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Sommelier of the year 2010: Kjell Ove Almeland, Jackson’s, Perth

Jackson’s has always been the kind of restaurant where minor miracles of the edible kind occurred, but the wine list sometimes felt like a bit of an also-ran in the presence of chef/owner Neal Jackson’s perennially quirky fare.

Enter Kjell Ove Almeland, a flamboyant Norwegian with a patois so chunky you could carve it. (His first name, if you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing it from the man himself, is pronounced “shell-oover”.) Almeland and his partner left Norway in late 2004. “We were ready for a change,” says the former restaurateur. “It was a toss-up between London and Western Australia. The sunshine won.”

After brief stints at Star Anise and Must Winebar, Almeland landed his dream job in 2006, managing Neal Jackson’s acclaimed Highgate fine-diner. “I liked him immediately,” says Jackson. “He’s this big teddy bear of a man, full of ideas and enthusiasm. We work very well together.”

Jackson is the first to admit that Almeland’s loved-up wine list, full of rare finds and aged wines from around the globe, has taken dining at Jackson’s to a whole new level. “With Kjell Ove’s guidance, there’s been a strong renewed focus on the wine side of things. I’m working with wines I’ve never heard of, coming up with food matches for these wonderful, unusual, rare wines. Creatively, it’s very exciting.”

Not that you need to be a moneyed connoisseur to appreciate Almeland’s wine savvy. “One of Kjell Ove’s strengths is his ability to engage with customers at all levels,” says Jackson. “He can pick the folk who want his influence and those that don’t. He’s no dictator.”

Almeland clearly relishes seeking out quirky wines from small producers and says he makes a point of stocking wines with a decent amount of age on them. “I’ve learned it’s not enough to wait for the wine reps to come to you. You have to be willing to ask around, chase a bit, put in some hard work to source the more unusual stuff. I’m up for the challenge.” And Almeland’s own favourite wine style? “Pretty much anything from the Côte-Rôtie. I love that shiraz-viognier thing.”

Jackson’s, 483 Beaufort St, Highgate, WA, (08) 9328 1177

WORDS JANE CORNES PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL CHESTNUTT

This article is from the September 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

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