Unfiltered: Vincenzo Arnese
The head sommelier of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester talks to Douglas Blyde about his first memories of wine, meeting the legendary Alain Ducasse, and heeding the advice of Yoda…
What is your vintage?
I was born in Naples in 1987 and grew up close to Milan and Lake Maggiore. As a vintage, 1987 was difficult, with few exceptions. It was also the only vintage when Château d’Yquem used cryoextraction. I have tried two USA Cabernet Sauvignons from this year, being Robert Mondavi Reserve from Oakville, and Laurel Glen from the Sonoma Coast, as well as, from the Old World, Mouton, and Herdade do Esporão Reserva from Alentejo. I also keep a bottle of Gelas vintage Armagnac which never disappoints.
What bottle sparked your love for wine?
My love for wine didn’t start with a bottle, but a childhood memory. My grandfather had a basket press. Once a year, all my family gathered to process the grapes. I have vivid memories of being on my grandfather’s shoulders “pretending” to push the upper screw of the basket press. The smells, the sounds and the happiness of that moment remain alive in my memories. It seems natural that a few years later I would be seduced by the wine world.
Who was your mentor?
I will always be grateful to Giovanni Rottoli, my professor at my hospitality school in Stresa – a pure gentleman. And Claudio Molinari at Suvretta House, San Moritz – a true perfectionist. Finally, Diego Masciaga. Watching him move between the tables at The Waterside Inn, interacting with every guest, was like a symphony.
Describe your list?
It is largely based on Burgundy and Bordeaux, including verticals of Château d’Yquem. From elsewhere, collections include Bollinger, Dom Pérignon, Beaucastel, Biondi-Santi, Sassicaia, and Jasper Hill. We recently increased the number of local grape varieties from lesser-known regions and countries. In total, we pour forty-five wines by the glass and offer three different pairings with our tasting menu.
What is your most exciting pour via Coravin?
In the past months, we had the pleasure to pour 2004 Mouton, 2011 Montrose, 1995 Latour, 2012 Pouilly-Fumé Buisson Renard ( Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau), and sweet wines such as 2005 Tokaji Kapi Vineyard Aszú 6 Puttonyos by Disznókó, and 2006 Château d’Yquem.
How many wine bins do you have in total?
Featuring 1,100 references, our cellar is in the restaurant, close to our famous Table Lumière.
What has been a standout pairing with a dish by head chef, Jean-Philippe Blondet?
With Cornish turbot crumbed in beetroot powder, coffee and Espelette pepper, with Crapaudine beetroot, finished with an incredible sauce of beetroot, horseradish, lemon, and coffee, we paired Marsannay Les Longeroies 2016, Domaine Bart. The lightness of the Pinot Noir was in line with the delicacy of the fish, and we found the earthiness and the red fruits flavours complimented the beetroot character.
What is he like to work with?
He is a perfectionist who genuinely cares what guests think. During the strict and precise service, he always finds time for the guests. You can feel that he enjoys what he does. I see him as a modern chef, involved in every aspect of the restaurant. He invests a lot of time searching for the best ingredients and developing recipes, so when a new dish is created, we discuss the different pairings together. A wine can completely change the perception of a dish, and vice versa, so it is important to find the balance between the elements, and his vision about the concept of the dish is extremely relevant for me.
What does he enjoy drinking?
Champagnes, ranging from small growers to prestige cuvées, as well as mineral, rather than oaky, white Burgundy.
Have you met Monsieur Ducasse?
Yes – an incredible experience, and a bit stressful. Monsieur Ducasse is an institution in the hospitality world and working for him is a privilege. He wanted to know everything about the dishes created by Jean-Philippe and to try our wine pairings. He was really focused on the final experience. We also had a fun time making the team picture, and he left complimenting the team.
Did you choose wines for the Masterchef judges when they visited?
I selected and paired all the wines for the event. A fascinating day. The work behind shooting each scene was meticulous. And amazing to see the result on TV.
What music is played in the dining room?
Lounge chill-out and soft jazz.
What was the last film which you saw?
“The French Dispatch” by Wes Anderson.
Where do you dine on your days off?
Noble Rot, Andrew Edmunds, Cabotte, Trinity, Macellaio RC and Trivet. I also like to have dinner at home – Marine, my partner, is an excellent chef.
What is your motto?
Being a Star Wars fan, I adopt Yoda’s “do or do not, there is no try” which means you must be certain you can achieve it, or you will not be able to, so “no try” just means “no half-hearted attempts, and only conviction can succeed.”
What style of wine don’t you have a good relationship with?
Overripe, extra concentrated, over oaky wines.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
I love cycling and one of my little treasures is an historic 1975 Bianchi Felice Gimondi, with the classic Celeste colours, which I ride during my holidays in Italy.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester – Park Lane, London, W1K 1QA; 020 7629 8866; email@example.com; alainducasse-dorchester.com