Sommelier of the Month - Giancarlo Cuccuru
- Name: Giancarlo Cuccuru
- Date of birth: 13th March 1982
- Place of birth: Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
- Eye colour: Brown
- Nationality: British/Italian
Wine was always something I was interested in. I was bought up in a fortuitous way, and was allowed to drink wine diluted with water from an early age. I started working in my parents restaurant from the age of 11 in one way or another, so the hospitality bug bit me early. I always loved speaking to customers, and seeing people enjoy themselves.
I did my intermediate WSET certificate while doing my degree in Business and Hospitality Management at Birmingham University. This kick started my passion for wines and I would later organise wine tasting events as part of my practical courses. I kept my interest of wines while working and later managing bars.
I went to the Lygon Arms in Broadway and became bar Manager there. At the time it had a Michelin star and an expansive wine list. The sommelier team were kind enough to let me taste lots of wine, and taught me how to appreciate fine wine. I was managing the Bar in the Park Plaza Hotel Cardiff, and looked after the wine listings for the hotel when the F & B manager moved on. This gave my first access to big wine tastings and getting to know some influential winemakers. While doing this I took my Advanced WSET. Afterwards I went to work in Sydney, starting at a Japanese restaurant, which aside from wine, had a large Sake list. I then went at Ash St cellar a popular Wine and Tapas bar with a great wine list. I enjoyed the Australians approach to wine. They seemed well informed but very open to suggestions.
When I came back to London I began as a sommelier at the Gilbert Scott Restaurant. I was later made Senior Sommelier and when Mark Cesareo was promoted to Restaurant Manager, I succeeded him as Head Sommelier.
The Gilbert Scott
The team at The Gilbert Scott is inspired by the unique, historical setting that the restaurant enjoys and a true passion for hospitality. Their menu pays respect to the heritage of this wondrous and intriguing space.
If you are dining, the decorative corridors lead you through into the arc-shaped grand restaurant to enjoy lunch or dinner any day of the week.
Entering through the revolving door on Euston Road, the bar welcomes you with a grand and awe-inspiring space designed originally by its namesake, Sir George Gilbert Scott. With an exciting bespoke cocktail list and English sparkling wine selection, the bar will entice and fulfil.
The menu has got some classic and old British recipes on the menu and we use the best quality ingredients to do simple food well. The wine list is organised in what I consider a New World way i.e. organised by variety as opposed to nationality. It is not a huge list, around 250 bins, so it is fun trying to give a representation of each particular variety and region but not just putting every good wine I taste on the list. We have a decent selection of English Sparkling wines also available by the glass. The wines by the glass selection offers some traditional choices, but we try to promote wines that people would not necessarily choose themselves, such as a Furmint from Slovenia.
We have a good selection of each variety and I always encourage guests to try something a little unfamiliar. We have an amazing Riesling from Washington state, a joint project between Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr. Loosen. One of my favourite whites, that offers great value for money, is a Lugana, from Ca dei Frati. It seems to go down well with people who want a dry wine, not oaky but with some body. In terms of reds, one of the biggest challenges is finding reasonably priced Burgundy that is drinking well. Some of my favourite wines at the moment are from the Ribera del Duero in Spain, lots of power with a definite elegance.
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 work in my parents Italian restaurant in the Cotswolds. Started doing the washing up when I was 11 and started on the floor at 15. I was always fascinated in the array of bottles in the wine rack and behind the bar, and would always ask questions and sneak a taste when I could! From there I worked in various places around the world (France, Italy, Austria, Canada and Australia) to gain experience and see the different approaches to the hospitality industry. I've just always loved the environment in a restaurant, meeting new people, working with wonderful characters and learning something new every day.
What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Understanding people. That way you can recommend wines they will enjoy and therefore enhance their experience at your establishment.
Describe your typical day at work.
Check emails first thing. Then check deliveries and invoices etc., I'll be on the floor during lunch service, and afterwards possibly meet suppliers and try some new wines. Hopefully get the chance to do some paperwork in the afternoon, before dinner service. Afterwards check stock, place orders if need be.
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
I think people have become slightly more price conscious in recent years. That said it is still possible to give excellent value for money, it has increased opportunity to sell wines from lesser known regions like the south of Italy.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
People are more exposed to wine now. A lot of people are very keen to try new things they may have heard of, but not had the opportunity to taste before. A lot of customers have their region of expertise. Some of them are happy to accept guidance based on that, others like to stick to what they know.
Who has been most influential in your career?
So many people have helped and continue to teach me. However my Mum and Dad however are the living embodiment of hospitality. Nothing was ever too much trouble and they know how to treat every customer with warmth and importance.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
It's very specific to the person. On the whole I like to let the guest know we are there if they would like some guidance or just a chat about wine.
When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
Changes on a daily basis. Of course there are some dishes where we match a dish with a specific wine for a extended period of time. But if I'm doing wine pairing on a Kitchen Table for example, I take into account is it Lunch or Dinner, What the weather is like outside and where possible I try to speak to the customer first to make choices I think they will enjoy the most.
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
I try a least a few of the wines on a daily basis. If there is something in particular I felt I haven't tried for a while, I'll go out of my way to sell it. I still have a competitive streak when it comes to selling.