Follow the nose that knows: the World's Best Sommelier, Enrico Bernardo, shares his favorite crus and the best glasses to drink them from.
Would you ever serve your guests caviar canapés out of Tupperwear containers, or cassoulet off paper plates? Well then, why sip the finest wines out of anything other than the world's most stellar stemware? Inspired by his personal discoveries while blind-tasting his way to the top, Enrico Bernardo (voted the World's Best Sommelier by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale in 2004 and head sommelier at Paris' three-star restaurant le Cinq) has tipped the glass over with a revolutionary new collection of stemware called THE FIRST. Produced by hand in the renowned Zwiesel crystal factories, THE FIRST is designed to accent characteristics intrinsic to the wine at the moment of its tasting, rather than focusing on specific appellations or grape varietals.
Of course, Bernardo owes a debt to the legendary Bohemian glass manufacturer Riedel—leaders in a niche market they single-handedly invented—which turned the humble wine glass into an enological engineering feat by recognizing that the shape and size of a glass could alter, and inevitably enhance, the taste, aroma, and texture of wine. Designed in 1957 by Claus Riedel, the thin-walled, bulbous Burgundy Grand Cru glass—the first in Riedel's exceptional Sommelier series, also on permanent display at NYC's MoMA—remains the ne plus ultra of drinking vessels for wine lovers the world over.
Here the winner of the world's most prestigious wine awards (Bernqrdo won his first, the Best Sommelier of Italy, at age 20) raises a toast to his favorite crus and their ideal crystal companions.
What is your definition of luxury?
Anything that gives you pleasure, that makes you feel comfortable and that helps you to better appreciate life.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
The point of an Egyptian pyramid, because it's the pinnacle of precision and preciousness.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
The woman of one's dreams for whom one would do anything in the world.
If luxury were a place, what would it be?
Undoubtedly a place by the sea, all alone on a deserted Caribbean island.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
A moment of ecstasy.
When did you first discover your passion for wine?
I started in the wine business 12 years ago at the age of 17, initially as a student of cuisine at a hotel school in Milan. My professor there was a former Best Sommelier of the World, a man named Giuseppe Vaccarini. My first passion was to define what it means to have the best balance in a wine because I was interested in how to replicate that harmony in the kitchen. So I began tasting wine in order to perfect my work as a chef. After graduating, I traveled to Greece and France and then in 1995 I began training as a Sommelier at a restaurant in the center of France, and in 1996 I decided to compete in the Italian Best Sommelier competition and won. In 2002, I won the European award, and then in 2004 the World's Best Sommelier award.
How is it that you started in 1995 and began winning awards only one year later?
Because I have a big nose—I'm like Cyrano de Bergerac. No, really it's just because I enjoy competition and wine and I studied intensely. It was a way for me to know whether it was the right path for me to take.
How important is the wine glass for you when tasting?
For me, tasting wine has always been about emotions: every second of the experience reveals information about the wine's color, nose, bouquet and taste. In 2000 I started designing my own range of glassware called THE FIRST that's focused on wine characteristics such as 'fresh and pure' or 'mature and soft,' as opposed to varietals such as Chardonnay, Burgundy or Zinfandel. In this way every wine in your cellar can be married to a glass based on its personality at the time it is consumed. For example, if I were to serve a Puligny-Montrachet 2004 right now, I'd choose a straight, tall glass because its acidity and mineral features are the most important; but in 10 years, when the wine becomes softer, more complex and aromatic, a wider, larger glass would be ideal.
Why did you choose Zwiesel to produce your designs?
I chose it because it is the most traditional and historic glassware factory in the world. All of the glassware is 100 percent handmade.
What is your opinion of Riedel's reputation as the best glassware makers for wine?
I think that Riedel is one of the most important references for glassware, but their Sommelier line is the only one of very high quality. I'm not that excited about their other ranges because they are semi-industrially produced.
What glass wear do you use in your restaurant?
For 10 years I worked with Riedel's Sommelier glasses, so I'm really comfortable saying that they are one of the strongest manufacturers of glassware in the world. But now at Le Cinq, in the restaurant and during wine tasting sessions, we use THE FIRST. I really worked hard to perfect the philosophy and process of the collection's design, and I stand by its performance.
Is it possible to ruin a good wine with a poor glass?
Yes, and it's something that you see quite often at beautiful restaurants or at wineries. Many people don't pay attention to glasses, and it's unfortunate because the quality of the glass plays an integral role in appreciating the full characteristics of the wine.
What kind of drinking vessel should one avoid at all costs?
I would never use water glasses and certainly never plastic.
For budding connoisseurs, which wine glasses would you suggest they purchase first?
From THE FIRST collection, I'd recommend they start with the Tasting Wine Glass, and from Riedel, the Chianti Glass. They're versatile enough to serve anything from red and Chardonnay to Champagne.
What would the ultimate picnic consist of for you in terms of wine, glass ware, and accompanying finger food?
For me it would be simple things like a canapé of foie gras, an excellent camembert, some fresh cherries, tuna tartare, and a beautiful bottle of Laurence Perrier Grand Siècle champagne served, of course, out of THE FIRST Champagne Prestige glasses.
Which wines are you currently excited about, and how should they be paired?
For its spontaneity, sweet character and aroma, I especially enjoy Kim Crawford Wines' Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It's perfect around this time because it's really fresh and exciting, and it's a young wine with a lot of color. It would be best paired with an asparagus risotto with fresh thyme.
In your opinion, what is the perfect wine-food pairing?
An S de Salon Champagne 1996 with Caviar Royal Osetra or a Barolo from le Coste Grimaldi 1989 with white truffles from Alba and fresh fried eggs. They are incredibly simple but wonderful parings.
What are you working on now?
I'm preparing the opening of my first restaurant, the Villa Madie, in Cassis, France, with two-star chef Jean-Marc Banzo, while working on a series of wine bars to open in Barcelona and Paris in 2007.
What are your ten favorite wines of all time?
BAROLO LE COSTE GIACOMO GRIMALDI 1999 (ITALY) http://www.barolodibarolo.com/inglese/scheda.asp?id_azienda=35
VEGA SICILIA UNICO 1970 (SPAIN)
MADEIRA MALVAZIA BARBEITO 1834 (PORTUGAL)
SANTORINI VINSANTO SIGALAS 1999 (GREECE)
MOSEL SAAR RUWER RIESLING BEERENAUSLESE BRAUNEBERGER JUFFER SONNENUHR FRITZ HAAG 1973 (GERMANY)
TOKAJI ASZU 6 PUTTONYOS ISTVAN SZEPSY 1995 (HUNGARY)
MONTRACHET DOMAINE DE LA ROMANEE CONTI 1991 (BOURGOGNE )
CHATEAU CHEVAL BLANC 1947 (SAINT EMILION)
S DE SALON 1966 (CHAMPAGNE)
CORNAS CLAPE 1978 (VALLEE DU RHONE)