Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
My passion for wine grew when I started working in a fine dining Restaurant. My very first experience in Sardinia at La Gritta introduced me into this fantastic world. I remember I was a commis waiter at that time and I used to help the sommelier in restocking the fridges and in keeping the cellar tidy. When I came back to Rome I also had an experience in La Pergola at that time a two Michelin starred restaurant (now they have three stars) the Executive Chef is one of the greatest Chefs in the world - Heinz Beck. Having the opportunity to work alongside these professional people I felt I had to grow in my career in the most professional way and I found in wine what I really wanted to do in the future.
What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Passion is essential. I do not believe that anybody can succeed in a job if they are not passionate and love what they do. Amongst the many aspects that compose a Sommelier role I believe that geography is the most important asset to a Sommelier and should not be left out.
Describe your typical day at work.
I am based at Caravaggio, so every morning I go there early where I collect and check deliveries, organise meetings and tastings with suppliers. At lunch I work on the floor and after service I pop into the head office where I can reply to emails, organise customer wine tastings and any activities related to wines and spirits. In the evenings depending on how busy the other restaurants are and which customers are dining I will do a service in another restaurant depending on these factors. My days are long - usually a good 12 hours but I wouldn't have it any other way as I love what I do and think that it is important to devote as much time as you can to perfecting the role.
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
I must admit that lately customers are looking at counting their pennies. We are experiencing this especially in the City where most of our customers are from insurance firms or are bankers who recently saw their bonuses cut and they are not able to spend as much as they used to. But recession does not mean that people want to drink cheap wine, they are looking for the best value wines. When I rewrite the wine list I always put on the list a couple of gems that people are even happy to pay more for but at a reasonable price.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Wine is something that is becoming more and more fashionable. More and more people know and are getting closer to new wines and wine regions. In my opinion though this does not mean that they know about wine! Sometimes you find customers that want to impress their guests and they start talking about wine without a clue. Fortunately for me a lot of our customers do know their wine and like to enquire and further their knowledge by asking questions and listening when I discuss the wine they are sampling.
Who has been most influential in your career?
I have been lucky to meet a lot of professionals in my life. I think that special thanks should go to Daniele Cernilli, founder of Gambero Rosso (the most influential Italian wine guide in the world) and one of the most remarkable wine journalists. He is my mentor and is a real wine connoisseur in all aspects.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
It is essential to read the customer. It is the psychological aspect of our job that makes the difference when approaching the table. A welcome with a smile is a good start and from that you can already understand whether a customer wants advice or already knows what they want to drink.
When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Colour play which I think plays a significant role in the food and wine matching. I always teach my staff to let the colour guide them in choosing the wine to pair with food. This is the reason why I prefer good and structured white wine with white meat such as pork and veal. Then it always depends on how the food is cooked.
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
I do it quite frequently. It is important to taste the wines that we serve and especially when we get in a new vintage I always taste it with my staff.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
I participate in a lot of wine tastings. I travel at least three or four times a year for wine trips and I am always trying to keep myself up to date by reading and talking with others in the industry.
Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
Wines by the glass should be very versatile and they need to be able to match all kinds of food any restaurant serves.
What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
Not every day is a rainy day."
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc and Aussie Shiraz had had a big impact on the British market. As per the Italian wines I believe the trend is now moving towards indigenous grape variety.
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Nebbiolo and Chardonnay.
What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
If you are passionate, you are able to make your staff passionate, also wine tasting with the staff is the way to get them closer to the wine and understand it.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Blanc de Blanc 2003 Nyetimber with scallops wrapped in Parma ham. Simply fabulous!
And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
Vanilla marinated lobster tail and Australian Shiraz. To die for...
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
When I call a plumber I tell him where the problem is and I wait till he repairs it, I do not usually teach him how to do his job. That should be the approach with any professional. Tell me what you like and I'll tell you what to drink.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
Daniele Cernilli is the one that can turn a simple drink in an experience because of his knowledge and his passion when it comes down to wine.
How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Try to drink what you don't know. I always tell my customers to experience something different. Does anybody go to the Cinema and watch the same film twice? With friends it is very funny to organise a blind tasting. So you first taste the wine acknowledging what you are drinking and then cover the bottles with kitchen foil and try to remember which wine is which, and don't forget to drink responsibly!!!
What's the one thing you love most about your job?
Where do you see your future career path?
I would like to continue doing some wine writing and I would like to be able to travel more exploring new wine regions.