Sommelier Talk: Enrico Bernardo

Young sommelier in France focuses on wine first and food second at his new restaurants—and so does the kitchen
Mar 4, 2008

Enrico Bernardo, 31, from Milan, Italy, was drawn to wine when he was studying to become a chef. Eventually he turned his focus entirely to wine. Bernardo has been based in France for much of his career, working for prestigious establishments such as Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Troisgros in Roanne and the Four Seasons Hotel Georges V in Paris. He recently decided to venture out on his own and create restaurants that have a twist: The diners choose the wine, and then the food is cooked to match their wine selections. For example, ordering a glass of Schloss Gobelsburg 2006 Austrian Riesling to start, followed by a glass of Pelissero Barbera d'Alba 2005 for the main course and am Arbois Vin Jaune Jacques Puffeney 1997 for dessert might result in an appetizer of fried scallops, Jerusalem artichoke meunière with a truffle-flavored gravy, an entrée of roast saddle of lamb with braised vegetables and a selection of French cheeses to finish things off.

Wine Spectator: Late last year you launched two "wine restaurants," Il Vino in Paris, and Il Vino Courchevel in the French Alps. Describe your concept.
Enrico Bernardo: The menu of these restaurants is exclusively limited to a list of 15 or so wines available by the glass or by the bottle. The dish that goes with each is a surprise. Our waiters—all sommeliers—guide our customers to make sure they choose a course to their liking. On the odd occasion some people aren't too adventurous and really want to know what type of meal they can expect, in this case we end up telling them.

WS: What is the hardest glass of wine on the list to cook a dish for, and what do your chefs tend to pair with it?
EB: No wine is hard to pair. Dishes are another story. Some are much too complicated to be served with wine. When you're not too sure about which wine to serve with a meal, the best option is to select a wine from the region of origin inspiring the cuisine.

WS: What is your go-to wine-and-food pairing?
EB: I work with the seasons. At the moment it's cold outside. Now's the time to eat hearty meat dishes best served with full-bodied reds such as Syrah from the Northern Rhône, Piedmont offerings or New World Cabernet Sauvignon. In the springtime I prefer white wines from the Loire or Alsace that go well with fresh green peas, asparagus and seafood.

WS: How do you emphasize value on the wine list?
EB: I make sure the list is well-balanced, offering a good selection of reds and whites from France, Europe and the rest of the world.

WS: What is your favorite wine region?
EB: Piedmont of course. I'm Italian, and a touch biased.

WS: How many bottles do you have in your own personal cellar, and what are some of your favorites?
EB: I have around 5,000 bottles boasting a vast variety of origins. Some of my special favorites are Romanée-Conti, 1982 Latour and 1989 Haut-Brion. I also appreciate German Mosel and Rheingau wines, Piedmont Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as fortified Madeira, Port and Jerez.

WS: What kinds of dishes do you like to cook at home?
EB: I like simple Italian dishes made from fresh ingredients—risotto, pasta, ravioli—and Mediterranean fish such as bass, mullet or sardines. When it comes to meat I prefer stewed veal or game served with gravy.

WS: If you ever made a wine, what kind of wine would it be?
EB: I'd produce a wine in the place where I'd most like to live. So it wouldn't necessarily be among the greatest wines in the world. Given the choice, I'd settle down in Mendoza in Argentina where I'd make a darn good Malbec.

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