Sommelier of the Month - Diego Muntoni

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Diego Muntoni
  • Date of birth: 12th April
  • Place of birth: Oristano, Italy
  • Eye colour: Paul Newman Blue
  • Nationality: Italian

My career in the world of drinks started at the age of 16 in a busy cocktail bar on Lake Garda in Northern Italy. It was an old IBA (International bartenders Association) book that really sparked my interest in the drink industry, and I wanted to know more and more about how drinks where made and spirits produced thereafter.

After three years working in Italy, I realised that to take my career to the next level, I would have to learn a second language, so I went to London in 1998 and have been here ever since! Over the past 14 years I have worked in many different styles of bars and restaurants, from Italian and Spanish through to Asian fusion and French, working in behind the bar and on the floor and a sommelier.

Upon joining Harvey Nichols in 2003 at the OXO Tower Bar, I started to work with a large wine list, and thus my knowledge in international wines really improved. At the time the wine list was around 700 bins, and I was the only bartender that knew the list almost by heart. In the summer of 2008, following five years working as a senior bartender, I left OXO for 2 years to look after my newborn Daughter.

In 2010, following a brief period running my own company in a different field, I was back in Hospitality. After a few months with the Soho house group as a chef the rang, I was back at OXO! This time as a Sommelier and more determined than ever to climb the ranks. Within one year I had taken the WSET Intermediate and Advanced Courses, achieving top grades in both, and winning a scholarship from Porters & Laker on my advanced study.

In April 2011 I was promoted to Assistant Head Sommelier at OXO, this time I was in charge of the wine list and staff training, in April 2012 I was promoted to head sommelier. I am currently focussing on increasing our wine selection, and my latest bin count was 1100 bins! Our latest accolade was to be awarded the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator.

The OXO Tower Restuarant, Bar & Brasserie

The OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie has been a best loved destination for people from all over the world since it opened in 1996. With its breathtaking views over central London and its unique position high above the River Thames, the OXO Tower's terrace has also become one of the most romantic spots in the city.

The OXO Tower Restaurant offers the ultimate fine dining experience. Head Chef Jeremy Bloor places emphasis on seasonality and locally sourced ingredients to create menus that have certainly stood the test of time. In addition, vegetarians and vegans can choose from a wide selection of dishes and the team will happily cater to any dietary requirements so that everyone can enjoy the OXO experience.

A serious wine list is expertly and skilfully guided through by Head Sommelier Diego Muntoni. Every month Diego features approximately 50 new wines, and there are always around 1200 presented on the list. Consider it a constantly evolving selection. As a Harvey Nichols restaurant, OXO is proud to feature 10 own label wines on the list as well.

The Restaurant seats 150 and is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.

Diego's wine and food pairings

Our food menus reflect seasonal and local produce. We have a list of around 1,100 wines, which is constantly evolving. We usually introduce around 30 new wines a week, many of these wines are from boutique wineries, and a large section is dedicated to fine wines, dessert wines and fortified wines. Since we are a Harvey Nichols owned restaurant, our range of house wine is very extensive, with more then 20 wines available at OXO from the Harvey Nichols range.

One of our sommeliers is always in the floor to help guests with the food matching; the only existing pairings on the menus are the ones with the desserts.

A highly popular matching is the grilled asparagus with Tymsboro pannacotta, fresh broad beans, chilli and mint with the fresh and complex Cape Point Isliedh Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon 2010 from Cape Point, South Africa.

Another wonderful pairing is the butternut squash soup, wild mushroom cannelloni and truffle with a glass of the creamy and complex Pouilly Fuisse, Les Crays, Eric Forest 2009 from Burgundy, France.

Chateaubriand is a favourite in the restaurant and it comes with an oxtail spring roll, gruyere mash, caramelized endive, watercress and red wine sauce. To add to the spectacle, one of our skilled waiters carves it tableside. A bottle of Ombrone, Cupano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese 2007 from Tuscany is a must with this dish.

We have a really interesting dessert called Waters of Life which pairs five special Glenmorangie Whiskies with five exquisite desserts exclusively created for each tipple. This tasting journey begins delicate and elegant and becomes beautifully rich as it progresses.

Diego's Q&A

Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
I started to work at some of my relatives' vineyards from a very young age. I remember a party after one of the harvests, and the smell from the fermenting grapes has stayed with me ever since.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Someone who is a listener, who can understand and translate customers taste and is able to give the best possible experience to the guest.

Describe your typical day at work.
No day is the same (that's why I like my job). I usually arrive at work at 15:00, reply to emails from buyers and suppliers, organise tastings for following weeks, check for wines that are running low and plan the rest of the day.

How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
It usually doesn't, but I always make sure that the customer gets great value and quality for whichever wine they choose.

Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Yes and no. I have many customers telling me that they attend wine tastings, and that they like to read about wine, while other customers note that they don't know much about wine but are happy to try anything. In general, I would say that customers are becoming more and more interested in and knowledgeable about wine.

Who has been most influential in your career?
I wouldn't know who to say, I have worked in this industry for so long that it would be unfair to give you a name rather than another, I have always tried to pick up different skills from different people.

Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
Firstly, I introduce myself and ask if they would like wine with their meal, at the same time I inform them that I'm there to help if they wish to be advised. I often try to approach the table again before the guest has made their final decision so that I can ensure they choose the best wine for to enhance their experience.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Texture and weight of the food, and acidity and body in the wine are the first things I look for. I feel that the most important thing is not to clash flavours but rather balance them.

How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
Every day we taste all the bottles before serving and my sommelier team is encouraged to share wines that we don't often open so we can build up on our knowledge and understand how the wines are developing.

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
I'm lucky enough to work for a great company who helps me with this process. We have a centralised buying team and a warehouse; I have the opportunity to choose from a database of around 2,500 wines. We organise suppliers' tastings twice a month, so if there is a wine I am interested in, I will ask the buyers to source it for me.

Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
We have a large selection of wines by the glass, you often have a table of two with one guest eating a light fish dish and the other enjoying a rich meat one, in this instance, the best choice is often wine by the glass.

What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
Yes!! Staff drinks!!... Just joking.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
We all know that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is big at the moment, but I have noticed a little more interest in Riesling recently, I have always a Riesling by the glass on my list and is one of the best sellers. You also see an increasing number of customers who are interested in 'unusual' blends. Over the summer, there was an increase in demand for English Sparkling Wine.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
In theory, if it is a dessert island, it will be very hot, so I would probably plant Shiraz and Chardonnay. Both are fairly easy to grow, so I would have enough time for sunbathing and drinking the wine.

What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
Tasting with suppliers and winemakers, tasting and more tasting! Competitions and incentives are also very effective.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
I am very open-minded, and I change my taste very often. Right now I'm into pork and Riesling.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
Dom Perignon vintage 2003 and soft yolk boiled egg with milk foam - don't ask!

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
I will do my best to please the guest whatever they ask for, but I love customers who are prepared to taste something different and they are open to different tastes and flavours.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
It depends. For pure pleasure, with my brother or best friend, alternatively to discuss about the wine, then with my fellow colleagues and sommeliers.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
There is plenty of wine tasting around, especially in London; also many independent wine shops offer wines to taste before you buy and will often have experienced staff to explain what you are drinking.

What's the one thing you love most about your job?
Wine! I also love the wine industry, and how professionals are connected.

Where do you see your future career path?
I am still studying and probably will never finish learning. My WSET diploma study is almost finished, and I am thinking of starting the Master Sommelier exams within a year. That's the next challenge!


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