Ilkka Sirén is a beverage, food and travel communicator from Finland, who writes a regular wine column for Finland’s most popular food magazine Maku. Aimed at both consumers and professionals, his articles have also been published in world-renowned media outlets such as the BBC, Saveur and Eater.
Nominated for IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year 2018, judges particularly admired Sirén’s “simple yet passionate style of writing”.
Here he tells the IWSC about the highlights of his career, which winemaker has been his greatest influence - and about his most embarrassing moment with a bottle of Champagne.
How did you first become interested in wine?
I was living in Brazil as an exchange student when I was 17 years old. I traveled to Rio Grande do Sul and visited the Vale dos Vinhedos wine region. I had never really tasted wine before, and I visited a local winery and thought it was quite interesting. It was not love at first sight, but there was something about wine that was really fascinating. When I returned to Finland, I got all the books about wine I could find, and I was hooked.
How long have you been in the wine business?
I have been working with wine for ten years now.
Which is your favourite region and why?
This is a difficult and pretty much an impossible question to answer. I have a very adventurous palate, and I love to taste wines from all over the world. Regions like Bairrada (Portugal), Roussillon (France), Sicily (Italy) and Istria (Croatia) are some of the wine regions I love to return to over and over again.
Which winemaker do you most admire?
I would say Dirk Niepoort has been a significant influence. I did my first harvest in the Douro Valley back in 2008. I sent resumes to many wineries, but Niepoort was the only one crazy enough to take me in with zero experience. It was hard work, but I learned a lot. There was always a bunch of wines to taste, blind of course, and that gave me the confidence to talk about wine. It didn’t matter if you guessed the grape variety or region correctly, as long as you had an opinion about the wine.
What do you do to relax?
I love spending time with my kid, building Lego or playing Pokémon. I’m usually a Bulbasaur. Otherwise, I spend a good part of my year in the countryside enjoying the beautiful Finnish nature.
What’s been your greatest triumph?
In 2015, I received a great honour and was knighted by the Confraria do Vinho do Porto. My family was in Porto, one of my favorite cities, to celebrate the occasion. It was a great day.
And what’s your most embarrassing moment?
Ouch, this could potentially be a very long list. I have had plenty of embarrassing moments when it comes to opening a bottle of wine, sparkling wine in particular. People often think that because I work with wine, theatrically opening a wine bottle would somehow be super easy for me. It is not. This came apparent when I accidentally sprayed a bottle of bubbles across the wall, on the sofa and the guests at my wife’s 30th birthday party. There is still a big stain on the lampshade.
The IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year 2018 will be announced at the Vinitaly Gala Dinner on 14 April in Verona.