From the Obamas to Dustin Hoffman, super sommelier Filippo Bartolotta has wowed the palates of some of the world’s most famous faces. Whether you’re a newcomer to the wine world or a discerning oenophile, here Filippo shares his top tips on how to get the best out of your bottle.
Where did your love of wine come from?
“My grandfather had a few vineyards on the outskirts Florence and I used to help him make Chianti. I then went on to study wine at university in London and worked at Vinopolis, then the biggest wine museum in the world. London is the wine capital of the world and my love for and knowledge of wine just went stratospheric from there.”
You’re known as the ‘sommelier to the stars’, who have you hosted tastings for?
“In 2017 I did a tasting for the Obamas in Italy, which was an amazing experience. It was wonderful to work with them—they’re incredible people. I did a phenomenal tasting with chef Massimo Bottura, and one at London’s National Gallery for Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, who were really cool to be with. In fact, Emma Thompson is a big wine lover.”
What is the best way for newcomers to wine to learn more?
“One thing I encourage my tasting guests to do is simply to compare and contrast. Crack open a few bottles of wine at once and try them in the same session. When trying different wines on different days, you never really get to establish which one is the best. This way you’ll get to distinguish different notes. Once you find a wine you like, try to find out more about the producer and follow what they do. Everyone has their own palate, and nobody should tell you what to drink or prefer. Trust your senses and buy what you like.”
When ordering wine in a restaurant, what factors should people consider?
“First off, establish your budget and what you want to spend. Wines can cost anything from €20 to €20,000 a bottle! Be upfront with the sommelier and ask what they recommended. Let them know about what you like or don’t like—for instance, white with no oak—and let them come up with a proposal. If there’s no sommelier and you’re travelling, go with something local because then you really get to explore the region’s wines. Make sure you check the temperature; you don’t want to get room temperature wine in summer.”
What easy-to-drink, accessible Italian wines would you recommend?
“Chianti Classico is an incredibly reliable wine with juicy red berry notes and lots of gastronomic power. It’s not too tannic and good value for the quality. Make sure it has a black rooster on the label. For white, I’d recommend Vernaccia di San Gimignano. It’s not an in-your-face aromatic wine; it’s affordable and refreshing. They’re widely available in Italy and internationally.”
What elements should one consider when tasting wine?
“In a nutshell: sight, nose, mouth. Start by looking at the glass of wine. When you’re looking at a bright coloured wine, you should expect it to be quite acidic, vibrant and refreshing. When it’s more opaque, it’ll be richer, more full bodied and jammier. The colour of wine is an incredible marker for the style of the wine you’re about to drink.
The nose is paramount. You should always get fruit of some description. If the wine has no fruit, or if there is an off aroma, you should always tell the person serving it. Then when you taste, you should expect fruit flavours too. When you drink good wine, you need fruit in the nose and on the palate.”
Are there any golden rules to abide by when pairing wine with food?
“If you’re having a rich dish like beef stew, it needs to be supported by a strong wine with body and depth. If you’re having a salad with fish, there’s no point drinking Port—you need a similarly light white or rosé. Balance lightness with heaviness. Most wine pairing rules are really there for professionals. If you’re just by yourself or preparing food for close friends, what you like the most is what will work best. If you like pizza, have pizza and order your favourite bottle of wine and life will be good to you!”
Are there any up-and-coming wine producers and regions that are on your radar?
“Definitely Mount Etna. White and reds from there right now are good value and easy to drink. They’re not produced using too much oak and come from the mountains so are very fresh in terms of character. Valtellina from Lombardy is a wonderfully refreshing red, then rosé from Salento, Puglia is fantastic and perfect for summer. If you like sparkling, try Prosecco Col Fondo, an ancestral refermentation of Prosecco. It’s a bit cloudy with great creaminess in comparison to regular Prosecco.”
What can guests expect at your wine tasting masterclass at The Savoy in Florence?
“It takes place at the restaurant, Irene. I sit down with guests with 4 or 5 wines and do a couple of hours’ introduction to the world of wines, with a focus on Tuscany. I talk about the history of wine and the current wine scene. I try to calibrate my guests’ palates to give them suggestions about what to try next. I always tune in with them to assess their level of knowledge and make sure they have the best experience possible.”
What makes Italian wines so special?
“Italian wines are so special because of the size of the terrain, which starts at the base of the German Alps and runs all the way down to Africa. The diversity of Italy makes its wines so intriguing and old cities like Florence have long winemaking traditions. Italian wines have great gastronomic power and go very well with food—plus, they’re excellent value for the quality.”