Sommelier of the Month - Andrea Briccarello

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Andrea Briccarello
  • Date of birth: 12th November 1977
  • Place of birth: Turin, Piedmont
  • Eye colour: Brown
  • Nationality: Italian

I was born in Piedmont, a land of very important wines (Barolo, Barbaresco) and since I was a kid, wines were always an important part of every day life. Moscato is one of the first wine memories I have about wine, since it was sweet and very low in alcohol (5%). The passion for food (my parents owned a butcher's shop) and wine drove me to join the catering school where I learned the art and skill of service. Wine courses were a regular activity here at school in combination with harvest and visit to producers. After 5 years of catering school I've decided to move to London to improve my English and my first job was at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. Here I used to cover the duties of the sommelier when he was off and I started to attend wine courses to learn the terminology.

After leaving the hotel I've decided to move to a restaurant and the choice fell upon the Lindsay House with Richard Corrigan , were I used to look after the eclectic European wine list. It was a great experience and soon after I joined the Stafford Hotel where with Gino Nardella MS, I've discovered the exotic taste of new world wines. Phelps, Henschke, Penfold are few of the names I've discovered over my time at the Stafford, where a 300 years old wine cellar, was the stage for unique wine tastings. My next job took me to Umu, a Japanese Michelin star restaurant where I discovered and studied about sake. Richard Corrigan asked me to be part of the opening team of Bentley's and Corrigan's Mayfair; here I was in charged of two very different wine lists and it's here that I perfected my wine skills and also where I met the most amazing producers in the world.

I was approached by the Galvin Brothers in the summer of 2009 to join the opening team at La Chapelle where I now look after the operation of 3 restaurants of the group.

La Chapelle Restuarant

La Chapelle is a Michelin star restaurant situated in a 1890 church with lots of original features and huge ceiling. Right next to it we have a bistro like place called Cafe a VIN, where we served very rustic European food. They are both very busy and with different personalities and character.

The wine lists are very different from each other and I look after them, with help of my trusted team. I also look after the Bistro in baker street, where we have a very traditional Parisian brasserie. Training is a key part of our day to day duty; here we taste wines along with food, teach about the different wine producing countries around the world and discovered together what kind of emotions wine can bring to us.

Andrea's wine and food pairings

The wine list in La Chapelle is mainly European with few gems from the around the world.

My favourite area has to be all the south part of France; from the Rhone to the Roussillon. Her the grapes of Carignan, Grenache, Tannat produces the most amazing wines in the world. Spicy meaty and rustic, they match very well the food at La Chapelle. On the other hand Italian wines they always have an important part in every wine list I worked with; the huge amount of native grapes like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Nerello Mascalese, just to name few, are a key part in offering a new experience to a guest's palate.

Andrea'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 probably became interested in wine when I went to visit a winery at school back in Italy; since then I was hooked and intrigued by the fact that such a simple fruit could make such an outstanding drink. When I first started in catering school I wanted to be a chef but after long thoughts I've decided to stick to service and wines. I really wanted to discover and learn how wines were such an important part of every day's life. My career really started over here in London where the love for wines were from all over the world really took off. Here I discovered all sort of wine producing countries and a great array of flavours and textures. I was lucky enough to work and meet so many great producers and mentors that thought me so much in life and in my professional career. It was at the Connaught that the real sparkle started; here we had such a collection of the finest wines in the world, that really inspired me to learn and know more.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
A great sommelier needs to have great attitude and be able to read and understand any customers. Ultimately needs to be a good seller and be knowledgeable. Passion and patience are key qualities but above all humility has to be for me the most important quality of them all.

Describe your typical day at work.
Every day I set target and goals in my head, together with duties and tastings that I need to reach before the end of the day. I meet my team in the morning and give tasks and challenges to every one of them. The wine list is a team effort so we taste and discuss wines all together as much as we can. We sample, along the waiting staff during the briefing wines by the glass together with food every day, to learn and discuss about wine and food matching. After the lunch service we tend to meet producers at least once a week from all over the world, since I consider it a key moment for every sommelier to come face to face with the producer and ask as many questions as possible on techniques, soil...

How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
Pricing is done with lots of thoughts; even tough we are in the city we still like to offer wines for everyone's pocket. When we approach a table is very important we asses first what customer's likes first then we suggest different wines with different prices. Wine should enhance the meal and the overall experience in a restaurant and not spoil it because of the price.

Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Customers are definitely more aware of what they like and not like to drink and they are much more willing to try new wine producing countries like India and Japan. Social media and the internet are making wines more accessible to everyone and reviews and websites are just a click away to anyone thirst for knowledge.

Who has been most influential in your career?
I had the pleasure to meet Gerard Basset at a conference with the AFWS back in my early days in London and at the time (still to this day) he was incredible to see how humble yet so knowledgeable a sommelier could be. Richard Weiss and Gino Nardella were definitely a great inspiration during my young career and hopefully I will be an inspirational figure to some young sommelier in the future.

Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
A good wine list should show the passion and flair of any sommelier; it should be easy to browse and indicate the philosophy of the restaurant (ie natural, biodynamic, eclectic...). I would always let the wine list do the talk for me and then my team will be at your side to assist you if any help or assistance is needed.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
We taste wines and food very often at Galvin's; it's a key part for my team to know about food as much as wine. Every time we organize dinners and tasting menus we sit down with chefs and members of my team to sample the food together with wines. It's only in this occasions we have time to perfect the fine art of matching. No matches are always perfect but we try to get as close as possible ; sometimes we try to adjust the dishes with the chefs, sometimes we need to change the wines, it's all about finding the perfect compromise.

How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
We taste our wines almost every day checking their stage in life (too young, too old, unbalanced...) and making sure that whatever we offer to a guest has our seal of approval. We don't carry on with a wine just because the previous vintage was good; every wine that enter the restaurant is tasted at least twice before it gets to the list.

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
We source wines in different ways; mostly when we travel abroad and from daily tastings attended by me and my team. Once any of my team finds some interesting wines, we sample it all together and we discuss if we can do it by the glass, if we can use it in any of our restaurants and ultimately how much we can charge for bottle. Sometimes when we receive producers at La Chapelle and we sample their wines, we can almost instantly see if the wine fit any of our lists, and introduce them to the guest right away.

Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
The by the glass selection is usually the most difficult section for me; it should follow the season, it should be value for money and show classic and unusual varieties.

What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
I honestly think "I have a spare drink at the end of the shift, to share with my team!"

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
That natural, biodynamic, organic they are not important as much as I thought! The best sign of a very good bottle of wine is an empty one!

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Carignan and Grenache Gris.

What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
For me is to inspire them on a every day to day base; I want the best from each one of my team and I want them to be as passionate and motivated as I am. A sommelier life is full of sacrifice and they need to be ready to face challenges and obstacles every day.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
An interesting one for me it has to be Oloroso sherry from Fernado de Castilla with the Pigeon tagine.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
Oysters and Moscato or duck and Maury (try to believe).

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
To get the best of me (and any of us Sommelier) is very simple; tell us what do you usually drink and be prepared to explore. We are there to help not to intimidate or scare guests. We are there to enhance your dining experience not to ruin it. Tell us what you are looking for and we'll do try our best to find it for you.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
My partner Sophia; we don't spend so much time together so she's on top of the list when it comes to share a bottle of wine. She's my best wine critic!!

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
My advice is always to organize a blind tasting sessions; everybody brings a bottle completely covered up and you can score each bottle up and vote for the best or if you feel up for a challenge try to guess where they are from and grape variety. You can have teams and themes to any event.

What's the one thing you love most about your job?
Travelling to visit the winemakers; is the perfect chance to see what's behind the bottle; you get to meet the families and share their passions and see for yourself how much effort, sweat and tears there's behind a great wine.

Where do you see your future career path?
I would love to be as inspirational as many people have been to me.


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