Name: Ms. Melania Battiston –
Nationality: Italian –
At the moment: Thailand –
Assistant F&B Manager/Wine Development Manager at Aman Resort Phuket
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Did you have any particular mentors?
The first encounter with wine was in Fetter Lane, City of London. Ten years ago, I found a job as a barback at 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen (now under different ownership) and that is where I met Clement Robert MS (wine director at the time). A very humble, passionate, detailed, honest, and inspiring personality. He slowly introduced me to wine (my English was rather poor) and he believed in me right away, encouraging me and training me along the way. I consider him my noteworthy, former mentor. The biggest impact, however, was working alongside David O’Connor, co-owner and restaurant manager of Medlar Chelsea. A wine lover indeed, but first and foremost, the most supportive, fairest, motivational, and first-class boss someone could ever ask for. My career would not be where it is now if it wasn’t for him.
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?
The most important skills for a sommelier are human touch and emotional intelligence. A sommelier has to listen actively and try to understand the guests and their desires. The profession requires also you to work closely with the rest of the team and the sommelier community around you, therefore effective communication is essential. Reading body language is also an important skill for a sommelier to have a proper understanding of when/how to approach a table. With those skills, sales will come naturally. They were finally, being humble. I haven’t forgotten about knowledge, knowledge is important, and it is built by reading, tasting, and experience, so a natural curiosity and willpower towards learning is important too. I wish some sommeliers were more open-minded too and less biased by specific, less popular wine styles. The positive qualities I have stated are embodied by Vincenzo Arnese, UKSOTY 2022, and Agnieszka Swiecka, UKSOTY 2023.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e)? How to find a good position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
Being a sommelier is not running a marathon. I would suggest walking at your own pace, there will be always people behind and ahead of you. Be yourself and find the right workplace that will allow you to grow as a person and as a professional. Find a good mentor (not necessarily to be your head sommelier but just someone who you can rely on and support you), be close to a sommelier community, and expand your horizons by traveling. This profession will allow you to visit the world and drink the best of its juice.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what, in your opinion, would be the best approach?
Firstly, I will listen actively to the guest, acknowledging precisely their request, their circumstances, and body language (ex. would they like the wine to match the food?/Is it a special occasion?/ Do they seem open to chat?). This is a step that some of us miss. From here, I will ask about what color and what style of wine they would like to have, or their wine background (any favorite region/best wine ever tasted), and finally, if they feel like playing safe (classic region, grapes, etc..) or if perhaps they feel adventurous and willing to try something new.
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?
The glassware has to match the wine style and also the place. Branding is less important for me, even though, I have some favorites. Nevertheless, I would look at the available budget, elegance, and look of the stemware, a consistent and diversified selection to choose from, and its fit to the atmosphere of the workplace.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
For Sommeliers: I would listen to what the guest is looking for to enjoy with food. Even in the case of red wine with oysters, the sommelier should always maintain an elevated level of professionalism and open-mindedness to satisfy the guest. I would thoroughly investigate about their preferences, navigate the wine list together, and propose different styles of wines, and even colors.
Generally: Do not think too much about the rules of wine and food pairing, listen to what you desire, ask the sommelier if its able to do the magic, find the perfect bottle, and create that sense of harmony. If no sommelier is available, follow some Instagram accounts of respected sommeliers/look on the internet for the best wines with that particular dish.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
I believe it’s necessary for the sommelier to taste every single bottle he/she has opened. Tasting (in justifiable quantities) the guest’s wine evokes a sense of care towards the guest, knowledge, and professionalism from the sommelier. If the bottle is particularly expensive or only a little drop of wine is available for each person in a big group, I would ask the guest’s permission to taste it.
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 ingredient is the knowledge of your consumer’s palate and habits, but always being ready to offer a diversified range of products with some adventurous/less known products. When I buy a new wine, I know exactly who I buy it for.
In addition, I love to have some hidden/not listed gems on the wine list to offer from time to time on specific occasions. Mark-ups, I would look at the -aligned competitors- and try to be fair and well-priced in the market. Buying en premier of course helps to keep the prices down and also auctions.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Decanter, Guildsomm, and ASISomms on Instagram are great platforms to keep yourself up to date. Moreover, being part of a sommelier community is essential.
How would a new vineyard get its wine noticed and what is the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
The more focused and compact range a winery offers, the better. I find this as a sign of quality and confidence in the products. Personally, I get lost when I try 11 wines made from the same producer during a visit. Moreover, I would rather have someone involved in the winemaking/managing of the winery to lead the tour rather than a sales representative, to give a deeper understanding and complete explanations. Finally, we see barrels and stainless steel tanks everywhere, but what makes your winery different?
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
I would be Grenache, adaptable, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining. Lighter at the look, but with a great power if placed in the right hands/thriving environment. A little bit of a spicy edge (my temper) and definitely multilayered.
Which top 3 types of wine (your faves would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?
Hermitage JL Chave Blanc 2012
Dom Perignon 1996
Chateau Rayas 2005
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platforms?
SommGeo is one of the best platform for online learning! Google Earth for somms!
Looking for a Sommelier job: jump on this link
Dominik Kozlik e.U.
4020 Linz, Austria