Competition – Irina Gusinskaya

‘Food, wine and tourism expert under construction but still meticulous editor, enthusiastic publisher, accomplished blogger with 15 years’ experience in book publishing, Irina Gusinskaya in this photo is covered with red wine after the wine battle in Haro (La Rioja, Spain, 2018).’ This is her (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition

Before I start I need to make two confessions: first, I never thought I would find myself in the world of wine, and second, there was now epiphany, it has been a long and continuous process. 

A bookworm since I learned to read, I was pretty determined to work with books: I graduated from Moscow University of Printing Arts and have been happily working as an editor ever since. But on the verge of turning 30 something happened. With all that sanctions imposed by the Russian government that led to disappearance of the imported cheeses and ham etc., I suddenly realized that good gastronomy is the basis of my existence. I became overwhelmingly attracted by the world of food. I started reading and watching all those TV shows and then discovered the existence of the food tourism and even a special Master in Basque Culinary Centre. By that time, I visited about 40 countries and I was definitely a food-driven tourist. I never missed an option to enjoy local gastronomy and always considered it a window in the country’s culture. But the wine at that time played a supporting role in my life. It was ever present but as in the early post-Soviet Russia the majority of wine sold was law-quality semi-sweet and I had few to none true wine lovers in my social circle, I just tried all that I could find hoping to get a glimpse into this mysterious world that seemed extremely sophisticated and snobbish for me.

In 2016 I matriculated and moved to Spain, and a whole new era began: the gastronomical culture of this country is mind-blowing, and the wine is an integral part of it. I had been to other countries where wine is also deeply rooted in everyday life – like Armenia, Georgia, Portugal, France, Hungary, even Moldova, – but always like a tourist. Living among the people who do not imagine a lunch without a good glass of wine changed my perception completely.

During the Master we were always told that food tourism is the little brother of wine tourism, and one day we had a trip to La Rioja Alavesa, to the town of Laguardia. I was impressed by the numerous wineries and all this incredible energy of the place and all those dedicated winemakers whose families have been living there for generation, – that the wine started occupying each time more space in my brain.

And then Bordeaux happened. With its’ Cité du Vin – and sauterne served in the bar there. It was not a fancy old vintage, actually I do not even remember the winery, and I did not take a photo of the bottle as I was overwhelmed by the taste. It was divine – honeyed apricots, caramel, toasted spices and beautiful acidity. It had a universe of the taste shades that left me speechless.

I wrote my diploma paper about gastrodiplomacy (simplifying: how destinations can build and improve their brand using as a base local gastronomy), and the topic of wine seemed haunting me, as it is inseparable from the food. One day I heard that there is a sommelier course in Madrid Chamber of Commerce, almost impossible to enter due to the high competition and strict entry requirements, and that was it – I understood that all resistance is vain and I need to embrace the fact that the wine is calling me. I got all the necessary recommendations, wrote a motivational letter – and they accepted me! That was an intense and extremely delicious year, with everyday tastings, winery visits and terrific people.

I finished the course this June with the highest notes, and now I plan to engage myself with this fascinating world as a wine journalist and wine educator, – and continue studying of course. The wine helped me to develop my taste – not only to itself, but to the life in general. I believe that the more I taste, the better I get as a person, more delicate and understanding. It is a continuous journey in search for perfection, and I am sure my mission is to involve in it more people.

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