Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that I needed little persuading to have a chat with Livio Del Chiaro at his wine bar La Divina Enoteca, in via Panicale, near Florence’s central market. Livio has one of the best noses in the business—recently he became the Italian Sommelier of the Year for the Federation of Sommeliers, Hoteliers and Restaurateurs (FISAR).
Helen Farrell: First of all, congratulations on becoming Sommelier of the Year. Can you describe the moment when you found out that you’d won?
Livio Del Chiaro: In the beginning, I couldn’t believe it. Then disbelief gave way to immense joy. I wasn’t expecting to win; after all, it was the first time that I’d entered the competition.
HF: What does one have to do to become Sommelier of the Year?
LDC: It’s all about wine, of course. There’s a written test about oenology, food pairing and winemaking. There’s a practical test to show that you know how to serve wine, as if you were at a restaurant, so opening the bottle and serving the diners. Then there’s the blind tasting test. The final test is a spoken one, which covers a bit of everything really.
HF: The wonderful thing was that this wasn’t just a victory for you, but also for another Tuscan, Elena Burroni, from Siena, who came third?
LDC: Yes, it’s wonderful because three Tuscans actually qualified for the semi-finals. That in itself was a victory. Plus, for a few years now, we Tuscans have always placed highly. We’re lucky to have a great team.
HF: What brought you into the wine world in the first place?
LDC: In the beginning, it was because I wanted to open a wine store in the middle of Florence using this family-owned space. That was back in 2003. But I wanted to make sure that I had the right level of professionalism before opening it. I’ve always been passionate about fine wine and good food, so opening this wine bar proved an excellent excuse I needed to do the sommelier course.
HF: What does a sommelier do exactly?
LDC: Many things! Sommeliers check how bottles are stored in the cellar and how wine lists are drawn up in restaurants and how certain wines pair with certain foods. A sommelier helps customers choose wine and serves it. It’s very important that a sommelier knows how to conduct a wine tasting session, so knowing how to describe wines using both technical terms and accessible ones. Plus, sommeliers play a key role in connecting local producers and consumers. So, a sommelier isn’t just a penguin in a tux—there is a lot more to it than that!
HF: For a typical Tuscan Christmas lunch, what would be your wine suggestions?
LDC: To go with traditional antipasti, start with a classic method sparkling wine, such as Franciacorta or Champagne. With your classic tortellini pasta served in broth, carry on with the bubbles or try a dry, sparkling Lambrusco di Sorbara. For the meat-based main course, the secondo, open a bottle of Chianti Classico or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. To finish, Asti di Spumante or Moscato d’Asti if you’re indulging in panettone or, to be strictly Tuscan, try a sparkling Moscadello di Montalcino.
HF: If you could have one bottle this Christmas, what would it be?
LDC: Bubbles. Champagne. I’m always happy to drink Champagne!