Interview With A Sommelier – Augusto Gherardi
8th February 2023
The World of Wine is beautifully showcased by an army of talented Sommeliers, who help the consumer discover their next favourite bottle, understand the different regions and pair a delicious meal with the right Glass of Bubbly.
In this article, I speak with a man who has helped many people to discover the vast world of Wines and Sparkling Wines, his name is Augusto Gherardi, and let’s find out a bit about his life as a Sommelier.
Could You Tell Us About Yourself?
“My name is Augusto Gherardi and I am from Umbria, a region in the central part of Italy. I graduated in Economy and Management at the University of Perugia. This degree gave me the ability to evaluate everything keeping in mind the business aspect of things. Apart from it, I also have a Master in Hospitality in Switzerland at Swiss Hotel Management School (SHMS for short). My studies in Switzerland opened my mind and taught me how to critically analyze everything on each and every single aspect. On top of it, it helped me to become a hospitality professional while developing discipline, consistency and spirit of sacrifice.
Regarding the wine side, apart from the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) Diploma I also passed the WSET 3 in wine with Distinction and I am about to finish the WSET Diploma as well. As I am always thirsty for knowledge, I recently decided to also start the WSET 3 in Spirits. I consider myself a very curious person and I am always trying to learn new things and keep myself very busy. In the next 4-5 years, my goal is to become a Master of Wine which is considered to be the highest certification that it is possible to achieve in the world of wine.”
What Inspired You To Become a Sommelier?
“Among everything it was my curiosity which brought my attention to the world of wine. I wanted to know what I was drinking and what was in my glass. The grape, the region, viticultural practices, the winemaking techniques and so on… then I realized that the more I knew, the more I wanted to know and the more I was able to appreciate the wine in general. Wine is a wide topic and it is practically impossible to learn every aspect of it. This keeps me always motivated and stimulates me to study harder and to never get bored of it.
Secondly, it was because I wanted to be able to confidently pick up a bottle of wine at the restaurant without having to always choose big labels and famous brands. At a younger stage, I did not have a lot of budget to spend on wine, but I still wanted to treat myself from time to time. So I started studying and investing in some professional courses. At the beginning this was both time consuming and costly, but all the efforts I put into my personal development are now allowing me to save lots of money when I dine out at the restaurant as I am confident enough to choose the bottle I want for the price that I know is fair.”
During Your Time As A Sommelier, What’s The Most Surprising Thing You’ve Learnt?
“In the sommelier world there is something new to learn every single day. So this is not an easy question to answer. But if I have to choose only one I would say that I have been impressed by the fact that it is very easy to bump into pretentious sommeliers on the floor. Many of us forget that our primary role is to recommend and give to the guest our humble piece of advice without making them feel judged or uncomfortable in any way. We need to be there to provide the best possible experience for them while boosting restaurant revenue at the same time.
If we do our job properly and with passion, this will naturally happen without any struggle or too much effort. I realized that most of us tend to intimidate the guest instead of assisting them in selecting the bottle they want the most. We intimidate them by using complicated words and concepts that they cannot understand. I was the first one making this mistake in the first place. But then I realized that this is not the right approach to do our job in the best possible and most convenient way. So I completely switched my way of working.
Now I use simple words to express complicated and hard topics, providing everyday examples that are much easier for the guest to understand. And I am constantly trying to do it also when I am not on the floor. That is the reason why more than two years ago my twin brother Alberto and I launched The Wine Jokers page, which is a portal for everyone who wants to approach the world of wine for the first time, but also for wine experts out there whose aim is to improve and broaden their knowledge.”
How Often Do You Find Yourself Recommending English Sparkling Wine?
“I personally fancy English sparkling wines and I am the first one who is keen to try them when I see them showcased in a wine list. This is because my knowledge allows me to not be biased by the price when I choose a bottle at the restaurant. This is to say that the only drawback of English fizzes from an inexperienced guest is the price point. It is hard nowadays for English bubbles to be competitive with Champagnes and other traditional method products made around the world.
The reasons being vintage variation which causes the volume of production to fluctuate dramatically one year from another one, and as a consequence the price fluctuates as well. The same thing that happens for Chablis wines basically. This means that if a guest has to choose for a basic and entry level Champagne or for a very good quality English bubble, supposing they sell for the same price, they will always go for the soft brand champagne. So well aware of that what I usually do is recommend English sparkling wines to guests who trust me, like returning guests with whom I already had a previous point of contact in the past and were very satisfied with my recommendation. If it is a new guest I have never met before, I apply another strategy. In this case it is all about educating the guests first, making them understand that the price is fair considering the quality of the English sparkling wines produced nowadays.
The best way to do that is to make them try the product blind. Supposing they would like to start with a Champagne as an aperitif I bring them what they asked for, and then on the side I bring a little taste of an English sparkling wine. When they are not biased by the label I noticed that the majority of the time they judge the English wine better than the Champagne or at least at the same quality level but for a better price. This way I am confident they will be keen to order an English bubble the next time they will be back.”
In Your Professional Opinion, When Pairing Wine With Food, Out Of Champagne And Prosecco, Which Do You Think Does A Better Job With Complementing A Meal?
“Champagne and Prosecco are completely different products and comparing them would be like comparing apples and oranges. Just because they are both fruits, and they are round that does not mean they taste the same and have the same nutritional properties. This applies to Champagne and Prosecco as well. Both have bubbles, but Champagne, hence traditional method wines, are more labor intensive and require longer production times, so the price will be higher on average compared to Prosecco, which is a tank method.
Both the products are very versatile and it really depends on my mood and where I am. For instance, last summer I was enjoying a dish of seafood Pasta cooked “al dente” by the sea in Campania. I ordered a Prosecco to go with it and it got the job done properly.
In Paris, while I was dining in a Bistro at dusk, I ordered a Champagne to complement my meal instead. It also depends on how much you are willing to spend on a bottle of wine. I consider Prosecco as an everyday luxury wine, meaning that everyone could potentially order it when going out for dinner. The contrary is not possible. There are some very good quality Prosecco on the market, and I prefer to order a £15 bottle of Prosecco (off trade price), than a £10 bottle of Champagne.”
What Advice Would You Give Inspiring Sommeliers?
“Write down a vision and read it every morning first thing when you wake up. This will always remind you where you are going and why you started in the first place to do whatever you decided to do. It will help you, especially during the darkest times. Do not be afraid to dream big. You will bump into a lot of people out there who will try to pull you down at all times, but if you know what you want and if you have a proper vision no one and nothing will ever stop you.
Invest in some courses. I would recommend investing on WSET because it really offers a broad vision of the world of wine from viticulture to winemaking providing important business considerations as well. It covers them all. Knowledge is power and despite tasting every day and traveling to meet producers is required and pivotal to grow, it is almost useless if you do not do it with the right mindset and approach.”
If you sat down for a quiet dinner, what dish and sparkling wine would you choose to enjoy together?
“It would be a mouth watering and creamy dish of tagliatelle pasta with warm butter and shaved Umbrian white truffle on top paired with a sought after Dom Perignon P2 vintage 2002. The rich and aromatic white truffle requires a powerful yet fresh Champagne which would balance out its flavor without overwhelming it. Plus, the wine would start developing some nuttiness, and showing hints of roasted nuts and almonds which would add even more depth and complexity to the dish. If money were no object of course…”
Thank you, Augusto, for sharing your words, knowledge and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!
Images belong to Augusto Gherardi. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.