DIRT stays away from the usual tastings, masterclasses or winemakers' dinners format - it's something more fun, exciting, dynamic and accessible. For the first three Sundays in November Mattia will take on two leading sommeliers from London and beyond, as they search for the best bottles from their chosen soil: Salt (Wines of the sea), Magma (Volcanic wines) and Peak (Mountain wines).
Can you tell us a little about yourself and Berber & Q?
I co-founded and opened Berber & Q Grill House in Haggerston back in April 2015 with Josh Katz, dealing with the creative direction, the front of house, and the wine selection, of course.Then, in 2016, we opened Berber & Q Shawarma Bar in Exmouth Market and did it all over again. It’s been a bit more than three years, but it feels like twenty…
A lot of things have happened since the 24th of April 2015!
What are your main wine influences – any mentors?
Mentors? It has to be my all-time legendary wine pusherman, Carlo Lupori, whom you might have heard of! He introduced me to the wonder of wine back in 2009 when I was running the list at Ottolenghi in Islington. That was just the beginning of a journey. If one of my passions is wine, then Carlo is the man responsible for this.
We’re talking terroir. Can you give us your basic definition of terroir?
I think terroir is a sense of place, the one that takes you where the vines are planted once you have the first sip. It’s the connection between the grape juice that we drink, the soil where the roots feel their way, the touch of the human hand and the history of the land.
How does terroir express itself in wine?
Uniqueness, originality, singularity, distinctiveness.
We speak often about the impression of minerality in wines. What does that mean to you? Is it real or perceived? (is it more than the flavour of minerals/soil?)
I tend to see minerality in a wine when I taste some tension in it; some wines simply have that genuine feel. I don’t know if that’s minerality though, or if it’s just in my mind.
I’d like to think that the vines whose roots are deeply connected with their soil can somehow express a flavour – whatever that might be.
What other terroir characteristics may one apprehend in wine?
The vine, the grape, the vintage and the winemaker’s touch.
How important is the method of farming in articulating terroir character?
The method is key to produce a sense of terroir in a bottle. There isn’t any real connection between the roots and the soil if the method of farming is not letting nature do its course. In the last few years I visited several minimal intervention winemakers’ vineyards, where I could grasp a sense of peace where all components of the ecosystem coexist.
Then, I looked at their neighbours, those who were manipulating the whole farming process…Well, that’s when I understood a couple of important lessons.
"I think terroir is a sense of place, the one that takes you where the vines are planted once you have the first sip. It’s the connection between the grape juice that we drink, the soil where the roots feel their way, the touch of the human hand and the history of the land."
And winemaking? What techniques or tropes obscure terroir expression?
I mean, they’re countless and it’s crazy when you break them down. The fact that so many people around the world have been used to that ‘make-up’, that kind of taste, concerns me.That’s also encouraged by the fact that wine is a product that does not require a label listing of what’s in it. It would be interesting to see what could happen if mandatory labelling was introduced.
"It is our duty, as people working in the wine and hospitality industry, to reacquaint palates with the taste of wines au naturel."
Can you give us some examples of wines that you feel perfectly capture something of the spirit of place?
There are so many…
Pivnica Cajkov - Vulcanica Pet-Nat: volcanic eruption.
Nino Barraco – Rosammare: a ray of Sicilian sunshine.
Bernabe Navarro – El Carro: Mediterraneo.
Domaine Ligas - Le Rose: Odysseus nectar.
Iago Bitarishvili – Chinuri Skin Contact Qvevri 1: 6000 BC.
Les Cailloux des Paradis – Racines: Sologne.
Where is the personality of the vigneron in the terroir equation?
As a matter of fact, the majority of vignerons who are making raw, real, natural, culturally positive wines have a great personality. It’s a ballsy choice, when you think they’ve got just one shot per year, but is there really another way?
It’s beautiful to get to know them and it’s only when I personally met them in their vineyards that the bottle I’ve drunk, made complete sense.
For me it’s important to get to meet the people who are making these wines, as well as the ones who are selecting them on their wine lists. That’s what I’m aiming to share with DIRT. in London.
You have put together an event called DIRT. celebrating wines from diverse soils and climates. What was the inspiration for this?
There are various inspirations behind DIRT. First, Doug Wregg’s article published on the Les Caves de Pyrene blog, where he questioned sommeliers and restaurateurs wine lists. Second is Alice Feiring’s book ‘The Dirty Guide to Wine’. But most importantly, the fact that I was fed up with the usual wine tasting format. The other thing that DIRT. celebrates are the people behind wine-lists, and their craft. There are so many beautiful people out there with a passion for wine, mastering some incredible wine lists, and sharing their real wine love. DIRT. exists to acknowledge the role of these people in our industry.
Describe for us the format of DIRT.
Each night has a theme, in this case Salt, Magma, Peak. Or to define it further - wines from the sea (SALT), volcanic wines (MAGMA) and wines from elevation (PEAK).
I don’t want to restrict anyone though, so guests can be as creative as they like with their choices. Last year Ed from Manfreds in Copenhagen brought a 02 Vigne 2010 from Jean-François Chêne (from the Loire Valley) for the SALT (wines of the sea) night, which had very little do to with the sea. Personally, I thought was the best wine of the night, because there was a kind of salinity on the palate that was spot on.
We all have the same budget for our wine selections and we can buy our bottles anywhere we wish. Of this year’s guests, Honey, Margaux and Bastien work in London, but the others will be coming from abroad: Dominik’s from Vienna, Bo from Copenhagen, Stefano from Barcelona, Yuki from Los Angeles, and they’ll all be bringing some hidden beauties with them including wines you probably wouldn’t be able to find in the UK.
It’s like a treasure hunt for us. It’s really fun and challenging at the same time, because we have to narrow our selection down to just three bottles, the right ones! Last year, for example, I travelled to the volcanic Etna wine region in Sicily to meet a couple of winemakers who were not represented in the UK. It was cool, and people were very excited to try their wines on our MAGMA night. I should have a couple of surprises this year as well, you’ll see!
On the night, we stand behind the bar serving the wines we’ve selected with a lot of stories to tell, and at the end of evening, our guests are encouraged to vote for their favourite bottle.
A ticket is £19 for two glasses and a Matbucha hummus from Shawarma Bar kitchen and you can buy more wine by the glass (2 for £12) or bottles. You can have fun, meet people, learn loads, drink obscure bottles of wine at entry level prices. I mean…YOU HAVE TO COME!
Finally… do you think wine lists/restaurants communicate enough about the back stories of wines and the very unique places they come from? If not, how can we bring that information to the customers?
I think there’s plenty bubbling under with a lot of sommeliers taking risks and approaching their wine lists in a more creative and ‘no-rules’ way. That’s why I’m throwing DIRT.
Anyway, the issue is not with wine-dedicated places, where you already have a lot of knowledge amongst a team that is doing their job extremely well.
Some restaurants, which are not wine destinations, should be more creative in order to generate that sort of interest and fun within their wine lists.
That’s also the reason why DIRT. is now Berber & Q’s wine list, serving to both guide and challenge our customers. I’m now seeing more guests taking greater risks with their wine choices. It’s fun to see this development.
We’ve got a fun job and we should introduce that sense of fun into our customers’ wine experience.
Interested in coming along to DIRT? Book online here or contact Berber & Q directly for more details ...
www.berberandq.com / 020 7837 1726