Name: Massimo Mirabile
At the moment: Republic of Ireland
Currently: Head Sommelier
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
My first encounter with wine was at the dinner table with my parents in my native country Italy, Milan to be precise.
At the age of 15, my father would give me a taste of Bonarda from the neighbouring wine producing region of Oltrepo Pavese.
It was a Lambrusco kind of wine of about 11% alcohol with cherry flavours and a slight fizz. Easy drinking and delightful.
That was for red wine. For my first white wine experience, when I was 16, I and my best friend at the time used to raid his father cellar, full to the ceiling of wonderful bottles of lightly sparkling Moscato d'Asti. The bottles were without labels and they had a mushroom cork made of plastic without wire cage. His father used to order them from a producer in Piedmont. The wine was quite sweet at probably 8-10% alcohol with a pleasant grapey flavour. Drinking that wine combined with the thrill to be caught made it a very exciting wine experience.
Unfortunately at that time there were no mentors around.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
In my book the specific skills for a sommelier are: Knowledge, the more you know about wine and its world the better, but beware! You will never know everything about wine.
Humility, we learn something new every day, and the lesson might come from the most unlikely person!
Be courteous to your client however rude or pretentious they may be. Unfortunately, sometime the image of sommeliers is associated with being a snobby, above the others character instead of being a person who suggest or convey the message of wine to other people.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
For a young sommelier looking for work I suggest: If one is living in a wine producing area and love being at home, look for work in your area where you will be an ambassador for your local products and your region.
If one's looking for work abroad, go to sommelier.at
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what's in your opinion would be the best approach?
Best approach to help a customer selecting wine, in my opinion, is to get as much information as you can from the customer.
What wines do you like, Do you like fruity wines or dry, what are you having for dinner and so on.
We have to consider the customer's budget as well and the customer's will to try a wine they have never tried before versus their usual favorite wine or brand. Once the sommelier has gathered all this information, he/she can proceed with the recommendation.
Do not take it personally if your suggestion is rejected, hopefully in your place of work there will be other tables that welcome it.
Your cellar management is very important as well. Do you have a wine that needs to be sold? Try to suggest it to customers highlighting its qualities, price or region of production. Or offer a little free sample, if you can.
What's your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
Glasses are clearly important to convey what a wine wants to tell you about itself. For tasting purposes I use the classic ISO tasting glasses which I find particularly useful to smell the wine aromas. I do not use any particular brand, but I am obsessed about using the right glass for the right wine. It just make the whole experience more worthwhile.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
On wine and food pairing there is a lot to be said. There are clearly guidelines out there to be followed if one wishes so.
I usually encourage the customer to experiment to try a particular dish with different wines. (It is easy for me because in my place of work we have the Enomatic wine serving system where you can sample up to 16 different wines). Experiment! If a wine does not work with your dish may it be a lesson for the future. Experiment! You might find a wine or a grape variety that was unknown to you that might work well and make sense with the dish you are consuming.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?
My advice for a good wine list is to avoid having a sommelier centric wine list. Look around you, what kind of customer are you dealing with on a daily basis? Is It a young crowd? A more senior one? have you got both? Is it a top restaurant ?
My experience in Ireland, being a consumer country (versus a producing-consuming country) taught me that I had to listen to the people's wishes and adapt my wine list to their wishes.(Wine list available to view at www.themalton.com) I think there is no point to have a wine list that pleases only the sommelier and not the customers. I clearly put a few gems in my wine list but not too many.
It is an international wine list with wine from all major producing countries. I believe in having a balanced wine list where people can find classic wines and maybe some unusual wines at an affordable price.
On the markup question I clearly give more importance to the so called "house wines" as they call them here and the by glass selection where there is more of a mark up as they are consumed in greater quantities than other wines. I don't think there is any point to have a huge markup on a bottle of Brunello that might sell once a month.
How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what's the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
Unfortunately the policy of the establishment where I work only permits the purchase of wine through distributors.
If I am to discover something new it is through them, which happens quite often. Sometimes they bring around wine makers to showcase new wines or organize events to present their production.
When I am on holiday I usually visit wineries in the Lombardy region of Italy. There is always something new to discover, but unfortunately (for customers) it is only for my consumption.
Clearly the way for producers to get exposure is to travel and organize events in various expos, fairs, hotels, restaurants even in countries that do not have a wine consuming tradition as wine, today, is drank globally and wine awareness from people around the world increases.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
If I were a wine I would be a Barolo capable of inspiration and joy, great companion of hearty stews and winter food, but also controversial and rough when young.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what's your desert island wine?
My top 3 wines are:
-New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. I think the defining style of modern sav blanc great balance between the fruit character and the vibrant acidity. wonderful green grassy flavours.
-Chateauneuf du Pape. Smooth but with assertive power, complexity and that lovely savouriness on the finish.
(Great with Irish Lamb dishes!)
My desert island wine is: Beaujolais, villages and any cru. I love the way it is easy to drink a wine without any pretension and great if you want to unwind.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
About magazines and online platforms I do read Decanter when I can.
American WineMaker Magazine I find interesting to read for info about home winemaking, yeast, winemaking styles etc. Other sites I visit are wine searcher, the drinks business, Liv ex.com for financial wine news, wine
business for american wine news and of course, sommelier.at
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers - www.sommeliers.at