Italy is the world’s largest wine producer by volume, so it’s no surprise that many consider a trip incomplete without a full wine experience. A trained sommelier, Emanuele Riva specializes in all varietals and aspects of wine service as well as the art of pairing wine with food. With more than 20 different Italian wine regions, it’s hard to make sense of the multitude of different varieties. Pairing the right wine with even the simplest of dishes can enhance the dish by bringing out savoury flavors, complimenting sweet tastes and creating a bold impact. Homebase Abroad interviewed Emanuele for his best tips on wine pairing and what it takes to be a sommelier.

How do you work with the cooks to decide on wine pairings?

Food and wine pairing is an art. It requires a lot of experience and practice. We try and tailor the menu to meet specific customer requests. The cook generates the menu and then the sommelier pairs the wines. Sometimes the client expresses a desire to drink a particular wine; in this case the sommelier will suggest to the cook dishes that will pair best with the menu. The cook will also have a knowledge about wines, but it’s up to the sommelier to know perfectly all the characteristics of the food. When I consider pairing wines with food, I think of how the food and wine will pair for all five senses – taste, smell and texture in particular. For sommeliers, technique is not enough, practice is sometimes more important.

What makes a good sommelier? Why did you chose this profession?

A sommelier doesn’t just drink wine, he really tastes it! Every day! He goes in search of the highest quality, he interacts with the producers of wine and he chooses the best years. My father was a sommelier and he transmits me this passion.

Do you have to have specific training/license?

At 20, I enrolled in the Course of the Italian Association Sommelier. Subsequently I became a professional sommelier with the opening of my restaurant, La Cava dei Sapori in Como. 3 My study is every day. My sommelier certifications are different but, every day is dedicated at the world of  wines. I spend a lot of time with best sommeliers in Europe, maybe even in the world, and I pay attention to what they do. Great tastings, studying books and different courses have been a sort of university of the wine for me.

Please describe your experience interacting with villa guests.

My background in hospitality began in catering. Today, I manage a restaurant in Como. I spend everyday interacting with people! I work hard to meet the demands of the clients in order to satisfy their desire to discover new ways to combine food with the wine. For me, my job is not just a job, it is a pleasure and a passion.

How does working with a sommelier change the wine experience for guests?

The principles of pairing food and wine are found within a complex process of opposition and agreement. This can appear simple and banal to an amateur, but it requires the sommelier to understand the wishes of the client at the table. I recommend the guests interact with the sommelier a few months before they arrive in the villa; this allows me to tailor your most enjoyable stay! It allows time to choose the right wines, to search the best vintages and to create a tasting path that allows guests to enter Italian-mode and enrich their holidays.

What activities do you recommend guests do when enjoying a villa vacation?

A visit to a wine cellar is always interesting to see all the different varieties of wines up close. I also recommend for both the great wine enthusiasts, and for those who just want to learn more about Italian wine, a tasting with a sommelier is a unique learning experience. A dinner with a wine pairing is very fun and special regardless if the guests know a lot about wine already or not.

What is the best way for people to try to learn more about wines without having to buy bottles and bottles of it?

Participating in a guided tasting with a professional sommelier can help you understand the technicalities of different wines as well as help guests to discover new approaches to different styles of wine. Sommeliers can explain about the service, the temperatures, the wine glasses and the history of every wine. There is a lot to say about Italian wines.

What do you find is the most interesting aspect of your job?

To drink good wines and to combine them with the variety Italian gastronomy.

What is your favorite food and wine combination?

My favorite match is that between wines and cheeses.

What makes Northern Italian wine/grapes special or unique?

The particularity of the Italian wines is due to the 450 autochthonous vines and known to the country (Autochthonous grape varieties are grapes that only exist in a certain region and are native to that area). These many different vines produce unique wines. For example, Northern Italy produces the famous Nebbiolo which is a red wine that was born in the mountains of northern Italy in the region of Piedmont. In the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region over 30 different grape varieties grow including international varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as local varieties like Refosco dal peduncolo rosso, Schioppettino, Friulano, Ribolla gialla and Verduzzo.

Is there anything you would like to tell us about yourself?

My job is my passion. I love Italian wine but I also like to taste and study wines outside Italy, in fact, I teach International Wine Technical in some hotel management schools.

Finally, your favorite Italian red and white?

I have drunk thousand of wines…. maybe a million? I can tell you that between the famous Tuscans and Piedmontese red wines I prefer the Piedmontese from Nebbiolo grapes. And for my favorite white wines…I love Sud Tirol!

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