Interview with Vincenzo Arnese, Head Sommelier at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
How long have you been at the restaurant?
I joined the team of Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in 2021 after the third lockdown, I was honoured to take part in an established and renowned restaurant and company. After spending a few months there, I knew it was the right decision for me. I am very impressed by the experience that we can deliver on an daily basis to our guests.
What attracted you to becoming a sommelier?
Wine has always been a big part of my life. I have very fond memories of wine during my childhood. I remember very clearly when my grandfather gave me the first taste of his homemade wine at the age of five. I started to become actively interested in wine when I worked as a commis sommelier at the Waterside Inn in Bray. The General Manager, Diego Masciaga, decided to assign me to the sommelier team – which sparked my curiosity for the world of wine. The Head Sommelier there always challenged me with questions, so research and study became a pleasant routine. After seventeen years in hospitality, I am still learning something new every day.
Where did you do your training?
I took my first Wine course in Italy with Associazione Italiana Sommelier and I graduated as Professional Sommelier in March 2010. Afterwards, in 2013 I moved to Australia to work for the restaurant Vue de Monde, I was advised by the Wine Director to take the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) course and after few years I received my Diploma level in 2017. Parallel to the WSET path I also enrolled for the Court of Master Sommeliers and I achieved the title of Advanced Sommelier in 2018 after few years of study. Since the beginning of my career, I decided to invest in my personal development and pursued different wine courses and diplomas to cultivate my passion further.
What would you say were the essential skills required to be a sommelier?
Knowledge is important, but not the priority, that will come with time and preparation. The more essential skills for a sommelier are always having a positive attitude and the ability to stay humble. A good Sommelier needs to handle difficult situations sensitively, understanding that everyone has different opinions and tastes. He/she should be able to use his/her personality and knowledge to suggest wines that can satisfy the palate and the needs of the entire table.
What wines complement your personal favourite three-course meal and why?
For a sommelier, it’s hard to choose only a few wines as we always like to try something new. I will consider a dry Riesling from Alsace or Germany, a red Burgundy or a developed Barolo and I will finish with a bottle of Champagne.
What are your thoughts on the “Red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat and fish” age-old debate?
It is an old debate indeed, based around the idea of the classic approach of contrast and similarities between wine and food. This technique is particularly useful and reliable but sometimes experimentation can gift us with outstanding sensations. We recently tried the last creation from our Executive Chef, Jean-Philippe Blondet, a Cornish turbot crumbed in beetroot powder, coffee and Espelette pepper served with Crapaudine beetroot and finished with an incredible sauce made of beetroots, horseradish, Pedro Ximénez vinegar, lemon and coffee.
We tasted the dish with a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and we had a very balanced result, the light body of the wine was in line with the delicate nature of the fish, and we found that the earthiness and the red fruits flavours were complimentary of the beetroot character. The smooth and light tannins are a good match for the robust sauce made of Pedro Ximénez vinegar and horseradish and the refreshing acidity of the Pinot Noir lifted all the sensations, leaving the palate with an elegant and balanced aftertaste. This is the reason why I think it is vital for the sommelier to taste dishes with different wines.
How does the choice of the right wines complement the different food courses served?
Wine and food are complimentary for the success of a great meal. I think that a wine that is paired with a particular dish shouldn’t be intrusive and must keep the balance of the element on the plate. Chefs are investing a lot of time in searching for the best ingredients and developing recipes, so we must protect their hard work and try to elevate the final experience.
A wine can completely change the flavours profile and the perception of a dish (and vice versa) so it is important to find the right balance between all the elements.
What’s the best part of your job?
There are many aspects of my job that I believe make it unique and great, but the best is to enjoy a genuine chat about wine with people that share the same interest and passion.
And the worst?
To be able to accomplish a unique result you have to put the hours in but these sacrifices are rewarded in the long run.
What is the most unusual wine that you have ever tasted and why?
Nowadays it is rare to find wines that are out of the ordinary, we are lucky enough to be exposed to a huge variety of style. At the moment, the big trend is about alcohol-free products that are healthier for consumers. We are recently developing an alcohol-free pairing to propose with our tasting menu, so we are exploring different options to understand better the product.
How many wines do you have?
Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester wine list is comprehensive of 1,000 -1,100 labels, with a focus on French wines but also some interesting gems from all over the world.