driven by a desire to learn and explore, to travel to do so, to study and share, to offer guidance on a daily basis, be it tableside or in master classes or as a consultant for Argentinean appellations and companies. And what’s surprising is that this eminent sommelière is fascinated by the world and ways of all liquids: the souls of spirits and sake, the intricacy of cocktails, the acidity of vinegars, the complexity of olive oils, the flavors of Belgian beers, and even non-alcoholic beverages like coffee and tea. Her taste buds, brains, and passport are attracted to everything: “Like water – it’s marvelous! It’s the wellspring, the origins,” she exclaims. Among Ms. Levinson’s favorite French wines are the deep reds of Cornas, the region’s potent Syrahs that start rustic to become so refined after ten or fifteen years, and the Vouvray and Savennières whites, at once dry and sweet. Curiosity, humility, discipline, sensitivity, respect – that’s the Paz cocktail, the blend behind the well-rounded sommelière.