Life Lessons with sommelier-to-the-stars Jan Konetzki

He’s been crowned the UK’s best sommelier, he’s worked in the best restaurants and now advises A-listers on wine. But what Jan Konetzki really wants to do is host his own chat show, eat seafood in Porto and do a bit of skinny-dipping in Scotland…

Words by Stuart Peskett

Sommelier Jan Konetzki holding a bottle of wine
Sommelier Jan Konetzki

Jan Konetzki asks a simple question: “Tell me who you are and I’ll tell you what to drink.” You wouldn’t bet against him getting it right, too, with a CV that includes three years as head sommelier at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, a four-time UK Sommelier of the Year, director of wine at a swanky private members’ club and consultant to private clients including David Beckham.

Born near Hamburg, Konetzki started out as an apprentice at the city’s Louis C Jacob hotel and restaurant. His progress was rapid, and within three years he was working as a sommelier for Gordon Ramsay in London – first at innovative small-plates restaurant Maze, then a stint at Claridge’s before becoming head sommelier at the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea.

Konetzki admits his secret talent is “knowing when to speak up and when to shut up” – always a handy skill for a sommelier – but the role isn’t just about smooth front-of-house performance; creating world-class wine lists is another key element. He’s pretty good at that, too, winning Wine List of the Year awards from some of the biggest names in the business.

In 2018, Konetzki founded the consultancy that bears his name, offering sommelier education and coaching, seminars and even PR and social media advice. He’s also Director of Wine at the Four Seasons Hotel London, including its Ten Trinity Square private members’ club, a partnership with the owners of Bordeaux’s Château Latour. Members can choose from more than 25 Latour vintages by the glass, and Konetzki hosts some seriously impressive vertical tastings for members, from renowned estates such as Burgundy’s Clos du Tart and the Rhône’s Château-Grillet.

Lockdown hasn’t curtailed him, either – he runs regular Instagram Live tastings (see below) where he shares his expertise, chats to followers and does the odd demo, and he also finds time to be an ambassador for Château Latour. “I’m  happiest on the move,” he says. “I love to go from project to project – seeing people in London, Paris, Berlin and Seoul. The change of atmosphere, cultures and life is what makes me happiest.”

Above: Konetzki keeping his Instagram followers happy during lockdown

What was your childhood ambition?
I had huge ambitions and so many plans, the most memorable of which was to become a cult leader and – being the only gay in the village (Lüneburg, near Hamburg in Germany) – to run away with the captain of the local football team (who had zero interest in me). Well, at least I managed to get out of the village…

What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you were 21?
That I shouldn’t drink my entire Clos Rougeard allocation in the 2000s. Note to 21-year-old me – don’t drink it all, keep half to sell!

Clos Rougeard: "Note to 21-year-old self... Don't drink it all – keep half to sell!"

What exercise do you do?
At the moment, it’s Vinyasa yoga and meditation – mainly to maintain my inner Zen during the multiple Zoom meetings and tastings every week.

What is the character trait you most wish you could change in yourself?
I don’t believe in changing, but more in learning to deal with the deck of cards you’ve been given. Working through your own challenges (with or without the help of others) is not easy, but I see it as a fruitful investment in myself.

What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought (aside from property)?
Most of my money goes into my lifestyle (wine, food, fashion, travel) and a personal trainer, energy healer or acting coach. The rest I invest in my company to improve my brand.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
The Isle of Skye. The natural beauty and rugged scenery is stunning, and there are plenty of beaches for nude wild swimming.

Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
If he could live anywhere, Konetzki would go to Scotland's Isle of Skye

If you could do any other job, what would it be and why?
I am a bit of a show pony, so I guess it would be a late-night show host.

What luxury item would you take with you to a desert island?
Being on a desert island would be my worst nightmare. All I want is to surround myself with people – to talk, eat, drink and dance around the fire.

What haven’t you yet achieved that you want to?
To be the first sommelier in space. Is Elon Musk reading this, by chance?

If you were king or queen of the world, what’s the first law you would enact?
This is such a serious question. Firstly, I would kick all the white, heterosexual, cisgender old men out of power. Then I would stop abusing my own privileges by abdicating as king, and introduce a democracy based on diversity and inclusion.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
I would keep it small, inviting just a few people who are into wine: rock singer Skin from Skunk Anansie, as no one argues with her; Jesus Christ, to perform party tricks like back at the wedding in Cana; the former javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread MBE, as she’s so kind and has some great life lessons to share; Yves Saint Laurent, because he had it all ; and Beyoncé, because she loves fine Cabernet Sauvignon and dancing – just like me.

Beyonce, Fatima Whitbread and Skin from Skunk Anansie
Jan Konetzki's fantasy dinner party guests include Beyonce, Fatima Whitbread and Skin from Skunk Anansie

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Château Grillet and saffron risotto. It is just a part of God’s greater plan!

What’s your secret talent?
Knowing when to speak up and when to shut up.

When were you happiest?
I am happiest on the move. I love to go from project to project – seeing people in London, Paris, Berlin and Seoul. The change of atmosphere, cultures and life is what makes me happiest.

Who do you most admire?
Monsieur Gustave H (played by Ralph Fiennes) in the film The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson. He is my spirit animal.

Monsieur Gustave H (played by Ralph Fiennes) in the film The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jan Konetzki admires Monsieur Gustave H (played by Ralph Fiennes) in the film The Grand Budapest Hotel

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Would you mind passing me the wine list again, please.”

What’s your greatest regret?
Never learning French. Considering my profession, and representing the wines of Château Latour & Artemis Domaines in two countries, it is surprising that I actually got away with it – or without it, rather.

What time do you go to bed?
When I get tired. I am a free man!

What album, boxset or podcast would you listen to on a night in alone on the sofa?
I love Stephen Fry’s Seven Deadly Sins podcast series. He pokes around in the human heart and mind, while examining the seven ‘great’ sins. Absolutely fabulous!

Stephen Fry’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins' podcast
Stephen Fry’s podcast is Konetzki's favourite thing to listen to

What’s your favourite thing in your wardrobe?  
To be honest, my wardrobe could easily dress a small village, but if I had to pick one piece it would be a pale golden bomber jacket embroidered  with Chinese cranes – it was handmade by a Chinese tailor and I bought it in Hunan.

Jan Konetzki
"My wardrobe could dress a small village"

What’s your favourite restaurant?
No question – a fish restaurant called O Gaveto in the Matosinhos district of Porto. Away from the tourist trail, it has remarkable seafood and an epic wine list. It’s just the perfect place.