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Time to put sommeliers in the spotlight: Piero Sattanino

I was already very fortunate to put some wonderful sommeliers in the spotlight... but being able to interview a legend like Pierro Sattanino who became the 2nd ASI sommelier world champion in 1971, does something with a person :-) !!! It is to legends like Piero that the job as sommelier got much recognition in Europe and opened doors for many young people.

Already at young age Piero started working in his (grand) parents’ trattoria, where he step by step grew and developed his knowledge. He does still regret that he didn’t get much chances to work abroad, with exception of a few times where he worked in France in Evian Les Bains, in Lausanne Switzerland, in Brighton in the UK and on a ship during his military service. Athough back in those days I think that was already remarkable as travelling wasn’t as easy like it is today.

I would be a liar if I would say I didn’t like doing this interview… as I did. It was like travelling back in time or like watching an old black and white movie (something I love a lot) I know many of the answers he gave might seem like the most normal thing today, but in those days they were not. I'm sure it was a though period, but it also had lots glory... or at least that's how I imagine it.

As back in those days smartphones where not yet invented, not to many pictures exist anymore.

The only thing left to say is enjoy the trip back in time!!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I was born in Castelnuovo Don Bosco and I lived for over 40 year in Torino. So a (big) piece of my heart is and will always stay ‘Piemontese’, ... it won't surprise you that I say I give preference of working with this region :-). It is a region that just has everything Barolo, truffles and many many more beautiful things... Another region that has got lots of my attention the past 35 years is Liguria that I also like working with a lot. It is lesser known, but it definitely has some real beauties.

Barolo by vines to wine

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

HUMBELNESS in their work; SACRIFICES must be made (less time with family); CONSTANCY and doing his work as it should and according the rules of the art; STUDYING at all possible occasions: TRAVEL AND KNOWLEDGE (STAGE) are key elements and must be done as much as possible; POSSIBILITY to work in an environment where they encourage him to grow and is given the occasion to do organoleptic tasting and pairing food & wine.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued? Are there differences between now and when you started working?

Unfortunately still lots of restaurant owners don’t see the hiring of a professional sommelier as an added value, but rather as an unneeded expense. This makes that the job in under valued... but if you look at the restaurants that do hire a professional sommelier (HoReCa at all levels) you can clearly see that they give the guests a different experience and sell more wine (or drinks in general) and basically enlarges the profits made. Next to selling more a good sommelier also manages your cellar and won’t make you buy unnecessary wines or other beverages... so he saves money for the restaurant.

During the 70’s and 80’s this wasn’t any different. The only difference we have today is that today there are many more wine producers and producing countries with higher quality of wines and the vineyards... today it is very difficult to drink a bad wine!!!

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I can say that I was born in wine :-) In Piemonte at that time it was a tradition to have children of young age taste or have a sip of Bacchus’ nectar ‘Il VINO’: my grandparents and parents used to have a “piola” which is a trattoria/wine bar in the ‘suburbs’ of Torino (guests drank A LOT, and ate just a little bit) where in between the card games people used to drink lots of “BUTE STUPE “ (Bottles of wine from 1liter) accompanied by simple local dishes prepared by my Nonna Marietta... it was in this setting I grew up and spend most of my time until I graduated at the hotel management school G.Colombatto in Torino.

After this I continued working in restaurants and hotels all over Italy and abroad and even on board of the Motonave Michelangelo della Soc. Italiana Navigazione ... In 1969 I participated in the first ASI ‘Concours Mondiale’ in Brussels where I obtained 2nd place. 3 Years later in 1971 in the 2nd ASI ‘Moncours Mondiale’ in Milano I became World Champion :-) I never looked back... the passion is still there and more present then ever.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

I fell in love with the “art” of sommelier for the first time in 1967 when a delegation from Milano, consisting of mr Merola and legendary sommelier Jean Valenti (1° chef sommelier of the historic and even legendary restaurant Savini) came to Torino to present the Italian Sommelier Association. Me being a restaurant holder at that time (together with my parents) got invited to join the meeting they would have... the rest is history

Jean Valenti

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

Being a sommelier it is my job to pair wines from all over the world (with all of them with their own particularity) with food. Usually this is done by the instinct... The same goes for Beers (especially the artisan beers) that gives the consumer a very interesting emotion. Working with Sake for example or other distillate drinks is not as easy as they don’t always match with the regional Italian cuisine.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

Being Italian and above that from Piemonte and already living for 35 years in Liguria.... I would recommend both the regions

Piemonte with its vineyards exposed on the hills like in an ancient Roman Amphitheatre, whether they are at Monferrato or in Langhe, with some peculiarities in the province of Vercelli and Novara, as well as in the province of Turin with some vines growing in the rocks in the valleys of Piemonte. Piedmont Land of Big RED WINES with the peculiarities of delicious white wines, whether dry, parasites aromatic, very ....... niche!!!!

Liguaria from east to west is not a region of great/large wine production. It does have somewhat curious red, rose, white and dessert wines. The beautiful terraces near the sea or in between the olive trees, mimosas, aromatic grasses, cultivation of roses in open air. This is Liguria !!!!! Love at first sight :-)

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

I hope one day to get back to Canada (Ontario) where they produce the “ice wines”. This wine fascinates me... the tenacity of its grapes that fight and consolidate with frost, its wine-making process and special fermentation and the satisfaction when tasting the wine. Fingers crossed that I get that chance one day :-)

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

Back in the days I went to hotel management school teachers who didn’t teach literary and linguistic classes were actual professional people who were working as Maitre/directors/ Sommeliers/ Receptionists in hotels, restaurants, etc…so they would leave their day time job to teach technical/practice classes their craft with tips & tricks from what they experienced every day in their job to the students . I couldn’t imagine better teacher than the once that do the actual job!

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc…?

It would have been nice if in my time I could have done more internships in various ‘important/renowned’ restaurants/hotels all over the world and be able to participate and learn all about their wine cellars and visit the best wineries… but for this you need(ed) the time and the budget (that were very rare/ tight) and usually only through somebody you knew. If you wanted to get to know new products or just new info one had to go on a pilgrimage to vineyards… Today, thanks to the internet, specified magazines/books and various associations like the ASI, ASPI, etc…this all became much easier

Today the participants of the World Chamionship prepare themselves by studying many hours every day for years. How did you prepare yourself for the Championship in 1971?

Like I already mentioned in the previous questions, the only moment to practice was to go on pilgrimage to wine producers, American bars, discussing with friends who work as chefs/sommeliers in good restaurants; and basically spend less time with your family and at work. Not always easy back in our days

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