Insights from Nicola Perrone, Head Sommelier at The Orrery, London
At The Orrery, a French restaurant in London, Nicola Perrone aims to surprise guests in the best way possible.
“You cannot do this style of life, this job if you're not passionate,” says Nicola Perrone, the head sommelier at The Orrery in London. “You work many, many hours. You need to push, to keep learning. I really like what I’m doing now.”
To be a sommelier at a top restaurant is no mean feat, but a glimpse at Perrone’s CV demonstrates just how hard he has worked. He came to London in 2009 to work at a neighbourhood restaurant in Honor Oak Park, South London, called Le Querce: an excellent restaurant, for sure, but a long way from the bright lights of Mayfair, Soho or Marylebone. Perrone, indeed, only began his wine training in 2013, when he moved onto Gordon Ramsay’s Maze before stints at Luca and Jason Atherton’s City Social. He arrived at The Orrery, a French restaurant, in May this year.
“It was great working at Maze,” the 28-year-old, who comes from Murazzano in Italy, “We were a big team, a lovely team, always pushing ourselves to do better.”
The Orrery, which was opened by Terence Conran in 1997, is known for its classic French cooking, and the wine list follows similar lines. There are 750 bottles, mainly concentrated on the Old World. “It’s France, Italy, Spain,” says Perrone. “But, of course, I've also some New World wine, from South Africa, Australia, and all around the world.
“It’s concentrated mainly on Old World wine because we are in a neighbourhood French restaurants, with classic French cooking, and diners are looking for classics.
“They like to experiment as well, though: I designed the tasting menu wine pairing, where I chose something slightly different from the usual Sauvignon Blanc to go with the crab, a Neuberger from Austria - and the menu starts with chicken liver parfait served with a lovely Trocken Riesling.
“With the tasting menu, I like to offer something a bit different - and that goes for the selection by the glass as well.”
Matching wine is a crucial part of his job. “For the tasting menu, we taste the food [with the chefs] and we match the wine to see which is the best pairing,” he says. “Otherwise, we always look at what the guest orders first and then the sommelier approaches the table asking, of course, if there are any preferences and we try to match the dish with the wine - but of course we need to take in mind what they like.”
The crab-Neuberger pairing is one of his favourites, he says. “It’s a Dorset crab, served with avocado and mango, and that’s served with the Austrian Neuberger made by Josef and Philipp Bründlmayer; it’s the 2016 vintage,” he says. “I really like the freshness of the dish, the freshness of the wine which matches with that. It’s a very elegant, very clean style of wine.”
Perrone’s favourites are quite traditional. He loves Champagne but his real favourites are the red wines from the Northern Rhone. “I really am a big fan of Syrah from there,” he says. “I really like Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage, also Cornas - all are the fantastic expression of 100 per cent Syrah.
“I also love Nebbiolo, for Barbaresco but even more for Barolo; for me, it is one of the most interesting grapes in the world because with ageing it develops fantastic notes. Burgundy as well, I love Pinot Noir.
“I'm not a massive fan of rich, heavy wine, but of course, I'm open to everything. I really enjoy everything: if I’m choosing what to drink for myself, it depends on how I feel that day!”
Perrone feels he still has plenty of learning to do. “I spend most of the time away from work studying and reading; I have just come back from Spain from a wine trip,” he says. “I would say "I know everything about wine," because you always need to learn, improve, update yourself. I'm still learning day by day about wine, about hospitality, about food.”