With names like Aqua Shard, The Ritz and Locanda Locatelli on his CV, plus a growing number of awards and titles, Matteo Montone is one of Britain's most promising sommeliers. He's now in charge of all things wine at London Edition hotel’s Berners Tavern in Fitzrovia. We caught up with him to capture the secrets to engineering a winning wine programme
Since he landed at The London Edition two years ago, wine director Matteo Montone expanded the wine offer from 200 to 800 bins, a remarkable achievement. Along with quadrupling in such a short period of time, the list also shows great personality and excellent balance between classics and little-known gems, with prices ranging from £30 to £18,000.
But what are the secrets behind a successful wine programme?
Value is key
‘Finding value is one of the toughest challenges that the modern sommelier has to face,’ he points out. ‘It's easy to select top Bordeaux and please those who can afford it, but the reality is that the majority of people doesn’t like to spend that much.’
Indeed, if selecting well known producers and regions is a skill that any sommelier can learn to master with relative ease, finding bottles that deliver outstanding quality at a human price tag is a totally different kettle of fish.
As a consequence, Montone dedicates an increasing amount of his time in search of value: ‘The hardest wines to cover on the list are the ones that we sell for £50 or less,’ he explains.
‘Whilst I have great respect for the classics, it’s always fascinating to see what else is being done around the world, [so] I try and introduce wines from lesser known regions like Slovenia, Catalunya or Greece. We [also] have bottles from Brazil (Casa Valduga), Israel (Segal) and India (The Fratelli).’
Matteo Montone in a nutshell
2013 Moves to London and works at Aqua Shard
2014 Junior somm, then deputy head somm at The Ritz
2016 Assistant head somm at Locanda Locatelli. Gets WSET Diploma & wins Bellavita Best Sommelier
2017 Head somm then director of wine at Berners Tavern
2018 Gets Court of Master Sommelier Advanced certificate
2019 Wins Chaîne des Rôtisseurs GB Young Sommelier of the Year & GQ Best Sommelier
‘We have over 70 wines by the glass so we definitely want to encourage our guests to try new things. A particular favourite is El Mago Organic Garnacha by Franck Massard – which is great AND affordable.’
Education and a bit of theatre
Just above the restaurant is a private room. It’s the ideal space for VIP dining and Montone makes the most of it by holding, twice a month, masterclasses aimed at beginners. He guides them through the basics of wine tasting and correct terminology, ‘so that they are more confident when choosing wine for themselves.’
By boosting their self-confidence, guests are more willing to experiment, which translates into a better dining experience, better sales and, more often than not, in customers that are likely to come back. ‘We have a LOT of regular guests...,’ Montone comments, ‘many even visit on a monthly basis to try our changing menu.’
For some extra revenues a little theatre comes in handy. All meals open and close with the somms deploying two trolleys geared up with sparkling and dessert wine.
Aboard the first, a selection from Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot, plus Dom Pérignon 2008 and Nyetimber (‘I’m actually planning to expand the offer of English fizz,’ he assures). The second is elegantly populated by the widest array of sweet and fortified wines, ranging from the crisp charm of Contero Moscato D’Asti to the instagrammable delightfulness of Château d'Yquem.
But a winning wine programme isn't all about selecting labels and boosting sales; it's a matter of personal and professional development too. Montone keeps challenging himself by entering competitions and preparing for the Master Sommelier diploma. His latest achievement was the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs' GB Young Sommelier of the Year award, which will bring him to South Korea for the international finals next September – stay tuned.