My name’s Roberto Zanca and I’m head sommelier at Hotel du Vin in Cheltenham. I’m half-Italian, half-Portuguese and have lived in Cheltenham for four years.
I studied at university here and then left and went back to London where I worked at Chapter’s restaurant in Greenwich, and then I worked in Horsham, Petersfield and the Winchester Hotel du Vin before returning to Cheltenham.
When I was studying for a degree in hotel and tourism management at university I took some transferrable skills courses in wine and it developed from there. I got the WSET (Wines and Spirit Education Trust) diploma and then did the advanced course with The Court of Master Sommelier.
There are two types of training in England, the WSET, which is more trade led, and The Court of Master Sommelier which is more catering-led.
The WSET is more structured because it takes two years, while you work at your own pace for The Court of Master Sommelier which leads to becoming Master Sommelier. There aren’t many people in the world with the diploma and I need to pass one more very difficult exam to become a Master Sommelier.
It involves lots of staff training, advising customers, food and wine matching, organising events, reordering wines, updating the wine list and going to tastings as I’m always on the lookout for something interesting.
No, they are from all over. It’s always good to have wines from around the world. Usually if the sommelier is from France they’ll put more emphasis on French wines, if they’re from Italy they’ll favour Italian wines, but I’m actually pretty balanced because I like wines from all over the world. But of course you must have French wines because they are the largest producers.
I have to say unfortunately only a small number are open to suggestions which leaves my door a bit shut. I like to suggest wines that are a bit off the beaten track that might be interesting or offer better value for money.
People tend to go for the big names like Chablis or Sancerre without considering other regions because that’s what they know. With reds they go for Malbec, and you pay a premium price for it because everyone likes it.
There is a tendency to choose New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Argentinean Malbec because it’s what people talk about, and what you find very visible on supermarket shelves.
I don’t have anything against customers tasting wines by the glass but it’s different when I need to open bottles; if you want to taste 10 wines then I need to open 10 bottles which can get very expensive!
At the moment we’ve got a white Derthona Timorasso which is a grape variety indigenous to Piedmont in Italy. For reds, it is Cuatro Pasos which is made from Mencia, an indigenous grape from northern Spain.
We’ve got 450 bin numbers. A bin could be 10 or 50 bottles, so bin number means the type of wines.
I would say wines from the Languedoc region of France are always good value and some are fantastic quality as well. Portugal is also very good.
With our wine list it’s a difficult question because we’ve got so many different wines but probably, if I want to push the boat out, it would be a bottle of Henschke from the Eden Valley in South Australia.
My first taste of wine was when I was about 10 years old and it was a sweet Mateus-style sparkling rosé. Thankfully my palate is much more sophisticated now, but at that time I loved it. So you need to start with something that’s light and crisp, like a Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc or an Albarino, which is slightly peachy, from the Rias Baixas area of Spain.
We always do it here if the wine requires decanting and we know there are sediments in the bottle. I don’t for wines such Malbec as it doesn’t really improve its taste but I always decant wines from Bordeaux or Barolo because it gives air to the wine to develops its aromas and flavours.
I like to serve my red wine cooler and white wine warmer than people usually like, but I need to serve what people like and not what I like! When wines are too cold you can’t really taste the flavour and if you serve red wine too warm then it becomes slightly too flat in your mouth and pretty heavy.
Not really. I think people should drink whatever they want with foods they enjoy; if you like Pinot Grigio with your steak you should have it. Of course it wouldn’t be ideal because it doesn’t have the tannins which help clear the palate. If you get a rib eye with lots of fat, tannins, commonly found in red wine, help clean your mouth and the more protein you eat the more tannins you should have.
Yes, although most people like to drink red with their cheeses but for me it’s a no no because cheese, especially creamy ones, coat the palate. If you have a glass of red wine after cheese you can’t actually taste the flavour because the wine hasn’t got the structure to clear the cheese from your palate so you need something thick, sweet and white instead. I prefer Tokaji from Hungry or Loupiac from Bordeaux instead of Port.
No, but they age differently as the cork imparts flavours into the wine while the screw top is good for keeping freshness.
It depends on the wine. I’ve kept some Semillon from Australia in the fridge for three months and it still tastes very fresh, while some reds are oxidised after two days. Generally I wouldn’t keep wine for more than three days after opening.
Taste, taste, taste and never stick to the same wines because you might find new ones you like. There are hundreds of grapes that need to be discovered, Sauvignon Blanc is long gone for me. At places like Hotel du Vin and Ellenborough Park there’s always a sommelier around to ask for advice.
It depends what I fancy. I never have wine when I finish work, I’d rather have a beer as it quenches my thirst more in the evening.
I tend to drink wine with meals, maybe it’s because I’m Italian and we don’t usually drink without food. There are lots of different wines in my cellar at home and if I fancy a glass I’ll use my coravin, a machine that lets you drink a glass of wine without pulling the cork out.
We’re experimenting with the concept at Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells to see how customers respond to it. It means you can offer more expensive wines by the glass without having any wastage and it’s very fashionable at the moment, especially in Michelin-starred restaurants.
By Anna McKittrick
Monday 01 June 2015
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