Nando Papa, Sommelier at Verdura Resort, is a man who understands the alluring, sensory and seductive power of wine. Here he shares all his secrets for pairing wine and love, including the perfect wine for asking someone to marry you…
Can you recommend a specific wine or cocktail pairing for each course of a romantic meal?
For the starter, without any doubt, Champagne is the most elegant way to begin a romantic dinner. For the main course, particularly if it's meat, I would pair it with a magical Barolo, a Cru from the small village of La Morra. The charm of the Langhe area in Piedmont is irresistible. For dessert, my emotions lean towards the island of Salina and its magnificent Malvasia vineyards. The Mediterranean aromas provide a sentimental attraction.
How do you select which wines or cocktails go well with the different flavours?
I collect as much information as I can in order to create a “tailormade” pairing. I find out more about the individuals and their attitudes, so I can approach them with this awareness and a smile. Then, I enquire about their origins, where they live, and start a conversation to understand their preferences. The rest follows naturally, it's my job.
What qualities should a good romantic wine or cocktail have?
A wine cannot be objective, it's rather the result of a blend of emotional and taste factors. A wine drunk in the right place and with people who make us feel good can be defined as purely romantic.
Are there any regional favourites from where you grew up that are known to be especially romantic, and why?
Thanks to two extraordinary people from my homeland, black Pallagrello and Casavecchia grapes have been revived. These grapes were originally planted at Reggia di Caserta, under the orders of Ferdinando IV di Borbone. An icon of the Italian wine industry, Giuseppe Mancini, had fond memories of buying wine made from these historical lands with his grandfather. When he became a producer, he cloned these grapes and now, thanks to him, this wine is famous throughout Italy. I hold this romantic story of Giuseppe Mancini dear to my heart.
How do you balance the flavours with a romantic dish to make it a memorable experience for the diner?
I do this with pleasing and balanced, not intrusive, wines, emanating aromas that are perfectly in line with the dish. The wine needs to ‘marry’ the dish and equally leave a sentimental memory in the diner’s mind.
Can you recall a particular drink you shared with a loved one that left a lasting impression?
Wine is all about emotion and suggestion, the right company makes all the difference. One unforgettable night I was with my better half, Rossella. We shared a tasting session of Chateau D’Yquem from 1903. This is the most famous dessert wine in the world, a myth, a miracle of nature and a unique wine.
With just the first sip, I felt as if I were a witness to an era, a traveller on the tail of time. Drinking a 110-year-old wine, harvested by people from the previous century, was like drinking history. We were in the youngest restaurant with 3 Michelin stars in Europe, in Venice. And I was there to ask Rossella to marry me.