Head sommelier – The Stafford London
Master sommelier Gino Nardella began working at the Stafford London in 1976, and over the past four decades has helped shape its vast wine cellar. Born into wine, growing up at his family’s vineyard in southern France, Nardella was trained as a viticulturalist before joining the Stafford at 22. He became an MS at 27, and he rose through the ranks to become the hotel’s head sommelier. As well as nurturing the 8,000 bottles in the 17th-century wine cellar, Nardella also oversees the wine service in The Stafford’s restaurant, The Game Bird, which was relaunched in 2017. The wine list boasts a healthy balance of New and Old World pours, with prices ranging from a comfortable £39 for a perfectly pleasant Chilean Chardonnay from Aconcagua, to a wallet-busting £3,450 for a Château Mouton-Rothschild 1982. It also covers everything from vintage Champagne to Port and a strong by-the-glass offer. Describing the cellars when he arrived, Nardella says they were French-dominated with “the odd Spanish and Italian wine, but we usually poured that as house wine”. Being “very forward-thinking” for the times, by the late 1970s, The Stafford had wine from California, South Africa and Australia in its cellars. “For an establishment like The Stafford, we were very avant-garde, really,” he says.
As part of his role at the restaurant, Nardella seeks out complementary vintages for private-dining menus, as well as giving tips to wine-loving diners and the trade. Renowned for his generosity and charm, Nardella will take any guest that asks on a tour of the hotel’s 380-year-old cellars, reputed to be the oldest in London, and which house a ‘secret’ collection of WWII memorabilia, left behind by visiting soldiers in the 1940s. Admitting to a weakness for Sherry and Burgundy, both red and white, Nardella is a firm believer in understanding flavours in food and how wine can both enhance and mask them. However, key to getting to grips with wine is learning about where it was made, he believes. “To understand wine you have to understand the vineyard, or you don’t know what’s in the bottle,” he says. “You have to go and see it to understand it. You can’t just read the back label. Wine is a little bit like a book that you start reading, and you get to the final page, and the book doubles, and that’s how it should be. It’s fascinating.”