Unfiltered: Stefano Barbarino
The head sommelier of Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar talks to Douglas Blyde about his selection of 350 wines available by the glass, Dire Straits on the playlist, and serving Gary Lineker…
What is your vintage?
I was born in Sicily on Christmas Day 1992. From this year, I was lucky enough to try the spectacular Domaine Rene Engel Echezeaux while I was working at Chez Bruce. It was shared with me, blind, by a table of five regulars who always dedicated themselves to Grand Cru Burgundies.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
The 1947 Riserva Barolo by Giacamo Borgogno which I encountered during my second month working in the UK as commis sommelier at La Trompette. The dining room had been taken over by Tom Cannavan and his famous “WIMPS”. In preparation for another such WIMPS event, I remember polishing 1,200 glasses, which took me from midday to midnight.
Where else did you work?
Most recently, I was the group wine buyer for the Chucs collection of Italian restaurants and cafés.
Who is your mentor?
Master Sommelier, Laura Rhys, whom I was fortunate to work with at La Trompette. She taught me about the importance of service including how to be as helpful as possible with the guests – to understand their palates. She is now the brand ambassador for Gusbourne.
What is your favourite book?
“The World Atlas of Wine” by Jancis Robinson, gifted to me by Laura. I always keep an eye on it for my studies.
Describe the list at Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar?
Very dynamic and diverse, it is divided by grape so it is easier for a guest to use. We have a strong core of French, Italian and New World wines. For me, the most interesting section is the “indigenous and quirky” section. Thanks to Coravin, we can serve the whole list by the glass, so guests are encouraged to explore.
How many wine references are there?
350 and rising, of which 50 are bubbles – and everything is available by the glass.
What are your favourite producers on the list?
From Burgundy, Hudelot-Noellat Vosne-Romanée and Domaine de Montille Corton-Charlemagne, and from Italy, Gaja Gaia & Rey Chardonnay from Langhe, and the allocation of the beautiful Miani Zitelle Chardonnay from Friuli. From Portugal, which is a great country for upcoming and approachable wines, Niepoort Coche. And sparkling terms, two 2011s, being Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Extra Brut, which I believe is one of the greatest Champagnes, as well as Egly-Ouriet Ambonnay Grand Cru.
What has been a standout wine pairing with a bite from the menu?
From our selection of Château d’Yquem, I would choose the 1999 to accompany our super soft terrine of confit duck and foie gras with plum jam on the side and toasted brioche.
Which table is the best in the house?
Table 41 in room three, which is comfortable and intimate. Also, I like the seats in our Eurocave room which is perfect for private wine tastings for up to 15 guests.
What has been a standout wine producer event at the venue?
The International Women’s Day event, the Castello Monsanto tasting including a comparison of 1969 versus 1999, and the Vérité collection by Jackson Family.
What is on the playlist?
1980s-90s, including Dire Straits.
Who is the most famous person you have ever looked after?
Gary Lineker OBE at La Trompette. I noticed his table had the potential to spend, they started lunch with Domaine des Comtes Lafon Charmes Meursault 2007.
Where do you dine on your days off?
Lorne, Noble Rot, The Ninth and Noizé – it’s important to me that the places I go to have a wine culture behind them.
What is your motto?
“If you never try, you never know.” For me, getting work as a sommelier was kind of a bet and a dream.
Tell us something surprising about yourselves?
I originally wanted to join the army.
Do you prefer Muscadet or Meursault?
Meursault because I love Burgundy. Muscadet, meanwhile, is often misunderstood. People might think it is sweet like Riesling, though examples such as the 2014 we had from Château- Thébaud are super sharp and mineral.
What grape or style don’t you get along with?
Sauvignon Blanc, especially from Marlborough on account of its often aggressively green, herbaceous notes which I can’t digest, though I do admire its freshness.
Do you also harbour a keen interest in beer?
Very much so – I really like the selection available here in the UK, my favourite being Guinness for its cacao, caramel aromas. I also rate the beers coming from the Czech republic. I remember judging the London beer competition a few years ago – a massive, intense tasting.
And are you also a writer, as seen in City AM?
Yes, I wrote articles comparing the best wines from our list at Chucs, two at a time, including Fattoria Ambra Barco Reale di Carmignano and Château Batailley.
What for you is Coravin the device about?
It prevents waste. There’s so much work behind a bottle. Now you can savour it over time and drink much more widely.
What is the aim for the Coravin Wine Bar?
To be as much of a wine hub for the trade as for the public and to make wine discoveries part of life’s daily pleasure.
What do you look for when hiring sommeliers?
A natural curiosity – someone who will ask questions, not be frightened to study on their days off, who will talk about their favourite producers and grape varieties.
Coravin Wine Bar, 4-7 Lancashire Court, London, W1S 1EY; coravin.co.uk/en-GB/winebar