Updated: Jun 14
I would like to share with you the experience of a lifetime, which repaid in one evening all the efforts that my family has been putting into hospitality business for many years.
It was an ordinary Saturday, and I was working as usual in my family restaurant “Osteria Del Borgo”, when I got a call from someone asking for a Sommelièr service that same evening in a prestigious accommodation for high level guests. They were looking for an experienced sommelier, with good knowledge of english language and a 3rd level sommelier degree. I kindly refused considering that I was already very busy with the restaurant, but from the other side was specified that the occasion was VERY important and they would NOT take ‘no’ as an answer. They said the resort name was “Borgo Finocchieto” (Yes, the same in wich at the time Michelle and Barack Obama were guests) and Massimo Bottura (Yes, the chef owner of the italian restaurant “Osteria Francescana”, with 3 Michelin stars) was going to cook for super high level guests. While tears were starting to pour from my eyes, I obviously answered “I obey”.
Time to shave, and iron my shiny new AIS uniform, then in the car driving towards Borgo Finocchieto. The location was outstanding, its view left me breathless.
While I was waiting at the reception, looking for someone who could give me some information, I met face to face with Barack Obama in a golfer suit. He nodded towards me and I reacted with a VERY clumsy “Hello Mr. President” (sweat). Well done Francesco, first impression is the one that matters!
Once I got in, I met with “Grape Trotter” Sommelier Filippo Bartolotta, who personally selected the wines for the evening and I immediately started helping him to decant the wines and bring them at the right temperature in an inexorable race against time.
At 7.14pm the guests arrived in the tasting room when few minutes earlier I had the honor to meet Chef Massimo Bottura. The guests were extremely kind, Michelle and Obama are truly exquisite people: Michelle showed herself very interested on wines, while Barack, not a huge fan of the subject, was smiling sly, sipping from the offered glasses.
But now let’s take a moment to talk about the magnificent wines at the tasting:
First one: how to start better than with the best Italian bubble? Giulio Ferrari “Riserva del Fondatore” 2005, absolutely superlative.
Second: Barolo Oddero 1961, the year of Obama’s birth. A majestic wine, amazing integrity and verticality, with yet rose scents typical of the Nebbiolo grape.
Third wine: Brunello Col d’Orcia 1964 Riserva, year of Michelle’s birth. The most positive surprise in my sommelier experience: after a good sweat to open the bottle we decanted, filtered and tasted it. Vibrant acidity comparable to a youngster Brunello, composed tertiary and a earthy note, but when the delicate fruit came out, it revealed a thrilling complexity!
Meanwhile Bottura was serving his “Memory of a Mortadella sandwich” and for hunger, curiosity, shamelessness, I put one in my mouth. Sublime. It was followed by a “Macaroon-shaped Pollo alla Cacciatora”, and Parmigiano cheese 36-months old with balsamic vinegar.
Once the tasting was finished we all moved into the dining hall.
The guests, all Americans and very close friends of the President, were sitting on the top of beautiful but very high seats and the mise en place was perfect and finely set.
We start with the first wine which introduces the starters “Autumn in New York” and “Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano”: Ribolla 2008 Gravner. Daring pairing, starting a dinner with a wine of such personality is a great risk but hey…this is the best orange wine in the world!
Second wine is a surprise, chosen from the chef (who previously took me aside and said to me: ”Tell the guests I brought this wine”): Lambrusco Metodo Classico Cantine della Volta. A wine I love, beautiful minerality and the fixed acidity you expect from a great bubble. It wonderfully paired with the first course “The crunchy side of Lasagna”.
Third wine: Sassicaia 2009, in Magnum. Orgasmic. Stratospheric. Incredible. Perfect in every component, cosmic elegance. Perfect match with “Spin painted Veal”, which apart from being a delicious and ingenious dish, is a piece of art...seeing the chef serving that masterpiece, while I was in the same room with Michelle and Barack Obama with a Sassicaia Magnum on my hand was the most incredibly astounding moment of my working career, I struggled to hold my tears of joy.
Fourth wine: Chianti Castello di Ama Riserva 2008 Magnum. And here, sorry to say, neatness at the nose was lacking; there was a slight note of wet leather that distracted me from the many others positive notes of the wine. Well, not all the bottles can be or are exactly the same, and my nose is too demanding and picky most of the times so I let it go! The food pairing,” Bottura’s Caesar salad”: here the chef inebriated us with a sensational chamomile and 48 other flowers essence that he was dispensing at the table with a perfume bottle. Being there, I felt like waking up in the same bed with Marilyn Monroe wearing a drop of Chanel n.5 perfume…
Fifth wine: I was so busy on the mise en place and the serving that I don’t remember the name. Ugh. It was a Malvasia late harvest from Sicily, fantastic with the delicious dessert...”oops, I broke the lemon tart”!
Then, the unspeakable, the peak of the whole evening.
After the dessert, Bottura comes out from the kitchen and tells me: “Go out and serve Lambrusco again...we are going to knock them out!”
I was thinking “What?!? This one is mad!” but when a mad brings the name of Massimo Bottura we have to do nothing but indulge him, so we removed the glasses of Sassicaia and we served new ones with Lambrusco.
“Am I wrong or this is the same wine we had before?” Obama asked.
“No Mr President, you are not wrong. Clearly the chef has some surprise for all of us”, I smile, and he smiles back.
While we were waiting, no one, except Bottura’s wife who is clearly used to the husband’s head waves, could imagine that the waiters were going to come out from the kitchen with on hand a plate of....tortellini!
Obama was overjoyed, all the guests delighted and super excited.
It was the triumph of a chef.
When I went back to the kitchen, the chef was waiting for the guests response. Bottura grabbed me by the shoulders and asked me: “So, how did it go?”
I promptly responded : “Obama is chuffed to bits, we did it, WE KNOCKED THEM OUT!!”
And the chef entered the dining room surrounded by applause.
After a short photo-op the guests had to leave the room for an unbreakable commitment: Bocce game! (a closely related game to British bowls)
Michelle, the President and the guests greeted us and thanked us. I headed home knowing that I had the privilege, given to a very few, to shake hands with who made history and to see an unique artist at work in the same night.
Thanks for reading, Francesco.