An Italian Roadtrip23 January 2022

Questions you Always Wanted to Ask an Italian Sommelier

In conversation with London-based Italian star sommelier Antonio Palmarini

It’s not every day that we get a good lesson on wine. But in these days of the global pandemic lockdowns, a lesson is more than worthwhile.

We reached out to Italian star sommelier Antonio Palmarini to ask him a few questions. Originally from the Abruzzo region in central Italy, Antonio is currently based in London where has been active in the wine industry since 2010, and where he currently works as Wine Buyer at the boutique Franklin’s Wine.

He has previously worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant Hakkasan, the Royal Thames Yacht Club, at Sushisamba, Skylon, and Gordon Ramsey’s Pétrus.

He was a semi-finalist in the UK “Best Sommelier Competition” in 2019 and is frequently a judge on wine competitions. He is especially popular on his Instagram account as a “Wine Doctor”, where he shares his personal wine reviews and recommendations.

Antonio is also the founder of Wine Tasting Awards 2021, the first regional Italian wine competition launched with the end goal of promoting the export of the best wines from the Abruzzo region to the UK.

Can you tell us a bit about how you became a sommelier?

I've been drinking Montepulciano and Trebbiano D’Abruzzo since I was a teenager. In 2007, I started to study wine from second-hand books. The person who really changed my vision of wine was my former French General Manager at Maison Ladurée in London, Jean-Claude Ali-Cherif. He taught me the key steps of the wine industry — how to describe wine, the flavors it has, the aromas, and how the palate can be actually used to detect body, acidity, alcohol, concentration, length. Since then, a huge world opened up for me and I started to study wine for the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust). I eventually quit the diploma at just one exam away to concentrate my energy on my own online projects.

Would you consider moving back to Italy, and if so, what do you see yourself doing here?

I did consider that many times — and I do really wish I could work in Italy, but the opportunities are not the same as here in the UK, so I think it's just not the right time for me to come back.
But if so, I would see myself as a wine expert, as a consultant for Horeca and for wineries. I would do what I have been doing here for years, improving the sales of wines and spirits, staff training for hospitality businesses, with the opportunity to become a consultant to wineries in order to improve their quality of their wine and their sales.

What would you say are the biggest differences between UK and Italy palettes?

In the UK, the palettes are becoming more and more sophisticated if you compare with years ago. Since I arrived in 2010 up until now there has been a massive positive change in quality for wine and food in particular.
In Italy, we think the UK palette is bad and actually, it was (I'm being bad sorry!) compared to our quality food and wine standards but nowadays with so many fine-dining restaurants around London, you can find high-quality food and wine from anywhere in the world. From South American top-quality restaurants to European and Asian to name a few, showing a much more open-minded approach than us Italians which we tend to eat just our beloved Italian food.
All it is reflected in wines. The English are much keener to try different stuff from all over the globe but generally speaking, for white wines, they tend to like very high refreshing acidic wines as Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire valley in France, or from Marlborough in New Zealand for instance. On the other hand, we may enjoy a more bland variety as Trebbiano or more aromatic as Traminer, and both of those are not working very well in the UK market.
When it comes red wines, they tend to like softer wines with much lower tannins. Malbec, Merlot, an elegant Bordeaux blends are their favorite whereas us Italians tend to choose more tannic and rustic wines like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese as much as the Montepulciano for instance.

What selection criteria do you base your decisions on when selecting wines for the stores you work for?

The criteria are many. Quality, for instance, is one, and it is vital but at the end of the day, I do nothing with it if I am not able to sell that quality wine. So in order to sell that when I buy wines I think about the market, I have around the shop, about the selling strategy I can use if my staff need training about it, with which wines it has conflict in price if the label is eye-catching and so on...

Now let's get some advice from you! Which Italian wine regions do you think are the most underrated?

Here in the UK, Abruzzo is definitely one of them to be underrated. The quality/price you get from this region is second to none, especially with the Montepulciano variety. It's a region that deserves more global attention and I believe Abruzzo needs more teamwork to drive better brand awareness. That's why I have launched the first regional wine competition of Italy, the WTA (Wine Tasting Awards) where the first edition starting guess where? Yes, in Abruzzo!

What would you like to do in order to help underrated wine regions? What's the help you can give and how would you achieve it?

I would like to help them with real commercial support but as you can understand it is difficult to help everyone that's why I come out with the WTA.
This would be a blind tasting of an only indigenous variety of the region and would be selected only the best white, red, and rosé. Once done that the winners would be sponsored here in London.
I have been working with wine in England since 2010 and a wine judge for the best wine competitions in the world since 2005 but all of them give easy medals without real results. My initiative differs from this, because I promise valid help to the competition winners here in London throughout my network. Over 25k followers throughout my social media plus 10 years in the wine English industry made me build a great network that would make my life much easier to introduce and spread awareness of the best wines of the Wine Tasting Awards.

What is an (Italian) pairing that might seem strange, but really works?

Pan-fried prawns with saffron and orange sauce with orange wines, like Radikon Sivi with 3/4 years of age, this Pinot Grigio shows an amazing orange blossom aroma mixed with bergamot along with dried apricot and fresh nectarine that match perfectly together....Honestly for me does not sound strange at all but for many does.

Let's put Italy aside. What would be your second favorite country for wine?

For quality and diversity, France but also Napa Valley in California is awesome if I have to pick a region only. I absolutely love French Pinot Noirs from Burgundy (Bourgogne) which are impossible to imitate abroad, thanks to the long history of quality making and the deep study on viticulture and winemaking starting back from 1100 AD they are now second to none on producing wines. This little region became the case study for every wine producer aiming to produce elegant fine wines.

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