Name: Tiago Pinto
At the moment: Portugal
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
Because of being born in a country with big wine tradition my first memory regarding wine was when I was about 8 to 9 years old and being part of the harvest at my uncle’s vineyard and jumping inside of the stomping tank with my cousins. Regarding wine industry was a lot later, when I was already in the US working at Polpo Restaurant in Greenwich Connecticut. The Sommelier that was there Sean Scotadini (is know the Wine Director for Armani in the US) left and they gave me the chance occupy is position. At the time and because I was giving my first steps in the Wine Industry I was lucky to be surrounded by a very experienced team that guide me and mentored me, people like Ron Rosa the owner a very experienced Restaurateur (he used to own Ecco and Campagnola in NYC), also Christian Carrere the GM, a season professional ex-GM at Jean Georges, both of them try to pass me as much knowledge as they could and incentivized me to start my studies at the American Sommelier Association and Court of Master Sommeliers.
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?
Open mind, Knowledgeable, Humble, Hard Worker, and Ability to listen, understand guest expectations and exceed them, speak the guest language don’t complicate things. Never thinks that he knows everything, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have there’s always something that you can learn from other people. Always be available to teach and mentor if asked for. I’ve worked with a lot of people all of them great professionals but I have to acknowledge the two I feel that they teach me the most and always lead by example Jacopo Focacci (currently at Arzak) and Arnaud Vallet (Vila Joya).
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?
Even if you are born in a major Wine producing (ex: France) region, I advise that you experiment abroad also, you don’t learn everything from the books or tasting the foreign wines that arrive to your wine store or restaurant just because there’s so much things out there. But most important the surroundings, you need to talk to the people, experience their weather, eat their food, like this you have the full experience and understand better what the winemaker was doing and why he was doing it. Saying that, your country is what defines you as a Wine Professional because everything you feel when you taste a wine is based on all the experiences that you had back home, in your journey around the wine world always get a little bit of time to go back home and recharge. And always try to participate in a couple of harvests, it doesn’t matter the size or reputation of the winery, it could be the backyard vineyard of your uncle, you are going to learn so much when you experience the process first hand.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what’s in your opinion would be the best approach?
Get to know your guest and listen to it try to get as much information as you can but always try to get that information with less questions possible or the customer will just think that with would be better to choose the wine himself. Important information would be what the customer drink recently, like this you already have an idea of his tastes, what is his mood that day does he want to go lighter or heavier, always give him simple explanations. Make sure that you always have the wine that you recommend on stock, and don’t be afraid do down sell when you know that customer is going to get a better deal you will gain a lot of points.
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?
I try to work with quality crystal glasses from Riedel, Wine Star or Spiegelau, crystal is rougher than glass and helps with the aromatic profile of the wine. They are very good quality glasses and the design is very attractive for wine service. In this business we always open to new ideas and options, the last ones that we tried were the Peugeot ones. When choosing our glasses we look at design we need an attractive design that causes impact to the customer when we put them on table but that design as to be the correct for the type of wine that we are serving, we look at durability they need to be wash constantly and the price usually is high for this type of glassware and we look also at variety when we go with a specific brand we want that all glassware is from same brand.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Keep it simple, look for balance cuisine food light wine, heavier cuisine heavier wine, match the wine with the strongest ingredient on the dish, sometimes you don’t have to worry about the filet of fish that you have in front of you but the mustard seeds that you have on the sauce. When you feel comfortable with this first steps than you move on to structure, flavor links and aging. Wine can be an expensive experience, when in doubt follow the safe road and eat what you like with the wine that you like, we are all different and a perfect match for me might not be the one for you, as a Sommelier I will guide you on a specific style that would enhance your experience but in that style there’s a lot of options to choose from.
And as an advice, I love my Grand Crus as much as I love my Vinho Verde, price is not going to improve your experience, you might be drinking the most expensive wine in history but the environment surrounding you is not perfect and the only thing that you remember is the credit card bill at the end of the month, or you can be having a moderate price wine with your loved ones and that bottle will show up in every picture.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
There’s a debate recently about that point. I’ve worked in South America and it’s not custom for you to try the wine, you only tried it if a guest asks you in has any doubts about condition of the wine. I’ve also worked in NYC where I used to try every wine that I open. Personally I think that the Sommelier should try the wine before it’s served to the guest, but you should do it always in a place where guest sees what you are doing, don’t be too generous with the pouring, I’ve seen Sommelier pushing the boundaries between a taste and a glass of wine. Always remember that you are tasting it to take a little bit of the pressure from the customer by making sure that the wine is in conditions to be served, just remember, if you notice that the wine as a flaw even if its minimum inform the guest and take it back the worst thing that can happen is you giving the seal of approval and then the guest complains.
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 mark ups?
The wine list should have versatility, balance, pair ability and focus, should tell a story and have a wide range of price options. Versatility and pair ability for the different types of customers that we have and the different ingredients that the Chef might want to use. Balance and focus, it doesn’t matter if it’s a small list or a huge one, the wine list should have one part dedicated to fresh and crisp wines, another part with rich, bold and toasty wines, and the final part for anything in between that you need to fill up the spaces like off-dry wines, fleshy but unoaked, sparkling and dessert. You should focus on the Menu that you going to pair with your wine and choose wines to complement it, and focus on making the wine list understandable for everyone, make sure that the wine list is not intimidating and confusing for guests even if it is a 3000 selection wine list it should be easy and appealing for guests to browse thru it. It should tell a history, should it be thru words or thru the organization of the wine list itself, it should tell the story of the country, its regions and its grapes. Price options, don’t present a wine list were all the wines are low end and inexpensive, and don’t have a wine list that just has First Growths and Grand Crus. Try to have a wine list with steady increments of 15 to 25 Euros, like this you have a price range for everybody.
Markup is an open discussion, I’ve worked in places that they used to multiply everything by 3, others that double retail price and certain ones that just add a fix number to distributor price. Wine and Beverage usually pays the bills you should analyze your expenses and your market to decide what’s the best for your place but don’t forget that on this days that we live in information is very accessible to everyone, one example is Vivino where the guest is looking at the wine list and checking the prices on an app at the same price, and his not going to be happy to see that $8 bottle of wine being sold for $45. On exclusives or wines that you don’t find in retail in my area I marked it up by 3, all the other wines I double retail, and the premium wines I do less than the double of retail.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I’m always doing research, every day browsing websites, reading articles, I use Linkedin very often, and members are always sharing interesting articles about wine. During off season, visit wineries, talk to producers and get together with fellow Sommeliers.
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?
First there’s no wine, listed without tasting before, so usually any wine producer small or large should always drop off a sample, I work close with Chef and we always make sure that wine fits the program that we created based on Menu and our client base.
Second after we decide that wine as a chance of getting into list, I usually do blind taste with other members of staff were we put the new wines against wines already on the list that are similar in style we have a certain limit of number of selections and most of times a wine can only get in if it’s really better than one that we already have listed.
Third, availability, we don’t want to be out of stock after my first order, I always check distributor inventories before I buy, in case their stock is low and I really like the wine I usually buy all the cases and ask distributor to keep it in their warehouse until I have room in my cellar, also I always try to buy wines that are not available in supermarkets or liquor stores.
If you have a product that is not to common like a rare blend, limited edition, obscure producing region you have a really good chance to get listed.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I would be Malbec not the old heavy and tannic Malbec but the new elegant one.
I would be Fruity, Spicy, Bitter Sweet like Dark Chocolate, a little rough but always elegant, with a different secret at every sip, Malbec is the James Bond of grapes.
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?
I like Red very much but I like White even more so I’ll give you two Whites and one Red:
Equinoccio from Alentejo, a field blend where Arinto is the predominant grape, aged in French oak barrels that depending on the year can have between 8 to 12 different grapes from very old vines in the region of Portalegre Alentejo, only 5 barrels made.
Maycas Del Limari from Limari Valley in Chile, 100% Chardonnay aged in French oak barrels and stainless steel.
Terre di Balbia Serramonte Rosso from Calabria Italy, a beautiful rare blend of Gaglioppo, Magliocco and Sangiovese.
Krug Clos Mesnil
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
I use the usual suspects, Wine Spectator, Wine and Spirits and Decanter.
In addition I use Revista dos Vinhos in Portugal and Wine Business and Drinks Business.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – International Sommelier Positions – www.sommelier-jobs.com