Are you passionate about wine or an expert sommelier? Have you ever wondered what it must be like to work in a three-Michelin-star restaurant?
Vincenzo Donatiello, sommelier at Piazza Duomorestaurant in Alba, the three Michelin star restaurant led by Enrico Crippa at sixteenth place in the World's 50 Best Restaurants 2018 list, is the expert perfectly placed to respond.
We asked the sommelier how his passion for wine was born, how he arrived at Piazza Duomo as well as some advice for young people that dream of following in his footsteps:
Here's what he told us:
How did your journey into the world of wine begin?
It was clear to me that my path was in catering from an early age, but, as you can imagine, my first idea was to become a chef. Various circumstances then led me into hospitality, I think I knew I had a real vocation the first day that set I foot inside a restaurant. The transition into the world of wine took place when I was between 17 and 18 years old. At the time I was very surprised by the world of mixing, which satisfied me from the creative point of view, but the possibility of discovering what was hidden in a bottle, its evolution, the history that every wine brings with it, have meant that I slowly moved in that direction. The following year I won the title of Best Junior Sommelier in Italy, then there were other competitions and the arrival in high end restaurants.
When do you think the real "jump" was for you?
In 2009, and the year spent at La Frasca in Milano Marittima, at the time, a two Michelin starred restaurant. It was the first restaurant where I was able to deal with a top-notch menu, where I tasted legendary wines and I worked alongside Gianfranco Bolognesi, Roberto Gardini and Gabriele Casadio: people used to tasting the greatest wines in the world that guided me and helped me to grow in my role.
Can you tell us about how you arrived at the Piazza Duomo in Alba?
It was random because I never sent them my resume. On 14 November, 2012 Piazza Duomo reached its three Michelin star status and on the 27th of the same month I received the call that has virtually changed my life. I have Mauro Mattei to thank for that, my predecessor, who put my name forward as his successor at Piazza Duomo. And of course Enrico Crippa, along with the Ceretto family, who have consistently believed in me, so much so that he has also entrusted me with the restaurant management for the past four years.
What's it like working as a sommelier in one of the best restaurants in the world?
It is always stimulating or "challenging", as the British would say. You work with an international clientele daily, you have great opportunity for growth and to taste small and great oenological masterpieces from around the world. Of course, it's also a job with great responsibility because you have to be able to manage a significant budget and to do it at best you need to think like an "entrepreneur" without getting carried away with enthusiasm and buying everything instantly, but managing the resources available to you to create a cellar that's able to entice the most knowledgeable of guests, those with an affection for historical names and the ones that simply search for the label's coat of arms.
What do you think you have learned by working in a such a prestigious team?
Respect for people, both for the client and for those who work with you. Humanity and the touch for knowing how to manage clients from different cultures and social backgrounds.
How do you choose a good wine?
With your own taste: each of us finds fulfilment in a taste that meets our comfort zone. The secret is to have a couple of details in mind that can always help us in choosing or asking for advice from the sommelier. Personally, when I choose the new labels to be inserted in the wine list, I mainly go by feeling. I let myself be guided by the taste and by what that transmits to me. Let's say that I look for the "wow factor", the one that makes you jump out of your seat: many times I taste very good wines that don't give me this kind of feeling. My selection is oriented towards wines that have that extra factor, which makes you think of a certain combination.
What would you advise to those who want to follow in your footsteps and work in his field?
The advice is plentifold: it takes willpower, love for the nature of the job, curiosity, the will to never stop and to constantly be in search of new territories, study constantly, the ambition to get up, leave arrogance aside and always remain humble.