Winner of the ASPI award for Best Italian Sommelier in 2015, Daniele Arcangeli has now joined Borgo Santo Pietro as head sommelier, bringing his consummate nose and expertise to the Meo Modo restaurant team.
Arcangeli has already created a wine seminar and new series of Tuscan and Italian wine-tasting sessions at Borgo for both guest and external wine enthusiasts, and is particularly keen to promote artisan winemakers. Italy alone cultivates 80 different types of Sangiovese, which finds its fullest expression in Tuscany, and yet only a fraction of these are known to the wider market. Arcangeli takes a hands-on approach to research; in addition to keeping abreast of trends by attending wine seminars and exhibitions, he also travels around to lesser-known producers to understand the context in which their wine is made.
“It is important to experience the terroir, not only to taste the wine but to see how and where it’s grown with your own eyes”, he says. “For example, wine produced at altitude has more acidity, and this creates a distinctive taste and bouquet. You need to see the territory and winemaking style in order to understand the wine.”
While chefs have their signature dish, a head sommelier leaves his mark with a scrupulously crafted wine cellar, where Arcangeli’s focus is on balancing big names with carefully researched boutique producers. He also plans to build the Borgo collection to offer ‘vertical’ wine-tasting sessions, which explore different vintages of the same varietal produced by a single winemaker, allowing participants to experience the differences that can impact production to a surprising degree from one wine harvest to the next; and ‘horizontal’ sessions that examine a single varietal produced by different winemakers in the same year. All this of course means keeping his tastebuds up to date with Meo Modo’s ‘farm to plate’ menu.
“Wine can add value to a plate or it can break it”, Arcangeli explains. “The perfect match of food and wine doesn’t exist but harmony between them does.”
In fact, being a head sommelier is a much vaster role than merely being responsible for wine and more akin to being a ‘manager of beverages’; Arcangeli points out that his knowledge not only needs to encompass other types of alcohol such as beer, spirits and sake but also non-alcoholic drinks, tea, coffee and even water, which can be subtly matched to the wine it is served with.
Arcangeli’s passion for his subject was sparked early around the family dining table. “Wine here in Tuscany is part of our tradition”, he says. “I remember my very first encounter with wine when I was around 13 years old. While my family and I were dining, my grandfather used to pour a splash of red wine from his fiasco into my glass to ‘fortify’ the water.”
His fine-dining appetite firmly whet, Arcangeli went on to work in a restaurant from the age of 16 and graduated from the highly acclaimed Giuseppe Minuto hotel school at Marina di Massa in 1995. He swiftly gained recognition for his skills in the bartending arena, winning the AIBES Best Young Italian Bartender award in 2005 at the age of 29, and being listed as one of the 50 top bar managers internationally in the Leading Hotels of the World circuit three years later. In 2008 he also won the ‘Bonaventura Maschio: In search of excellence’ award for his knowledge of spirits and distillation practices, and garnered a place as a semi-finalist or finalist in the line-up of Best Italian Sommelier each year from 2009 until taking the award in 2015 from the Association of Professional Italian Sommeliers (ASPI), a member organisation of the Association of International Sommeliers (ASI). Winning the title hasn’t stemmed his appetite for improvement, however; Arcangeli is currently working towards becoming a Master Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), of which there are approximately only 200 world-wide.
So what does a champion sommelier drink for pleasure? Arcangeli prefers traditional wines to their flashier crowd-pleasing counterparts, such as Chianti Classico for its subtle elegance, and Barolo for its ability to communicate the essence of its terroir more faithfully than many other varieties.
“Wine needs to be listened to”, says Arcangeli. “It’s like a human being: it’s born, it evolves, matures and declines, and it’s the sommelier’s job to know when it’s at its peak.”