Name: Mrs. Beatrice Bessi –
Nationality: Italian –
At the moment: UK
Head Sommelier – Chiltern Firehouse
Wine Judge – Decanter
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Did you have any particular mentors?
I would say my encounter with the wine and wine industry started more or less 12 years ago, even if I’m working in the hospitality industry for longer than that, around 20 years. I was a bartender for more than 10 years, and I started to consider other options because I wanted to find a way to keep growing, without having to leave this job. A lot of people around me, either my family, didn’t consider it as a real job. I had to prove myself and them I was right.
I had a lot of people that mentored me and inspired me, between Italy and UK, from my first female Head Sommelier in Italy to my ex-Head of wine and Head Sommelier, Ronan Sayburn MS, and Terry Kandylis, to colleagues like Roberto Duran, Heidi Makinen MW. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by such talented and driven people.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with those qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
I believe that a Sommelier should have the drive, work ethic, empathy for people, willingness to keep learning, and humility. All the great sommeliers I’ve mentioned already possess all these skills and more!!
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e)? How to find a good position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
I really believe that every person needs to find his/her own path and make decisions for himself/herself only, but also the tip I have is to stay curious, never settle for one version of knowledge, and keep trying to evolve in a better version, professionally and emotionally. Never forget our own emotional persona, which needs to evolve in parallel with the professional one!
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what, in your opinion, would be the best approach?
The only way for me is to ask a few questions to understand your customer. Essential is to make them happy, not to suggest what you like. We are the professional figure that needs to convey their preferences in an informed choice, with the goal to make their dinner with us a wonderful experience. With more experience and knowledge, it is easier becomes to play around with more adventurous choices.
What is your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well-known brands or are you considering new brands as well? How do you decide?
It has to be a mix of both, basically like with wine. I really rely on brands that are well-known, but I’m open to new brands as well to expand my horizons in case I need them. Makes sense?
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Study the “science” of pairing, read books, taste, and exchange opinions with colleagues and chefs. Use all the theory to start to work on pairings and after…. break boundaries and find your own way. Much more exciting.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
Absolutely! We are the ultimate professionals that are able to verify if the bottle of wine is IN condition to be served, and in which conditions the wine will be served at BEST. Temperature, decanter, open for hours prior, cooler, warmer? Different glassware or different order than imagined? Serve a bottle of wine OR serve it at its best is a totally different impact on a guest, and tasting the wine is part of this process.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on pricing wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?
THE key goal for me is to have balance in a wine list. I understand where a wine list has a specific target, or focus on a style of wine or region, but at the same time, I believe a wine list should have good harmony, between niche and world-famous winery, good value for money, and unique wines.
In regard to markups, we have all a budget in a business that we have to adhere to, but personally, I believe that wines on the higher end should be marked as appealing, not ridiculously high in price. Wine is meant to be shared and enjoyed, and I personally think is a shame in 2022 to have a library of verticals of amazing wines, that they don’t sell. Even if sometimes is hard to be on the floor constantly and at the same time hunting incredible wine to get back a selection, in the end, it is worth it when a guest can enjoy a truly iconic wine with you.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
The wine industry is a very dynamic world, and the only way to exchange opinions, with your guests, with your colleagues, read wine magazines, wine articles, form your very own opinion with tastings, qualifications…All this makes you constantly informed and updated.
How would a new vineyard get their wine noticed and what is the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
It is all depending on if the goal is to hit the domestic market or a market abroad. But in general, I think Wine importers can help a new winery to deal with a market, assess it, and build up a strategy that is reflecting the wine itself, creates connections with the right people, and work towards placing them in tastings or associations.
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If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Nebbiolo. Fascinating, hard to understand, emotional.
Which top 3 types of wine (your faves would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?
Pinot Noir coming from everywhere in the world, Riesling most likely German or Australian, Nebbiolo in every form or style. Riesling on a desert island sounds perfect to me!
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platforms?
I believe the point is to read multiple sources, to learn always new things, but at the same time to make sure to keep your own opinion strong. If a vintage has been rated a complete fail, doesn’t always mean that the wine will be a fail too. Keep yourself open-minded!
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – www.sommelier-jobs.com