Daniel Manetti is head sommelier at the two-Michelin-starred Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, having joined from The Dorchester in 2012. Growing up in the small town of Fucecchio, 35 minutes from Florence in Tuscany, Manetti acquired a love of wine from an early age, fostered by his grandfather, who had a hectare of vines and made wine for family and friends. He moved to London to pursue a career as a sommelier, and hasn’t looked back since. Here, he shares his ultimate food and wine parring, the joy of finally tasting Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, and why London is one of the best cities in the world to work in wine.
What or who inspired you to become a sommelier?
I was born in Tuscany in a small town called Fucecchio in the province of Florence and since I was a kid, every week my parents and grandparents brought me in the countryside in Montaione, near San Gimignano, where my grandfather has always had a small vineyard planted to Trebbiano Toscano and Sangiovese. I still remember all the September months picking grapes and the following days the smell of the must in the small cellar of my grandpa. He is still producing and drinking his own wine today and when I go home, every time he asks me to give him my feedback on it. It does not come as a surprise that I got so passionate about wine.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Travelling. Wine is the result of history, culture, geography, philosophies and much more. Lately I always want to travel in beautiful destinations close to wine regions. Travelling, meeting producers, tasting the wine in loco, tasting the local food, learning the culture and the story of those places, listening the stories of the local people. I think there is no more pleasure than this.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
Still when you tell many people you work as a sommelier, they look at you bit puzzled and say “you drink a lot of wine”. I come across many people who tell me “oh you are a sommelier, so you feel a superstar”, maybe after having experiences with professionals that are a bit too full of themselves. Other people say “oh you are paid to drink wine!”. Still the role is not very clear to everybody.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
A nice bottle of Riesling Kabinett Scharzhofberger from Egon Muller.
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
I did not have one in a while but definitely I still remember when I just started my job as commis sommelier and I was so enthusiastic about orange wine as it was so fashionable and I was learning the different combinations with food. I remember I was advising this orange wine to a guest looking for a suggestion to pair with his foie gras; I was talking about the wine with so much passion and enthusiasm that the guest was compelled to taste it. When he tasted it, I could understand from the face the horrible expression he did and still trying to say he liked it, probably because he was sorry to tell me the truth after the poetic description I gave.
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a somm, what would it be?
Travel and visit vineyards, learn the basic of the language, learn about the culture in that place where the wine is from and be always open-minded on beverage nowadays. I would say learn to focus on wine, but also study beer, sake, and spirits and read lots of magazines in order to constantly be updated on new trends and new products or new scenarios. This would help so much to always get new opportunities and go further in your career.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
I have actually three bottles that I would love to have cases of at home, which I tasted at The Connaught. The first was a Magnum of Salon 1990. Still I can describe the wine and feel the taste just by thinking of it. The epitome of Champagne, I have not yet tasted something similar. The second bottle was my first taste of a proper Riesling. I had just joined The Connaught as commis sommelier and I remember my previous head sommelier gave me a glass of Riesling Scharzhofberger Beerenauslese 1988. That really showed me another world of wine.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
Just last week I was in Burgundy and I had the opportunity, the honour and the privilege to visit Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Such an experience does not happen every day and it is very difficult to get an appointment there. I know so many people that are in the wine business much longer than me and yet did not have the opportunity to visit DRC. The atmosphere is magical and enchanted, yet peaceful and humble at the same time. Monsieur de Villaine explaining the history of the domaine and the history and character of each single vineyard while tasting wines from the barrels did not seem real. I will always remember it as one of the most beautiful wine experiences of my life.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
I get very annoyed when I am not prepared or if I realised I could have done something better. Understanding that I did not do my best, that really gets me annoyed.
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
Grant Achatz of Alinea. If you read about his story is amazing. He is an example of perseverance and willingness to succeed. It is touching and heartening and inspiring at the same time. Despite all he went through, he never gave up and at the end he won. Unfortunately I have never been to Chicago to visit his restaurant but it is on my bucket list. I am scheduling a week in Chicago.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
There are so many but I am a lover of classics. Beautiful Fine de Claire or more salty Belon oysters with a sharply mineral brut nature blanc de blanc Champagne from Côte de blancs. For main, Alba white truffle tagliolini and a nice glass Gevrey-Chambertin from Rousseau.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
A vineyard overlooking the sea. In Costa d’Amalfi DOC on the Costiera Amalfitana in Italy with a super steep vineyard and a beautiful view on the Gulf of Salerno. The operations would be expensive, but have a look, the vineyards there are breathtaking.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
To be honest, in the last years I did not think so much about what I could have done, but I am constantly thinking about the future. I love flying, and when I was a kid, I visited some army aviation bases in Italy as I wanted to become a pilot. I was so passionate about it. I remember I knew everything about military planes. I believe one day I will work towards a personal flying licence.
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
Lately I cannot withstand Albariño. I always find it mono tone.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
All the guest that love wine are memorable. You can share with them very nice moments and at the same time you can exchange thoughts and experiences and always learn something new.
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier working in London?
I would say proud and satisfied. I am proud to work at The Connaught Hotel, one of the World’s best Hotels and for such a well known chef like Hélène Darroze. Also, I am proud of the cellar we have, the collaborations and collections with certain winemakers from all over the world. You can’d afford such investment in wine at many restaurants. When I am asked about the wine list we have at The Connaught, I always talk about it with great satisfaction. Also, working in big cities like London or New York gives you possibilities in terms of job opportunities and a learning path that in other countries, like mine in Italy, are unimaginable.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
So many things. First of all I would like to travel even more and visit many more the wine regions all over the world. I want to improve my French as well. I already speak a bit but I want to perfect it. In terms of my career development, I have some plans and are very aspiring, but life is a step ahead at a time, so patience and steadiness.
Finally, what wine and paired plate would you pick from your list and why?
One, that at the moment is not in the menu, is oyster tartare and Oscietra caviar and coco bean from Béarn velouté – one of the best creations of Hélène I believe – paired with a Meursault Village from J.F. Coche-Dury in a cooler vintage like 2014. Simply astonishing and mind-blowing.