La Pergola is undoubtedly a very elegant place, with the widest view of Rome dominated by the dome of St. Peter. What I really like in Rome as an essential element of the Roman charm, are the characteristic and carefully groomed beautiful winter gardens. It would be certainly very pretentious to choose one in particular that is supremely beautiful, but it is certain that the terrace of La Pergola will not disappoint you, nor leave you indifferent.
This is confirmed by the numerous pieces of art you can find in its interior: rare Aubusson tapestries, Sevres porcelain, abronze candlestick from the eighteenth century and precious imperial furniture, a large collection of Emile Galle glass, and an impressive Celadon vase decorated daily with new magnificent floral arrangements.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, Leonardo da Vinci said a long time ago and this probably explains how Marco's simplicity and directness fit perfectly in the sophisticated ambience of La Pergola, the highest restaurant on the highest Roman hill, and balances a possible impression of a blasé order, and brings vitality and soul into this luxurious space.
At the tasting, while commenting wines, we happened to talk about legendary Luigi Veronelli. In fact, it was not accidental, because when it comes to Italian experts in the field of wine, I find their attitude about the work of Luigi Veronelli very indicative for quickly forming my opinion of them and guessing the profiles to which they belong. I liked Marco for his directness and practical intelligence and his position on Veronelli interested me also as a test of my theory. Unlike snob type sommeliers for whom the form comes first and from whom I sometimes hear inappropriate and unpolite comments about the winemakers like "you cannot expect them to understand certain things, they are different from us, being simply farmers", Marco Reitano is a type of sommelier who does not mystify and admits that he is fascinated with the fact that there can always be found a wine that he has not discovered yet, and adds "every day is a new challenge and I gladly accept it". It is a striking statement when coming from a man who has tasted over 70,000 wine labels. On tasting at La Pergola, I had the opportunity to witness his unquestioned authority and reputation among his Roman colleagues.
Luigi Veronelli even twenty years ago said almost everything that is relevant for the enogastronomy and set the postulates which remain avant-garde even today. On one hand he defended dignity and rights of the so-called small wine producers and farmers, and on the other, Marco says that Veronelli is the critic whose judgment was essential for the success of La Pergola: "He was the first one who wrote a positive opinion about us at a time when no one thought that it would make sense to open a restaurant in an international hotel which is not even located in the city center and moreover with a German chef ". "He was incredibly openminded," recalls Marco and at the same time I can not help feeling that Marco is not less. He proved it by founding the association Noi di sala, and he explains his incentive for it with a simple but astute observation: "Young people watch television and see that today's cooks are stars, so everyone wants to be a chef." The initiative is based on the somewhat dramatized premise "that a good waiter has become almost as rare as a blooming rose in a desert", with an ambition of spreading the philosophy and culture of hosting and the required education and competencies. Oscar Farinetti, father of Eataly, explained the idea by a picturesque metaphor: "In Formula 1 once we talked only about engines, and much less about the tires. Now we know well that the power cannot be transferred on the ground without tires. These three phenomena led to the concept of atmosphere“. In order to realize his ideas, Marco has gathered a group of experts and of passionate fans of occupations increasingly disappearing in its original sense (waiter, maitre or sommelier) that despite of all the market problems continue to fight, to learn and do not give up in front of the daily difficulties. Their leitmotif is class, style and knowledge, but also simplicity, rationality and confidence, if necessary.
When he speaks, Marco frequently uses words: lightness, beauty and attractiveness, health... These are also the backbone of Heinz Beck's philosophy who added on his website a service called Food Safety, the platform on which you can find photos of dishes and recipes, but also some valuable data such as allergens and nutritional information elements which are certified by the Cattolica University of Rome. In collaboration with the medical team of the University and the Polyclinic Agostino Gemelli, he has created a web site Gemelli@Fornelli which courageously faces the challenge of trying to put together and promote what was until recently considered almost irreconcilable: diet based on healthy, yet delicious food. The site is intended for patients, people recovering from illness, but also curious with a special interest in the field of nutrition and clinical nutrition.
I had the chance to witness Heinz Beck's determination and patience while waiting to interview Marco. It was very cute and fun listening to him talking to some, presumably well-off potential customer, but not with overly refined culinary taste, explaining that he does not prepare a specific type of food if it is not in harmony with his philosophy, to what the person at the other side seemed to be quite insistent (it was a telephone conversation so that I heard only Beck).
When I asked Marco about the beginning of his career, he showed again his ease without any hint of mystification. "I started almost by accident," he said, recalling how he began working in a restaurant during his studies in order to earn spending money and helping Heinz Beck at the restaurant doing whatever was needed and where he became very soon impressed by the world of wine. The international experience has put him in contact with different realities of the sector at the same time feeding his curiosity and passion for wines and restaurants to which, by his own admission, he devoted most of his life.
"Da buon Italiano", he prefers Italian wine and does not omit to point out: "We have so many kinds of wine and canteens in Italy, that a whole life would not be enough to know them all."
I have to say that I didn't need any recommendation for the interview, but it came out in the most spontaneous and the most convincing way. During the tasting Marco presented to me the official photographer of La Pergola, a Slovene named Janez Pukšić, expert in the field of communication photos when it comes to food and drink. Marco spared no compliments to his account, pointing out that it was no problem at all form him and Beck to go to Ljubljana to find Pukšić, because they were convinced that he was the only one capable of illustrating adequately and accurately their philosophy to the audience. Shortly after exchanging a few polite sentences, Janez Pukšić told me: "You (meaning obviously Croatia) have one good magazine about enogastronomy". "Iće i piće!" I replied without hesitating for a second. "Yes", came his confirmation. "I should actually interview Marco for Iće i piće". I was, of course, pleased that Marco heard that part of the conversation before he returned to the tasting.
The interview started after I had given him a book written by Luigi Veronelli and particularly dear to me, La vita è troppo breve per bere i vini cattivi (Life is too short to be drinking bad wine) which is why the first question was inevitably on Veronelli...
What impression left on you Veronelli?
Luigi Veronelli was unique. He was visionary and, in fact, he was the first one who began to pay attention in the Italian media to food and wine. I've had the opportunity and pleasure to meet him when he visited us a few times in the restaurant, when our restaurant has not been, so to tell, famous. We were a novelty also due to the fact that the chef Heinz Beck came fom the outside of the country. At that time, twenty years ago, there were a lot of prejudices related to this fact, as well as the type of cuisine that we tried to promote.
He immediately recognized our work and remained impressed. In that time i was still very young and I just started to work. I was giving him to taste some wines that were in my opinion special. He was very pleased and gave me many compliments ... I tried to gather around me a team of equally young colleagues who were eager of challenges and professional growth. We were attending the various courses together, we educated ourselves and learned by traveling around the world. Heinz (Beck) behaved, on the other hand, in very intelligent way, because the first think he did when he came to Italy was studying and learning about our traditional cuisine and in this way he built the foundations for his actual kitchen: his interpretation of the Italian and Mediterranean cuisine in general.
Veronelli has recognized our great and probably a little bit special enthusiasm. He was definitely one of the first journalists who wrote about us in very positive way and actually the first who began to call attention to our work. In the first guides in which we came out and which he reviewed, he wrote about us very, very well...
Is it true that in the restaurant you offer a 200 euro bottle of water?
We always strive to provide the better service to customers and do our best to impress them because we also believe that when the customers come to us, the do that because they are conscius that here they can find something special. We have a selection of salts from all over the world, of pepper, mineral water, not to mention, cobviously, our wine chart ... We try to give to our guests the opportunity to taste also olive oil that we choose very carefully. Natural mineral water is a nice challenge. There are numerous sources of the mineral water in the world, and we have decided to make our water chart in the restaurant. Each guest receives a water chart when he comes to our restaurant and selects the one he wants. Waters are classified according to their origin, and on the chart there are analytical data relating to the residue, so that we have heavier, less heavy and light water, and the chart is updated regularly. When it is about the water, often an important role for the recommendation is the fashion. For example, we have one water on the chart called Fiji and we were probably the first in Rome to present it, and after this, it became very famous in the United States due to the fact that it was Madonna's favorite water. We keep the water from the Bahamas. It is the water that runs and is collected through the Atlantic currents and because of the condensation of moisture that water is very clean. Then, of course, Japanese Filico, the water that you mentioned. It comes in a bottle made by hand and decorated with Swarovski crystals. It is a very beautiful and elegant series, but also expensive. The guests often take the bottle with them as a souvenir, which is nice if the dinner is an important and special occasion.
How is to collaborate with one of the most famous chefs in the world? How much aids the fact that he is also sommelier?
Certainly it helps. Our cooperation is ongoing and it is, primarily, based on the exchange of ideas. When Heinz creates a new dish, I am first to taste it and when I taste the wines that interest me, I give him to taste them and ask his opinion. He has, of course, a very good and developed taste for wine. From the cooperation between me and Heinz, in the end our guests are the one who benefit the most, because this method allows a selection of wines that are best suited to a particular type of food.
How much is really important pairing the food and wine?
Pairing wine with food is important, but I would not stop just on technical harmonization. You have to predict and adapt it to the guest’s taste.. Often wines that perfectly match with the technical aspects to one dish, difficultly support pairing with other dishes during the dinner, and if you pair every dish with a different wine, there is a risk that the dinner turnes into a some kind of night school. The paired wines should always be adapted to the type of dinner, occasion, ambience ... There are many aspects which has to be taken into consideration when it comes to harmonization of food and wine, but what should be always and without exception, take into account is the pleasure and also health of the guest.
Some anthropologists like to talk about analogies between the world of sommeliers and world of church, referring to the elements that we typically associate with the church: priests, liturgy, language initiation sacrament (wine) ...
Certainly the link is ceremony which is important in the both world. It is true that this aspect should be reviewed and revised as the time in the modern restaurant shorter and there is not enough time for the complete ceremony. Therefore, the whole ceremony is always more practiced only in tasting dinners or theme evenings dedicated to wine. In other cases should there is a request for modern and faster service. Often some of the elements of the ceremony does not fit well in the context dinner. This is for instance the case with Tastevin, literally unnecessary burden around the neck and quite impractical to work in a restaurant. But the whole ritual of presenting labels, opening bottles, wine, choice of appropriate glass ... are elements that are exciting and interesting, and are important part of sommelier job that needs to be nurtured.
What do you think about women sommeliers and why are they not seen more often in restaurants?
Women often compleate sommelier courses with other ambitions. For instance, to became journalist and write more competently, to learn and so on. In the restaurants we can find few women sommeliers for the simple reason that it is a type of work that women (with family) can hardly match with their private obligations. Especially when they have children. However, lately I notice more and more women sommeliers in restaurants, which i am very pleased. Further on, when it comes to tasting and evaluating wine, women have more natural ability than men to recognize certain nuances and notes, and often larger and richer database of terms to describe the smell, taste and overall emotion which gives a good wine.
What is your opinion on the initiative bring your own wine?
It is an initiative born in the United States and in the Anglo-Saxon world in general. It is certainly a positive thing for the guests of the restaurant, but also a good solution for restaurants that often, either because of lack of space or because of the limited budget, do not have a long wine list. In this way, the restaurant can focus more on the kitchen because it can concentrate its human resources only in the kitchen. It certainly gives the opportunity to winelovers who have interesting bottles at home, and clearly to collectors, to enjoy in the restaurant their bottles, which is certainly nice.
I am sure that your restarurant dooes not need the similarinitiative.
True. We have no reason to promote this initiative because our wine list is very, very rich, but it happened several times that the guests have requested, in some occasions.. like an important anniversary, to bring a bottle that reminds them of something important and in such cases we are glad to please.
What is usually profile collectors wine?
It is a person affasicnated with the world of wine and the wine by itself, so we can be all collectors of wine. Clearly, if we are talking about a real and serious collectors, we necessary talk about the persons who have significant financial resources and are will to invest in their hobby and passion. Otherwise, it is a hobby with a long tradition. We often proovide the wines or the cantina by collectors. It happened that we have been purchasing the entire collections. Some bottles reach rates up to several thousand euro, so that there are collectors who have canteens worth millions of euro. And there are many..
Sommeliers are often associated to other passions: cigars, spirits, beer ... What are your affinities?
I am, above all, a passionate wine lover. Sometimes, in the moments of relaxation, I like to light up a good cigar, or drink a beer with my wife when we were both in the mood for something less pretentious. But like I already said, I almost always choose wine.
Wine: yesterday, today, tomorrow ...
Today, the wines thet are drank more are elegant wines, less strong, and also less technical. Sixty years ago in the historic areas of France and Italy the wine was made in very natural way and there were actually very few ways in which wine was made. Subsequently, technology was increasingly used so that in the 80s and 90s we had wines that were very technical, processed, deep, spicy, and even heavy, long aged in wood and often with pronounced notes of vanilla ... But we can also tell that we have outgrown and today the most wine producers in the world are striving to produce wines that adorn easiness, finesse, balance and drinkability because they realized that wine should, above all, works on the table. People today generally want to drink good, and simple but not banal wine. The same thing that happened withe the kitchen that actually is much lighter. There are often used the same products and techniques, but in a much balanced way. It becomes more and more difficult and rare to find restaurants that cook meals too long, use a lot of fried food or make heavy sauces .... They all realized that it is a need and the imperative of a modern nutrition.
How hard is to give an assessment of the wine if you do not know the region and variety?
In principle, all of us when we first try something new, we aspire to relate and compare it to something we already know. It's the same with wine. For example, although before the tasting here I have never tasted Plavac Mali, e it reminded me immediately the wines from south Italy, such as the Nero d'Avola. It happens to me that the wine I taste does not remind me of anything I already know, and it can be a very positive aspect as it contributes to interest and attractivness. Imagine, i've been here at the restaurant from twenty years and I have some guests who are lovers of good food and wine and they keep on coming here. They are certainly not easy to surprise or amaze, and every time they come, they expect us to offer them something interesting. They also often ask me: What are you going to give us interesting tonight? It is an additional impulse and a challenge for me to discover the wine and the perhaps less known wine regions or vineyards that have a particular expression and give the wines an interesting note, different minerality, or something else.
How is the Italian taste today?
Very deep, because today people like to go out and eat at the restaurant much more than in the past. Italians like to eat at restaurants, so it's creating a significant critical mass. The audience that comes to us goes also in other restaurants, which is why they have the opportunity to compare and thus, in fact, develops more and more taste. Also, Italians are experimenting new cultures, becoming more curious ... And we can not forget that we in Italy have a tradition of taste, the taste is connected to our roots and, in fact, we are fortunate that is a part of our identity.
Let's look a little to Croatian wines tasting that was held few days ago. What are your impressions?
The tasting was very interesting and it was undoubtedly also very interesting to get to know better the country, which is our neighbor, but with which neither I nor my colleagues (as I realized when we were talking about that for a little) had experience, nor did we it had special knowledge. In general, the Croatian wines in Italy are unknown, so I can say that the tasting was actually a discovery. With similar findings we meet when it comes to the less well-known reality in what is popularly called the New World. Australia, California, South America ... But Croatia, as well as the rest of the Europe, has a much older and longer history and tradition of wine production and labor in agriculture in general. I admit therefore, that is probably an ommission of me and my colleagues because, as a professional who is specialized in cars must be familiar with all the world's automakers, a wine professional should try to have as much information on all relevant wine regions of the world.
On your opinion the tested wines are adequate for the Italian market?
Generally speaking, i liked red wines most, because of grape varieties, but also because of their interpretation. These wines are mostly balanced, more or less elegant, but in any case very contemporary. It was interesting to discover some new things; for example, that there is a Plavac Mali who is a coosin of Zinfandel, and then, I was really impressed by Teran, from which appears very good wines. White wines we tasted were quite uneven. Some bottles were good, but in that case we are talking about simple wines alike many others, while some others, however, are made (too) old style. I am thinking primarily about natural or in modern times so called organic wines, which have a limited lifespan. This wine experiences somewhat fashionable moment and people generally taste them because of the curiosity, but then they drink something else, so these are not wine for remembrance. In any case, they do not have a lot of success if we talk about the Italian audience. I liked also the international white wines from Croatian Zagorje, which are made correctly. We had also the opportunity to taste some very good and quality wines from Slavonia. Sweet, dessert wines are very good and they reminded us of the wines that we know well; wines from the region of Alto Adige, Austria, Germany ...and when we talk about these wines there is an undoubt quality of their production. It is absolutely not a matter of taste, but a qualitative and objective assessment. On the basis of what we had the opportunity to try I can say that you have a good potential, and now even the ability for winemaking. Some things can be easy adjusted because they are a little outdated, but generaly speaking, the impression is good.
How important and interesting for the promotion, in particular in Italy, can be the fact that Plavac mali is related to primitivo and that Primitivo is actually derived from Crljenak Kastelanski?
It is absolutely important, because how many people in Italy, including the Italian wine experts, are familiar with this information? It certainly can be a good link between the two Adriatic coasts, especially with our region Apulia, as well as a good motivation to make some interesting common projects. If you ask some Italian Sommelier for Primitivo, he will answer you that it is an indigenous Italian ie. Apulian variety taken to California, where became the Zinfandel and with this name is known around the world.
That's true, but you are missing one part of the story that precedes this, and that is that Primitivo was brought from Croatia...
It is interesting, but, I repeat, how much Italian Sommeliers will tell you this? We know a different story.
A little bit paradoxically, wines that you liked the most are made from the Istrian Teran. Gran Teran Coronica (2009), who was at the tasting, if no agreement will be reached with Slovenia, ill be one of the last produced with this label. How much the facts that Istrian no longer can sell Teran with the name Teran can harm the Istrian winemakers?
This fact could be turn into advantage so that it could be the reason for the launch of a new marketing strategy, possibly a new impulse, and the wind at your back, especially when it comes to Italy, where Teran is drinken a little, and in fact only a little bit more in the border area. In short, Istrians could use the current situation as an opportunity to launch a new name for the grapes of Teran that grows on Croatian territory and enjoy the benefist of the absolut uniqueness. And finally, the quality is the most important and always wins.
Some winemakers in Croatia are reluctants to accept the invitation to participate to presentations. How promotion is truly important?
Promotion is important because today you have to be present and to explore opportunities on different markets. You may think perhaps that you do not need it because you are currently pleased with the selling of your wine, but it can happen that you will need it tomorrow. We have a possibility to see what happened in Italy, which indeed produces a lot of wine. If Italian wineproducers have not once invested in the promotion in some foreign markets, at this time of economic crisis in Italy, would certainly have failed, because we do not live in a time when the average Italian go to the wine shop and spens without thinking 50 euros per bottle, while in the United States , where they spend gladly for wine, is not the case, as well as in some markets in Asia, Norway, Sweden. And then, if we talk about Italy, Croatia has additional good motivation for promotion, and that is significant number of Italian tourists who annually go to Croatia on vacation. I am convinced that, if you invest in the promotion of wine and show your excellences, more Italian tourists who go on holiday to Croatia will become aware that Croatia, apart of beautiful landscapes and a respectable cultural heritage, provides another valuable segment of culture, and that is wine. Just take a look on how many people come to Italy, just in order to visit the cellars and visit the areas with interesting and excellent wine !? It happens often that the guests in the restaurant ask me for advice which wineries to visit in Umbria, Tuscany, Campania .... It is great potential for tourism. It would be very wrong and harmful to ignore it or do not use it properly.
The indigenous wines could be considered fashion trend for some time ago. I get impression that too much effort is invested, and that sometimes the valorization of local wines is even forced. What is your opinion?
Italy has no problem to make a trend and fashion of his local wines, because we live from our local wines. There is actually another problem, and that is that Italy suffered hegemony from the countries that were faster than us, on the level of promotion and marketing. To get closer and become more competitive to these countries, we had to show that we are capable of producing quality wines. So that is why we in Italy planted Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay and so on, and with excellent results. If you had the opportunity to see a list of award-winning wines in the world in recent years, then you have certainly noticed that they are often just that wines that wins valuable awards and prizes. On the other hand, in Italy is cheaper drinking indigenous wines. Most of the Italian local wines are very expressive, so you do not need any special treatment and do not need long stays in barrels to have good results, as is often the case with Merlot, Cabernet or Chardonnay... They expresse almost immediately due to a fact that Italy, as well as the whole Mediterranean after all, has a good and convenient features when we talk about territory and climate. So, in a time when many people are looking to spend as less as possible, and when all are tired of too much processed wines and we want to drink balanced and drinkable wine, the indigenous wines, quite logically, and certainly justified, are experiencing a rebirth.
Last year there was a lot of dust raised by forging Brunello di Montalcino. How many such scandals damaging to the reputation of wine?
I think we are all a bit tired of the scandals and that we, unfortunately, in some way are used, and somewhat inured to scandal. Over the past years there have been scandals concerning wine, but on the other hand, there are scandals in every other sector, not just the one related to wine, which is a job worth doing. Sometimes brought out such an irregularity and showed that the wine producer is not fully following the current legislation, or that wine is not created with adequate attention by the manufacturer. In this maelstrom of things that happen really was potentiated Brunello, because the winemaker did not use the indigenous variety. This happened and the reason that non-native varieties for a long time have been a major success in Montalcino, and in the whole Tuscany. Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah really express themselves well in Tuscany. For example, once in the zone of Chianti happened that winemakers started to produce the famous wine in a different way, ie. Change the ratio in Chianti (which is based on the indigenous grape Sangiovese) and the introduction of new non-indigenous varieties to improve the taste, which is followed by legislation and regulated after some time, and several cases in practice.In Montalcino some say it happened that a certain winemaker did not use grapes from Montalcino or some else says that a manufacturer produced more bottles than it was allowed by the capacity of its vineyards ... All these things are related to wine producers who are almost unknown, and in the other hand, in Montalcino there are hundreds of very serious wine producers and canteen. All these scandals because, fortunately, were not strong enough to influence the market of Montalcino, among other things, because they have a consortium that is very well organized and that gives a lot of promotion, so that their wines sold very well. Especially abroad. As I said, the quality is in the end the most important and long-term certainly beats.
We talked about the possibility that you and your colleagues will visit the wine-growing regions in Croatia. How important is it to visit the territory from which the wine originates?
Very important. What to say? Let's take the example of Ferrari. You are interested in Ferrari, and to get information about it you go to the dealership where it is sold, you take a manual that describes the little details regarding how was it made, which are its characteristics, advantages ... After that you want to see it closer and better, you open the door and you enter into it, you look at everything closely, and you get out and think that you have all the information and know everything, but it is not true; you do not know everything! and it is not over ... You need a little ride, you need to make at least one ride. It's the same with wine. When the opportunity arises to visit a territory where wine is produced, the territory speaks of himself, as well as people who live there, styles of construction of houses, cultural monuments, landscapes ... For us sommeliers and professionals who are generaly related to this world it's very important for a better understanding of wine and complement the image of the product. All these factors together, clearly, including primarily wine, are creating emotions and increasing the sensitivity and links with the territory, and that this is important as a form of promotion of the territory.
I like the comparison, because Beck say that he is Schumacher of the Italian culinary scene.
Yes, Schumacher drives very well and very quickly.
Some time ago I came across the thought of the historical British publisher Henry George Bohn that I really liked: In winter, drink wine because it's cold, and in summer because it's hot. What does you still, after 70,000 tasted labels, fascinate about the wine?
When we first met here, I was sure immeditaley that I want to make a presentation of Croatian wines, which we have now also the opportunity to comment a little bit. Do not forget that I do not have the problem of the wine here. In fact, my colleagues and I in our restaurant are constantly faced with exactly the opposite problem, which is that we are constantly under pressure from all winemakers that want to be present on our wine list. This is logical because if you are present on an important wine list, it gives you a good reputation that can commercially be exploited. Why was I then encouraged to taste the wines of Croatia when I have a basement that bursting at the seams of overcrowding? I do it because it's my job and because I am fascinated by this fact that there are new realities that need and can get to know. There's always a new wine that's my challenge to taste ... It gives me also energy and expands my horizons ... If tomorrow, for example, there came a Croat in my restaurant, I can impress him with the fact that I know crotiian wines, the island where is produced etc. Before we arranged and organized presentation (presentation is organized with the Croatian Embassy in Rome) I did not have anything special that I could say about Croatia, except that is a beautiful country, and to assure me every summer when they come into the restaurant from various travel agencies and offer me their travel packages. It's different now. As you can see, the dialogue is also a fascinating thing.