Born and raised in Brescia, land of Franciacorta wines, Melania has always had a passion for food and especially wine. After completing her Masters degree in Management at Bocconi University in Milan and two years working within the PR department at Bialetti Industrie, she decided to turn her passion into work. In May 2014 she earned her Sommelier designation from the ‘Associazione Italiana Sommelier’ (Italian Sommelier Association). Today she lives in Houston with her husband and works as an Account Manager at BevCo International, a global wine importer and distributor.
People around USA are increasingly passionate about wine and visiting Italian wineries. As the wine-making map continues to broaden, so do opportunities for adventurous wine enthusiasts to beat the crowds. According to statistics, Americans are drinking more Italian wines than Italians themselves and according to the Italian Wine and Food Institute, Italian wine varieties are the most imported in the United States, which is the world’s largest consumer market.
Since my earliest memories from my childhood in Northern Italy, I have always loved wine. Both my parents’ families owned vineyards and produced wine. When I was a child I was fascinated by the big barrels, the piles of racks filled with grapes, the glass bottles lined up on the shelves, and the perfume of the juices that pervaded our family wine cellar. Plus, growing up in Brescia, surrounded by the Italian excellence of Bubbles, my approach to wine couldn’t be more natural.
What made you choose wine as your passion? How did you become a sommelier?
Like Veronelli would say, “Il vino e’ il canto della terra verso il cielo”, which literally translates to “Wine is Earth’s song to the Heavens”. Like Veronelli’s poetic words, wine is itself a form of art. There is so much history behind every producer and every bottle. I love to visit wineries and learn about the tradition and experiences that brought them to produce their wines. Wine has always played a central role in conviviality. As a convivial person myself, I love how wine enlivens a party, valorizes food and celebrates tradition. Combining hundreds of native grapes and a diversity of “terroirs”, Italy boasts an enormous diversity of wine production. This incredible diversity of wine contributes to the fact that wine can be found on almost every table in Italy. There is so much to learn and to discover, a lifetime will never be enough! My passion for wine is so important to me that I wanted to turn this into a career – the obvious solution was to become a Sommelier. Studying to become a Sommelier at AIS in Italy requires devotion and discipline. The coursework takes about one and a half years and involves a lot of study along with a final examination. Completing my Sommelier designation at AIS was very much worth my efforts. It has helped me to continue my interest and curiosity about wines produced within Italy as well as wines around the world.
My own life experiences have taught me to live without prejudice; trying new wines is no exception. So, naturally it is quite difficult to pick only one. My mood, situation, and the food I am eating influence me to constantly choose different wines. But, if I had to choose a wine to be enjoyed only by itself, I would pick Ronchedone of Ca’ dei Frati. It is a red blend of Sangiovese, Marzemino and Cabernet from Sirmione and Desenzano vineyards. It is an intense, complex, full-bodied wine, slightly oaky and very elegant. In fact, I chose Ronchedone as the red wine served at my own wedding.
To your point about being out there, a lot of sommeliers are quick to brand themselves as unofficial evangelists for certain regions or wines to try and garner some attention. Nothing wrong with that, but do you feel pressure to push and differentiate yourself?
I actually don’t feel much pressure. AIS is a great school and taught me a lot. Of course I feel much more confident talking about Italian wines, but as I said before, this is a field where you never stop learning and Sommeliers must always be humble and accept the fact that their input is not always required and everyone has a different palate. As an Italian Sommelier and wine rep, I love when people ask me questions about Italian wines, production and food pairing. I see a trend that American consumers are becoming more aware about what they eat and drink and are also becoming more interested and curious about wines. For an Italian living in the United States, it is such a pleasure to find that there is interest in Italian wines other than just Chianti and Barolo.
I think that for people wanting to work in the restaurant business, a Sommelier certification is a must in order to become a wine expert. This course of study provides a wide knowledge of enology, territories, regulations and food pairing. Actually, in Italy there are more and more young people studying to become Sommeliers and in many cases they only do this to compliment their passion for wines. In my opinion, becoming more aware and educated on wine is important for new generations because it allows one to explore history and traditions.
Describe your favorite traditional Italian meal and the wines that you would pair with it.
Ah! This is not an easy question! I love Italian food in general, but especially now that I live abroad I really crave food from my hometown: Casoncelli and Spiedo con polenta! Casoncelli is a fresh filled homemade pasta (like ravioli) stuffed either with spinach and ricotta or bread and cheese. Spiedo is the Brescian name for small game barbeque such as: birds, rabbits or quail. I would pair the Casoncelli with a Brut Franciacorta and the Spiedo with a Groppello del Garda.
No region of affection, at the moment I am more interested in discovering Pinot Noirs from all around the world. Working with BevCo as an Account Manager allows me to learn a lot about international wines. It is interesting to taste how different territories and climates influence the final product even though they grow from the same grape.
Favorite wine lists in Houston?
I have found out that there are great wine lists to be found at all kinds of Houston restaurants. I love the international wine lists at Arturo Boada, Mosset, Camerrata, 13 Celsius, and of course the Italian only lists at Divino, Amalfi, Poscol and Da Marco.
A Sommelier or a wine rep should always consider that your own opinion may not always be the best fit it or the right choice. You have to learn to listen to your customers because as a Sommelier you know wines, but at the same time a restaurant owner knows his customers. So the challenge becomes finding the balance between your suggestions and a restaurateur’s experience. It is never easy because restaurant owners may be afraid to try different options, affectionate of their old wines, or concerned over their customers’ reactions to menu changes. This is not a one-time sale job. Building a lasting relationship of trust and respect with your customers is critical and one must never forget that these relationships are difficult to build and easy to ruin.
Tiziana Ciacciofera Triolo for SdG Intl