An Italian (Sommelier) in Paris.
Another interview, another excellence! This time we’ll talk with Gabriele Del Carlo, Sommelier in Paris, at the Four Seasons Hotel George V and twice winner of the Italian Sommelier Championship, with the two most important associations in the sector (2011 AIS – 2017 ASPI).
It all began in Lucca, in its Tuscany, at the small “Vineria I Santi” in 2004, because it was there that he understood he wanted to become a sommelier. Then he moved on to the prestigious “Enoteca Pinchiorri” in Florence until 2011, when Gabriele decided to make the “big leap” towards internationality . And so here he is at the restaurant “Le Cinq” of the Four Seasons in Paris.
A short interlude of a year as Deputy Director of “l’Espadon” restaurant of the Ritz and the return to the Four Seasons, in 2017, this time at the restaurant “Le George”, because it could not live too far from what has always been his world: that of wine. In the same year he won again the title of Best Italian Sommelier. A dream, a project that has come true, that of Gabriele Del Carlo, who left as a boy from Lucca and now, is in the Olympus of the French and Italian Sommellerie.
We can only congratulate for these exciting achievements, thank him for honoring iBESTmag with his presence and immediately give him the floor, in this exciting interview made by Daniela Barone.
Q) Good morning Gabriele! How to become a Sommelier in le George, Restaurant with 1 Michelin star of the Four Seasons in Paris?
A) Today I manage the Le George restaurant cellar inside the Four Seasons George V in Paris. After 5 years spent at the 3-star restaurant Le Cinq, and the participation in the opening of the L’Espadon, gastronomic restaurant inside the Ritz in Paris as vice director of the room, I felt the need to fully rediscover the world of wine. The challenge in this restaurant was for me to create a beautiful Italian wine list, taking into account the difficulties associated with the patriotism of French customers towards their wines. After more than a year we can say that we managed to win this first challenge.
Q) How much does the passion in this profession count in addition to study, commitment and training?
A) The passion in this work is the driving force: without this it’s unthinkable to spend days studying and moving in the vineyards to taste and discover new wines. The world of wine never stops, but runs very fast and we try to keep up.
Q) How do you establish the trust and the right feeling with a demanding clientele like that of a multi-starred restaurant?
A) The relationship created with the customer is the basis of the success in a restaurant: I arrived at Le George after more than a year since its opening and then I have compared to a clientele that was starting to be fairly regular and to have their own habits. Slowly, thanks to the trust that has been established, there are more and more bottles of Italian wine on our tables. The secret is to be sure of what we offer and to have a wine list that can offer wines with similar characteristics to the French ones and with an advantage in the quality-price ratio. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back!
Q) Gabriele, do you try to grasp the tastes and preferences of the customer before suggesting the perfect wine for an excellent dish? And what are the knowledge that you need to have about aromas, textures, details and types of food, then the flavors to combine with the right wine?
A) It is clear that the sommelier’s base is a profound knowledge of the art of wine pairing. My point of view is that today many customers no longer want to be told that with this dish, they should choose this type of wine, to create a pleasant harmony. In my restaurant we serve between 50 and 70 seats for lunch and between 80 and 110 for dinner; a careful but fast service, so as soon as I approach the table after consulting the customer’s choice, the first thing is to make him feel at ease. E.g. more and more often today, there are amateurs who prefers red wine to accompany dishes based on fish and more and more customers almost apologize for the choice. I always say that the most important thing for me is that they spend a pleasant time at the table with us, the color of the wine is not important, the fundamental thing is that the wine we choose together leaves them a good emotion, regardless of the perfect combination.
Q) What sensation does the term ‘Cellar’ conjure up with you, do you have any memory or anecdote?
A) Yes, actually I have a nice anecdote about my grandmother, during my first great experience as a sommelier in Florence at Enoteca Pinchiorri. Talking to my parents I told them about my daily work, which took place most of the time in the cellar to arrange the bottles. My grandmother, hearing that I spent every afternoon in the cellar, each time I left for my week of work, advised me to be careful not to drink too much!
Q) Do you happen to have any particular expectations before tasting a wine? Are there any sensations and precise characteristics that you are looking for?
A) I always have expectations when I taste wines, whether I know them already or that it is a first time. If I already know a wine, I look for the characteristics that have made it in our chart and very important, which reflect the description given to the customer in recommending it. As for the new tastings, I always do a search for wines that I need to enrich our offer with certain characteristics; for me the great wine is the one that ends without you being aware of it, no matter the price.
Q) Do you feel gratified to be a Sommelier in one of the most prestigious restaurants in Paris and at the same time an ‘ambassador’ of important and excellent Italian labels?
A) Since I returned to the Four Seasons, I have to say that I found a lot of motivation: the fact of making the great Italian wines known to our customers, which is made up by more than 70% by Parisiens, makes me proud to be able to grow Italian wines knowledge in a country where there’s always been very little space for “foreigners”.
Q) An unforgettable vintage?
A) I would say 1968: a great Sangiovese made by the Monsanto Castle, managed by Laura White. They were the forerunners of the notion of “Cru” in Italy by first writing, in 1962, the term “Il Poggio” on their Chianti Classico, having identified this small hill where their Sangiovese gave even more exceptional results. When you open and taste a bottle of their Il Poggio 1968 you realize that the Chianti Classico, as a denomination, has incredible potentials if worked and treated in a certain way and more, you sip a real piece of history.
Q) What do you suggest to a young person who wants to dedicate himself to this profession?
A) I recommend without any hesitation to travel: today countries like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are producing incredible wines for quality. So at the same time they can learn the culture of these countries, their languages and their wines. If these destinations are scary because too far away, you can choose London, which is the center of the wine world; even if the country itself is not a producer, the English have no prejudice about the origin of wines and there a sommelier can really acquire a remarkable culture on a wide range of wines.
Q) The beauty of being a Sommelier?
A) In Paris, the sommelier is really a very important figure, central, in the restaurants of the capital. In France this profesione is officially recognized, has much charm and one can often hear clients “bragging” to be friends of a sommelier. In Paris, the great thing about doing this job is to have a certain admiration from an often very demanding clientele, with whom you then come to create a privileged relationship that goes beyond restaurant service.
Texts and Interview © iBESTmag/Daniela Barone- Images Courtesy of Four Seasons George V – Paris © Jerome Burgert/Gregoire Gardette/T.Caron/G. de Laubier