Sabrina Manolio, Head Sommelier at Margot, (formerly of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon) believes wine is an inextricable part of the dining out experience. “It is a pleasure as a sommelier to understand the preferences of our guests and guide them rather than be anonymous,” she says. Born in Puglia, Manolio oversees Margot’s 350 bin-strong list, which scored very highly Wine Confidential’s 2018 review. Composed of 45% Italian wines, with a further 35% coming from elsewhere in Europe (particularly France), and 20% from the New World, its list and takes in Italian classics alongside a raft of indigenous grapes such as Timorasso from Piedmont, Zibibbo from Sicily and Susumaniello from Apulia. Expanding outside of Italy, the restaurant offers Meursault from eager Burgundian Domaine, Francois Mikulski, Corsican Vermentino, dry Hungarian Furmint and Australian Arneis, alongside first growth Bordeaux and enticing Californians.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
At the end of a long day I could only have a light drink. I guess a refreshing, extremely cold beer would be the best. Harviestoun Brewery Golden Ale is one of my favourites. I also love the new Margot lager done with Wimbledon Brewery.
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
The most embarrassing front-of-house moment for me was summer 2011. I spent almost one year living in Florence, my first experience in a 5-star luxury hotel. Great environment, elegant and classy, high expectations. Lunch service was going to be busy as usual, really high profile guests. The GM of the hotel briefed me regarding an important table, business meeting between a famous singer and her lawyers. The GM asked me to look after them. The table arrived and I was extremely excited to welcome them. I recognised the singer and I approached the table to offer aperitif and water.
The bottle of water that I grabbed was sweaty because of the massive difference of temperature between the fridge and the hot sunny day (part of the restaurant was in a garden). It took me 30 seconds to drop the full bottle of water on the table, the laptop and the project of the lawyers were completely wet. I will never forget the lawyer’s faces and the GM just behind me looking at the sky. It was really embarrassing, especially when I had to present them the bill…
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a somm, what would it be?
My advice would be ask questions, do not restrict your interest in just what you already know and like. Travel and meet the winemaker – it’s important to understand the wine and all the story behind. The best way to learn is taste wine and train your palate.
Has a wine ever given you an epiphany? Which one?
A few wines come to mind that I still remember trying for the first time, but if I have to name just one above all, my very first sip as an absolute beginner, when I started my career as a somm, it would definitely be Château Cheval Blanc 1er Cru Classé 1990, to die for.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
The most annoying is the hand out on top of the glass that stops you from pouring. So sad having a meal without wine. I would prefer to stay home rather than go to the restaurant and have tap water to compliment my dish.
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
I have to say that my mother and my father are great cooks and I am quite spoiled, so the very first inspiration comes from them and the care they took everyday to feed me. The flavours and the products of my land inspired me and drove me to choose this path. Every chef that I have worked with and I’ve visited really inspire me too. Their passion, devotion and the hard work explained with colourful and tasty ingredients.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
At Margot from our à la carte menu, I love the pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with toasted hazelnuts matched with the Alsatian Gewurztraminer from Domaine Zind Umbrecht 2015. The latest pairing I’m excited about is part of our wine dinner series at the restaurant. Our chef has created a spicy saffron cous cous with smoked eel and roasted pineapple which matches perfectly with Chardonnay Collezione Privata, Isole e Olena, 2016.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
Pure fantasy would be to have my vineyard in London by my house, but considering the weather I would choose a simple, tiny place on the coast in Puglia, the region where I am from, south of Italy, next to the sea, kissed by the sun.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t a sommelier I would probably continue my studies to become a teacher. I love the idea to teach and pass on what’s “mine” to others to enrich and take care of the values you’ll bring with you all life long.
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
I do not find any grape or style impossible to get along with, because each grape is unique, but probably what I am not a big fan of is Viognier.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served?
I really can’t say the most memorable customer because it wouldn’t be for me a big celebrity or a huge wine spender. The memorable customer for me is the one who shares with you the moment, the experience has to be for both. The customer asks for suggestions and in return you can express yourself and recommend the wine and from that point you establish a sort of trust. The guest that you can laugh with and know you made their visit more special too, and after a tough day at work you’re kind of satisfied and proud of what you have done.
What else would you like to achieve in your life?
Career so far has been the priority in my life, learning is a never ending destination, but if I have to look at the future, the greatest achievement for me would be a solid family, love, health and serenity.
What would be your desert island wine?
My desert island wine would be a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
What is your life motto?
Carpe Diem. Take in everything you can, don’t miss a thing, because I would prefer to regret something I did rather than something I wished I could have done.