Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Andrea Martinisi

Our next top sommelier is a italo-kiwi or whatever they would call a Italian in New-Zealand :-)

Born and raised in Umbria, Andrea started his working career, after graduating at the I.P.S.I.A. Cavour Marconi High School, at the Umbrian luxury resort Borgobrufa. Although at that time as a regular waiter (chef de rang actually), but soon enough Andrea noticed be want more and aimed higher. He want to climb up the ladder and explore the world, with as first stop the 3 Michelin awarded restaurant Rosa Alpina in Süd-Tirol. He continued his journey with his first actual job as a sommelier at Welsh restaurant Ynyshir Hall* ,Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli**, The Fat Duck *** to name a few. A job position we are sure that marked him as a sommelier, was his time working for non-other then the one and only Gerard Basset (MS, MW, OBE,) at his Hotel Terravina.

Having had a mentor like Gerard Basset, it will not surprise you that Andrea also did his fair share of international competitions with satisfying results. Andrea finished 13th (out of 66) at the 2019 Best Sommelier of the world contest and 5th in the 2018 Best Sommelier of APAC, where he represented New -Zealand :-) Yes, indeed not Italy, but New Zealand. After Terravina had closed, Andrea was looking for a job in a place where with a good work/life balance (mostly to be able to focus on his Master Sommelier studies). Before his time at Terravina Andrea had worked a few years in Australia, and as he enjoyed his time down-under a lot in the few years he worked there he decided to return. But as he always likes to try something new, the choice went to New-Zealand where he now works as Group Beverage Director for The Grove and Baduzzi restaurants.

You've read it correctly, Andrea is studying for his Master Sommelier diploma as in the past few years he obtained introductory certified and advanced diploma's at the Court of Master sommeliers and was invited to do his MS exams in 2020. Next to that he also obtained the Level 2 and 3 WSET diploma. I do also want to mention his training in Chinese tea ceremony “Gong Fu Cha”.

Enjoy the read!!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

If you ask me for one region only it’s a very hard question to answer. It might seem like a long shot but is a bit like asking a painter which color they prefer to paint with, the more the better! But if I have to follow my feelings I would obviously say Umbria as it’s where I was born and raised, so it’s a region that I love to share with my guests and colleagues. And the wines are also great!

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

In my opinion, Empathy and Humility are the common traits that any professional, in any industry should possess.

All of the most significant and inspiring Sommeliers I have worked for, from Gerard Basset to Isa Bal have always taught me this: the most important skill of a sommelier is to be able to listen. And it’s absolutely true. Sommeliers work on the floor, in a restaurant, and we are there to give a service to our guests who are looking for help or just for a wine chat. So being able to make an honest effort to listen and understand what the guests really need and want it’s paramount, instead of trying to interpret what we think they’re saying, especially because guests often when talking about wine use different ways and terminology from what we are used to.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

From a guest point of view, in the last decade, there has been an increase of trust and understanding from the general public on what a sommelier actually is and what do they do. Before we all know that the imaginary of sommeliers are one of some snobby patronizing person who would make you feel ignorant if you knew nothing about wine! Which is totally the opposite of what a sommelier is or should be.

Professionally, I believe that depends on the establishment you work in/for. There are still many restaurateurs and establishments who don’t believe in the importance of a sommelier and at times, this position it’s still considered a luxury and an extra salary that doesn’t have a financial return. Sadly. But things are changing.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I have no memory of my first drop of wine as I was basically raised alongside it. I have memories of me as kid in the basement of my house in Italy helping my grandpa to siphon and bottle wine bought in bulk from the farm next door, sipping away and giving some to the dog too! I have always had passion for food and beverages so I can’t really pinpoint one exact moment where a spark started, it just grew as I did.

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

I have had the honor and privilege to be the last head sommelier working in Hotel Terravina alongside with Gerard Basset, he really has been an inspiration and a mentor that changed my way to see this industry. What he was great in teaching wasn’t just knowledge, which was difficult as he was obviously very busy, but more the philosophy and the many ways to successfully approach any situation which can be at work or study, in an exam or competition

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

I work really closely with our Head Chef, we always exchange ideas and opinions around every new dish and new wines.

The first thing I do is to examine every element of the dish: main element – garnishes – sauces – temperature – textures – flavors. Then I try to figure out what elements I am looking for, what are the characteristics of the wine I am looking for? A bit like finding clues for a crime scene try to picture a profile of a hypothetical wine that could match with the dish. Once I have that more or less clear, I try to think which actual wine match the profile? Then I select 3 or 4 wines and I taste them together with the dish and together with my sommelier team and head chef and we draw conclusions. It usually works, but sometimes we can’t find anything in the first flight and we have to re-think and re-taste.. Not too bad after all!

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

I think the ‘Sherry Triangle’ is one place that everyone should experience. First of all because Sherry is way underestimated and I think deserves much more attention and importance than it currently enjoys. Secondly because the atmosphere you breathe there is unique, walking along the narrow streets of Jerez or Sanlucar di Barrameda or el Puerto di Santa Maria you can smell pungent and aromatic notes of Sherry, coming from the open windows of the many bodegas. Also because the local food is so delicious and authentic, and with those salty seafood dishes or a slice of 'Jamon', all you want to drink is a delicious glass of dry sherry! Definitely a place any sommelier or wine lover should visit

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

I have always had a passionate love for history, therefore I really enjoy drinking an old wine and picture in my head how the world was the moment that wine was produced, who made it and where, the historical facts that happened at that time, especially when you drink something like a madeira made in the beginning of the 20th century. Those wines never fail to give me emotions therefore I don’t mind making sacrifices for them.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

I think the time I went for the exam for introductory and certified level of the Court of Master Sommeliers. I was working in the UK and I had to go to Athens to take the exams because it was the only exam that still had vacancies the moment I applied. It was the first time I undertook an exam of that kind and level, was extremely nervous and anxious but it has been wonderful. I made so many friends that time which I am still in contact with. And I passed! Which makes it even better!

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

Picking grapes on the steep slopes of the Mosel! Really scary but unforgettable at the same time

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