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Photo for: Michele Bove looking for that Wow factor


Michele Bove looking for that Wow factor

Michele Bove loves wine on and off duty, a beverage he believes to be the greatest of all. Join him on his journey to discover wines with a WOW factor!

Where do you currently work?

At the moment I am self-employed consulting for different restaurants in London. I just completed an opening in Knightsbridge as Head Sommelier, I am collaborating with a high end restaurant in Covent Garden and a casual, independently owned new local spot in North London (I am afraid I cannot give any name due to confidentiality agreements). I am waiting for the right occasion to present itself to move into the next Head Sommelier role.

Tell us more about yourself.

I am originally from Italy and settled in London 10 years ago after having travelled in Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and Austria for more than 3 years in my early twenties.

I started in hospitality by making coffees while studying at university, and, like many of us, found myself enjoying the hospitality environment so much and decided to continue my career first as Manager and then as Sommelier. It was in 2016 I obtained a Sommelier Diploma from the UK Sommelier Association (part of the AIS) and started my adventure in the wine world.

Food and drinks are a great passion for me apart from being my job and I enjoy trying new places to eat and drink with my partner and my friends, always looking for the next great cocktail spot, food heaven or wine bar.

Another great passion of mine is Sci-Fi. Since being a kid, I was enticed by how far the human mind can go in speculating and foreseeing the future. From movies, to books, anime and comics I spend most of my free time immersed in impossible worlds and incredible theories.

I also tend my garden constantly; I love growing flowers and vegetables from seeds and it takes a great amount of time and care to bring results. I am particularly proud of my tomato plants and rocket planters, the products of which I enjoyed in many meals so far.

Why did you want to become a sommelier?

My love for wine started pretty much with my career in hospitality. During my first role as a waiter in the Hampshire Hog my General Manager was very passionate about wine and often held tasting sessions which enlightened me on the vastness of the world of wine and the amount of knowledge necessary to understand such a world. On top of this my flatmate Mikael was Head Sommelier for Searcys at the time and it was the first chance to try some amazing products with the guidance of a great professional.

It wasn't until a few years later that wine became a profession for me from a mere passion. During my time at Barworks Ltd I decided to undertake a Sommelier course and specialise in such a beautiful, everchanging and impressive world. It is during this time I really understood why I wanted to become a Sommelier. Studying the tasting techniques and the production methods for this beverage gave me an incredible new view and approach to every sip I have taken since then.

Three aspects of being a Sommelier attracted me so much. The first is the knowledge required to understand such a complex beverage, the research and constant study is a drive to keep the interest alive and fresh at all times. The second is the experience, the possibility to help and guide anyone who is not an expert, the gratitude received after a very successful pairing or a newly discovered great glass (or bottle...).

The third is the teaching, the possibility of growing a new generation of Sommelier, the chance to refine people's palate, the guidance given to both colleagues and guests to understand the complexity of aromas array and taste sensations.

How according to you has the role of the sommelier evolved, especially now during covid times?

I believe the role of a Sommelier has become more complete after the terrible 19 months we just left behind. With staff shortages in the hospitality industry and the need of people to feel some sort of return to normality, Sommeliers have become the figure that can close the gap between guests and establishments.

The empathy shown by Sommeliers is the tool to break the ice between guests and staff, the guidance given makes a guest feel welcomed and at ease in any environment and lays down the foundations for a great experience. Of course, such great interaction is not achieved but by being a team player and the Sommelier can be the link between all departments of an establishment and the people coming through the door.

Sommeliers are often seen as an "add on", almost doing a job separated from the rest of the team. It is time to change such conceptions, the Sommelier must become an integral part of an operation by being hospitable and approachable with both guests and staff, we are not only salesmen after all...

What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier to have?

Between my ideas of wine and what the guests require. I am a strong believer that matching guests' taste and requests is the key to unlock unbelieve experiences and leave amazing memories. More, empathy helps to be an integral part of a team, by nurturing people and to help discover new sensations.

Another great skill is the ability to amaze. I often found myself in the situation of trying a new, different, uncommon wine or pairing and fortunately often had guests trusting me enough to go ahead with it. What an amazement when people realise what an experience they have been given just by going out of ordinary routes and establishing concepts.

What do you look for when you plan to buy wine for your business?

Definitely the WOW factor! With this definition I don't just mean to find a wine that has something different which makes it stand out but also the quality/price ratio. During my career I tried to find the most incredible wines for the customer friendly and approachable budget. In my mind it is always easy to find a really incredible, complex and high-quality expensive product.

The real deal is when a relatively cheap product delivers an incredible sensory experience, and I believe there is plenty to choose among!

Michele Bove, Sommlier

Your favorite places to enjoy great wine in London?

I have a few places where I enjoy having wine in London. I must admit (with guilt) my drink of choice when out and about is beer (another beverage I really enjoy) so I often end up in craft beer establishments. Also, I have the luck of a huge selection of wine choices through my suppliers and places of work so I always enjoy wine comfortably at home.

When out I really enjoy Arthur Hooper's in Borough Market. The small place has a cosy outdoor area, perfect for summer, a small but well priced wine list, an ever changing selection and a great snacks menu.

Living in East London another great spot for me is Davy's Wine Vaults. The venue is rustic and never too packed, the wine selection is not huge but carefully selected. The great advantage is that the wines are directly imported by Davy's, so the price is very competitive and people can't find those products anywhere else!

If I am looking for a new discovery then I head for the Winemakers Club. The selection of wines is one of a kind and the environment is relaxed and a reminder of an old-style cellar. There is also a retail offering directly from their website with next day delivery which is a great added feature!

What is your approach to matching food and wine?

As I have studied with the Italian Sommelier Association, I approach wine and food pairings with the system AIS has experimented and tried for so many years. The concept is based upon opposition and completion. That sounds confusing, doesn't it? In reality is a very simple concept, taste in wine and food complement itself by opposition (acidity against fat, tannins against juiciness, smoothness against bitterness) while aromas and "temperature" complement the ingredients in a dish.

I found this method quite hard to grip to begin with but it helps to make the process of pairing very simple after a bit of practice.
Another way I often keep in mind when pairing food with wine is the provenance of the beverage. We need to think that hundreds of years of history have probably got it right in some way so pair your food with the wine of the region your recipe comes from (Bourgogne Pinot Noir with a great Beef Bourguignon, Braised beef with Barolo, Chateaubriand with Bordeaux, fish stew with a Ligurian Pigato, Fiorentina steak with Brunello, Spaghetti allo scoglio with Greco dfi Tufo, goat cheese and Sancerre)! It's all about what we learnt by experimenting..

If you had to pick one red and one white wine as your personal best, which wines would they be?

Probably the hardest question for a Sommelier. I have various personal bests, depending on the season of the year, my mood, who I am drinking with and what I am eating. If I had to pick one red grape variety which always gives me pleasure no matter what I would go for Nebbiolo and all its expressions (the aromas of dry roses, lavender, eucalyptus and tarmac are a winner for me!).

For white I would probably go for Riesling because of its versatility (I have tasted many Rieslings in my life and I am always amazed by the different expressions such grapes can deliver). A producer I looked out for and have lots of respect for is Angelo Gaja. His approach to change the way Italian wine is seen worldwide has been incredible, but now there are so many great people doing amazing jobs out there, and all for us.

What's the best part of your job?

Two main aspects of my job make my day. The first relates to the empathy I talked about. The possibility of understanding and correctly getting the needs of a person is such an extraordinary experience. There is really nothing better than to see a guest's eyes shining after a delicious new discovery, and a big "thank you, well done, this wine is delicious" goes a long way.

And then there is the more egoistic part of the job, which is this possibility to taste great wines on a daily basis and to meet producers very often. For an expert’s palate it is always a pleasure to discover, or taste again, a great wine. The sensorial pleasure given by the sips taken when tasting a great wine brings a Sommelier joy to a different level!

What are 5 challenges you normally face in your job and how do you tackle them?

The first challenge I always found in every job I have taken is time management. It is not a surprise a Sommelier’s day is full and we always struggle to fit everything in a 24 hour day (I sometimes dream of 48 hours or 72 hours long days). From customer interaction, to updating the wine list, stock control, team management, tasting and dealing with chefs, a day is never boring but just too short so it is fundamental to prioritise and understand what is important first. It takes a great deal of experience to deal with such pressure but what a pleasure when the job is done!

Certainly, a second challenge is guests. I must admit most guests I have dealt with respect the position, the knowledge and the effort of a Sommelier, but there is always that one. The one that knows, or thinks to, more than a wine expert, the one that left manners closed in the drawer at home, the one who thinks a perfect wine is actually corked. For peace of mind, I always say the "customer is right" so I just fix the problem with a big smile and a positive attitude, offering alternative options. Or I just go for a quick walk around the building to clear my mind and come back full of energy!

Thirdly there is team management. I believe knowledge is power and I try to always pass my knowledge to as many colleagues as possible, so I encourage people to ask any time they have a question. The problem is that, during a busy shift, or a tricky moment for me (but not for others), it is very hard to answer a waterfall of questions when concentrating on other tasks. Solution? Fairly easy, I just remind my colleagues how busy I am and assure them I will guide them as soon as I can (It does not always work I am afraid.....). It is also no surprise people have requests at all times, it is often hard to balance the need of a business, personal need and need of others all together. I have a very easy-going approach and with communication and exchange of favours I manage to (not always) accommodate any request and to listen to my staff requests. And I am sure it will be my turn sooner or later.

Fourthly is stress in general. As everyone can imagine the hospitality business never sleeps and most staff are constantly on the run. With more responsibilities there is even less time to think and more need to constantly act and do things. This constant state of tension can create big problems and sometimes there is no way of stopping. My solution is to cut out time for myself from the business, no matter what. I always concentrate on my hobbies during my time off and try to keep my mind as far away as possible from work, just to get back into it with renewed energy, and a fresh mind.

Finally, there is admin. It is no secret businesses are there to make profit and running a department in the hospitality industry (which is not famous for its great profit margins in London) means making sure all papers are in order. Going back to the first challenge it is hard to find the time to sit down and deal with all invoices, supplier request, stock control, missing items, corked bottles, equipment maintenance, staff requests, rosters, and payments but these tasks must all be completed on a weekly basis for the business to run properly.

I used two different methods in my career, the first is to select a day of the week when I can complete all the tasks at once without disturbance, but it is possible just in a business when you have at least one day of slow service. The second is to set one fixed hour a day (for me it must be the same time everyday so my colleagues can cover) when I can complete such tasks, and with a daily updated "to do list" I can easily track down my progress.

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for London drinks enthusiasts?

I think I already gave some of my favourite pairings but here are some great ones for me. Barbera and Pizza, actually my favourite, the light, fresh and vibrant but smooth style of the wine complement perfectly the Mozzarella and freshness of the tomato sauce. 
Chablis and Fish & Chips, the fresh, tart and mineral character of the wine is a great palate cleanser against the oiliness of the fish without overpowering the flavour.

Barolo and Braised Beef, a classic but always works. The powerful aromas of the wine with its great complexity, the soft but persistent tannins complement perfectly the juiciness and firm flavours of the braised meat.

And here is a strange one, skin contact Vitovska (a grape variety from North-East of Italy and Slovenia) and creamy cheese. The round, smooth, persistent but fresh character of the wine helps to counteract the fattiness of the cheese complementing its strong flavours at the same time.

Any tips for wine brands trying to grow in on-trade and how they can help sommeliers?

The WOW factor I talked about previously. I believe people's taste is changing rapidly and more and more people can recognise quality in a glass, also with the help of technology. The ability to produce great, new and unexpected wine is the way to go, always considering how much money people are able to invest.

Michele Bove with the Mic

Please explain your weekly tasks, going in detail about what all you do. 

A Sommelier’s week is a busy one and as I explained before there is often little time to complete all tasks. We need to remember the first and most important task is to please guests and to create memorable experiences. So most of the week is spent talking to guests, recommending wines and explaining food pairings, luckily enough there is also time to tell stories, have a laugh and share memories.
Now, to be able to run a smooth and light service and to concentrate my attention on guests and their requests, I need to make sure all tools and systems are ready to go.

Before service the Sommeliers team need to make sure all wine fridges are filled correctly with wine, the wine list is updated with any out of stock or special wines, ice buckets are polished and spotless with napkins, stations are clean and stocked with necessary equipment, glasses are polished and without marks (if any are found with marks then the tedious task of re-polish starts). As Head Sommelier I was also in charge of checking with the Chefs any changes to the menu or new dishes and to sort any selected new wine pairing. Once all is ready to go then the guest interaction game starts. Once such a game is finished then orders must be placed to ensure all stock levels are correct and out of stock items can be replaced or refilled.

Ordering procedures are usually not as easy as one can imagine, suppliers often run out of products, wrong items get delivered all the time and sometimes products are damaged in transports. In all these cases any mistake must be dealt with, and any problem caused is fixed, it takes great effort to stay on top of it daily.

Depending on the business, stock must be counted and profit reported on a weekly or monthly basis. That means stored items must be counted and accounted against sales to make sure gross profit and product management is correct. It usually takes a whole day or so, depending on the size of the wine list, to complete such a task.

Completion of the weekly roster for the team is a vital task to set the week to come. I spend enough time planning the roster as I believe a healthy life-work balance is fundamental for everyone in the industry.

Finally, I try to find time for wine tastings. I am always on the lookout for new products and talking to suppliers and producers enhance my knowledge and my understanding of the developments in the world. And as said before there is a special pleasure in tasting something new and incredible.

What's your personal career goal? And how are you investing or planning to get there?

I have two goals which are my dreams, and I am now working towards realising them in the next few years or so. 

Firstly I am preparing myself for the route of becoming a Master of Wine. It is a really hard and intense path to take and a lot of time and study is required to reach such a high degree of knowledge. I am lucky to be surrounded by wine professionals that can help me so I am sure I will be able to succeed in such a path. A key point is to keep my brain and palate fresh and receptive, so wine tastings are important occasions for me as preparation platforms. I found podcasts, another great way of increasing my knowledge, with free access to many podcasts that have great content (my favourites are GuildSomm and Wine Enthusiast).

I also would like to start my own business soon; my dream is a wine bar on the coast of Southwest England. The project is recreating an Italian Enoteca style venue, serving great wines and carefully sourced local produce. I will need to carefully select the right location and concept before opening so I am considering different options. Thanks to my job I can make enough connections with people who can support me in the future, when I so need.

For the moment I am developing an online platform which aims to teach people how to taste wine while offering tasting lessons. It is a huge project which will take a long time to be completed, particularly as I am working on it while concentrating on duties but I am sure I will be able to deliver such a dream very soon. Once again thanks to connections I am in the lucky position of finding support quite easily.

Give us one good story that you remember of a customer and you.

I have many good memories of myself enjoying time with guests, but one story sticks out from the rest. It is quite an extraordinary story as once in my lifetime a guest ended up being a good friend of mine. It all started quite casually, a conversation about wine and food during service. It was not a very busy evening, so I had plenty of time to spend with the guest and his friend and entertain long conversations. I found out the guest had a great knowledge about wine and a very good culinary experience which made me enjoy the conversation very much.

At the time I thought the experience had ended and it was not till the year after I met this person again, once again while working, but in a different restaurant! At first I could not really understand who the person was but he did remember perfectly our first encounter. After a few words I did manage to remember (I meet a lot of people every day and sometimes it is hard to remember every single one of them), and it was so great to find myself at ease with him. After that time we ended up keeping in contact, he firstly became a regular guest, always asking for a new exciting wine and pairing, and then a friend joining me for wine tastings while off duty.

It is incredible the kind of people I meet at work and I never know the strength of a relationship I can build over time with regulars, particularly when we share common interest for wine, the greatest beverage of all…

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