Daniel Manetti, Head Sommelier
A Day in the Life
Daniel Manetti is head sommelier at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. He joined from The Dorchester in 2012 and – with one brief break – has been with us ever since, advising guests and helping to curate our incredible, 111-page wine list.
Did you always dream of working with wine?
It was always a hobby of mine. I grew up in the small town of Fucecchio, 35 minutes from Florence in Tuscany. Like many others, my grandfather had a hectare of vines and made wine for family and friends. He is still working at the age of 82, making red Sangiovese and white Trebbiano wines in a traditional ‘fiasco’ straw-covered bottle. I was always interested in wine but, in Italy, being a sommelier is not really a recognised career path, so I decided to move to London. I went to work at The Dorchester as a commis sommelier.
What prompted the move to Hélène Darroze at The Connaught?
I heard through a fellow student on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 Award that the assistant sommelier had left. So although I was coming from Alain Ducasse’s three Michelin-star restaurant which had a cellar of around 800 bottles, I was potentially moving into a higher position at a hotel with an incredible 2,000-bin wine list – that’s somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 bottles of wine. It was just an amazing opportunity – to taste, learn and share everything I knew.
How does your day start?
My day starts at 9am with emails from suppliers. There is a lot to take care of, because we also look after the wine requirements for the Connaught Bar, the Coburg Bar, Jean-Georges at The Connaught, the Sommelier’s Table and private events. So I’ll be checking prices and availability and sourcing any wines we need to replace. Sometimes I’ll be putting together a proposal for wines for a private lunch or dinner in the Carlos Room or the Sommelier’s Table (Hélène Darroze’s take on a ‘chef’s table’). We have two sommeliers on duty for lunch, and another one later to close up and make sure the glasses are sparkling.
What are guests generally drinking at lunchtime?
Usually just a couple of glasses which are included with the set menu. But we do get some unusual requests. One guest on the two-course set menu ordered a £560 bottle of Chateau Figeac 2000. Another one ordered just one course of caviar and a bottle of DOC de la Romanée-Conti at £3,000.
How does the rest of the day go?
In the afternoon we update the wine list, check the cellar to make sure everything’s in its proper place, make orders, check deliveries and meet importers and agents. We also meet the chefs. Whenever they introduce a new dish they explain it to us at a tasting – highlighting characteristics such as whether it’s light, rich or particularly structured. Then we’ll make a choice of three or four wines that match – so the more structured the food, the more structured the recommended wine should be. You’re also trying to pair richness with sharpness. There are theories about how to do this, but the best way is to try the food and wine in combination together.
What happens in the evenings?
Evenings are interesting. Whereas lunches are often business and therefore quicker, dinner guests are choosing from a five, seven or nine-course menu, so it’s more relaxed and there’s much more time to talk to them. We offer a normal or a prestige wine pairing for these menus, but it is flexible. For example, with the foie gras we would normally suggest a Sauternes, but for anyone who doesn’t like sweet wine we would suggest a different white wine – for example Rioja Blanco La Reserva 1996, a lovely nutty, vanilla-tasting wine, aged in oak for 10 years. Alternatively I make recommendations to the guests, and they completely trust us, but often they know what they want and just look at the list for the detail. They’re quite surprised when they see the wine list as it runs to 111 pages! (The index is there to help.)
You recently created a wine pairing for the five-course white truffle menu – what did you include?
It starts with a glass of Champagne Krug. Then a Chateau d’Yquem 1996. We then chose a white wine from the Piedmont region of Italy – a centre for truffle-hunting. It’s a Piedmont Chardonnay called Gaja & Rey, from one of the best producers. Finally we chose two fine Italian Barolos – a Bruno Giacosa made by traditional methods, and an Elio Altare, made in small barrels and therefore drinkable earlier. The wine pairing is an additional £230, but actually it represents really good value for the wines you are getting.
Are there some very rare wines in the cellar?
We have some collections of several vintages from certain domaines or estates, which we call our ‘private collections’. Domaine Prieuré-Roch is one of these – we have a number of different vintages. We have vintages dating back to 1942 – a Vega Sicilia wine from the Duero region of Spain. Our most expensive wine is a magnum of 1961 Chateau Latour 1er Grand Cru Classé, at £32,000.
What’s the secret to being a good sommelier?
I have a lot of contact with guests, so I would say that it comes down to empathy. You must always understand who is in front of you and adapt accordingly. Good storytelling can be a part of this. Your aim is to create a relationship with the guests and get their trust.
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