Name: Raffaele Mastrovincenzo
At the moment: Australia
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
My first real encounter with wine was a lunch in a restaurant with my family at the age of 15; in this fancy restaurant a sommelier approached the table and was discussing with my father the beverage side of our lunch and let me try a drop of dessert wine from the Lipari Island in Sicily with a savory course. That day I understood wine and restaurant is a profession with creative element; before that day I always thought sweet wine was only for sweets. I always worked in hospitality in school holidays to raise money for my interests, but one year at the age of 18 I ended up working in a fine dining restaurant where there was the sommelier and the owner Giuseppe Cinalli the chef with a good passion in wine. In this restaurant I saw the importance of maintaining a cellar and I tasted my first burgundy, Bordeaux and the first R.M. small grower champagne.
Giuseppe Cinalli was a great mentor at that time; with his cooking skill I started to have an idea how wine works with food. He taught me the abc of the pairing; when a dish belongs to a particular region then the wine of that region will be complementary to that dish. These beginning lessons were fundamental to my back bone in this work; from that period I started to always think of wine as an ailment rather than just a simple drink.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
The humility is very important also a Sommelier need to think as an “enfant”, with the same enthusiasm and innocence that is to want to always discover new places as wine regions, vineyards and wine growers.. Thus spirit, cocktail etc… Currently working outside of Italy I admire lots of Sommelier; particularly I follow two French ladies which both work in UK and USA. They are Isabelle Legeron and Pascaline Lepeltier an MW and a MS; they are great.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
Be honest with yourself, stay humble and try to start to work somewhere in the wine business which you can follow and get information and tips on how to become a sommelier with a mentor. It would be so easy the first few years of the career to just break boxes of wine (unpack) and store in the cellar, be part in a wine program of a restaurant. In the meanwhile keep studying and inform yourself, most importantly take in mind “a good sommelier is also the best chef de rang so don’t put the food in a second way, actually the opposite” learn about the cuisine first.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
Advise the wine in regards to the meal they are going to consume; then without being rude find the price they want to spend. Always as a first recommendation, is the region or country where the restaurant is located, but of course if you are in a country where wine is produced. Tourist or locals like the connection with the place.
What’s your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
Glasses are definitely really important, they can change the perception of the wine; shape and dimension are fundamental. However don’t stick with the classic knowledge, for example champagne with the flute to me is the worst glass to drink it. Also I always look how the wine looks like, some producers make a Cabernet or Syrah in Pinot Esque way and perhaps my choice would be a Pinot glass. Riedel is the most I work with, good brand and quite resistant; Zalto is my preferred brand, but too expensive to work with; will put out of balance my cost in the beverages program.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Look for a contrast, example if the dish is focused on the perception of acidity don’t look for acidity in wine but go for roundness; if you have fat don’t try to go for a big fat wine, instead look for sharpness to clear the palate. Also don’t stick only with wine, go outside, the beverage side is enormous…sake, beer, spirit and why not cocktail.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
Yes, it is very important to make sure the guest will drink the wine in the right shape; it’s our duty to store it properly and serve it at the perfect condition. If anything is wrong in the bottle then not even a drop needs to hit the guests table, I’d change the bottle immediately.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine mark ups?
The keys are: Balance, heterogeneity, attitude and mostly important need to match the vibe and cuisine of the venue.
For balance I mean price point between everyday drinking and rare expensive bottle, also good balance with international and autochthonous grape varieties.
For heterogeneity don’t stick only with classic region look for the minority region and of course producers which are not benchmark. Attitude means the sommelier always needs to give a personality to the wine list, it’s very easy to be safe and follow the press or the well known stuff. Of course if you work in a steak restaurant you definitely need lots of wine with tannin, An Asian restaurant needs aromatic and off dry wine more than anything else… just to give a common example. The crazy price in some wine list to me means they don’t want to sell their wine or they’re having a very rich customer. It is very important to stay on the cost of good and satisfy the Key Performer indicator, but in the end it is mostly important to give the possibility to our guest to try something different and special in a reasonable price and also it’s fun to try to rotate the cellar as much as you can. So my tip “it is better to sell the wine than just leave there”.
The mark up need to be in balance with the business plan to cover the cost of wine service and give the right revenue to the restaurant. However wines with high landed unit cost can be marked up a bit less when referring to your normal business plan, for the fact you buy in limited quantity which I think will not affect your cost, but will make a great experience to your patrons.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Reading a lot, the web and wine magazines, research and study needs to be done every day; needs to be your passion before than a profession. Going to tastings, meet with your colleagues and sharing knowledge and taste wines together. Professional association help a lot, in my case be part of the Australian association Sommelier and also with the Italian association sommelier helps me grow immensely. I just sat the exam for Advance in Court Master Sommelier I didn’t get through but the time I spent to prepare myself got me really strong and confident for the next challenge and enrich my background.
How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what’s the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
Normally when I travel I taste lots of new wine, thus if a new vineyard tastes good I’ll list it; or perhaps I really believe in my wine distributor, most of the time they let me discover new vineyard sites. So to me the producer needs to make sure their wine is going in a good portfolio with professional people, who will do the job for him.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Nebbiolo I like his elegance, finesse, complexity and structure.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?
Barolo, Burgundy, Champagne
Desert Island wine Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux is elegant like a burgundy, complex as Barolo and is Mr Franc.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Decanter, Alquimie and Porthos respectively UK, Australia and Italy as magazine.
Guildofsomm, Thewinedoctor, Jimsloire, Lavinium are the online platform.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com