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Q&A: Matteo Montone, director of wine, Berners Tavern

Published:  20 February, 2019

Next month Jason Atherton’s Berners Tavern at The London Edition is launching a new series entitled An Introduction to Wine, hosted by director of wine Matteo Montone. On Monday nights 12 guests will be guided through the basics of wine in the restaurant’s private dining room, with each guest receiving 15% off of their bill if they dine in the restaurant afterwards.

Harpers spoke to Montone about the new initiative, and about the impressive wine offering at Berners Tavern.

What inspired you to create these introductory wine sessions for your guests?

We realise that some of our guests are sometimes afraid to say things about wine. And I have a very creative director of F&B, Lance Perkins, that is always pushing me in the right direction. So we decided to have those guests in to help them understand how to taste wine.

It’s an informal thing. In an hour I’ll run through four wines with them, and tell them how to taste, how to hold a glass, what acidity is, what tannins are, as well as some food-pairing suggestions. I’m excited, because I always tend to talk about wine only at a certain level with my sommeliers, or with certain guests.

It brings people to Berners Tavern, and the price is just £30. Within seven or eight hours the first two dates were fully booked, so we’ll be launching more dates. After that we want to do an intermediate course, and maybe try to do one with fine wine as well.

What changes have you brought to Berners Tavern in your time there?

When I came here two years ago as head sommelier we only had 200 wines, but I’m lucky to work in a company where they like people to express themselves. I brought the wine list up to 800. Then Lance said “Why don’t you launch something different?” So now we have 70 wines by the glass available too.

That’s a by the glass selection that many restaurants wish they had. How does that work, practically?

We serve many from the bottle, and some by Coravin. It wasn’t a big worry because I trust my team, and we don’t have a problem with wines not being sold. If a wine has an acceptable price point, within a week or two on Coravin we finish the bottle.

We also have a champagne trolley, a fortified and sweet wine trolley. We’re trying to make wine service interesting.

How has the industry changed in recent years - what are the current challenges?

The biggest challenge at the moment in the industry finding staff – you know the reason for that.

But in the six years I’ve been in London, what’s changed is that the sommeliers now tend to get more qualifications. Six years ago people didn’t have all these qualifications with the Court of Master Sommeliers or with the WSET, but now everyone wants to have them.

By preparing for the qualification, your knowledge, your awareness of wine increases, so that’s what sommeliers are doing now, and what I suggest to my sommeliers too.