December 20, 2023
Meet Federica Zanghirella, The Vice President at UK Sommelier Association.
Federica Zanghirella talks about her experience working in the wine industry, she also shares some insights on training new staff members, methods to grow profits, and elevating the guest experience.
Federica engages her audience with a fun approach to wine and food matching, engrossing them with her witty and quirky lectures. At professional and private gatherings with food and wine, Federica is famous as a public speaker. Her expertise allows her to speak with authority on some of the best wines in the world. Using her food and wine pairing knowledge, she developed a learning tool for her students, she created a wine pairing app for iPhone and Android called Wine it Up. Also, with her expertise in filmmaking and direction skills, including her wine knowledge and connection, she now creates wine videos. She has recently started working on a series of wine documentaries.
Your current place of work
UK Sommelier Association
Tell us about yourself.
I am a sommelier, wine expert, and lecturer. Script writer and documentary director. My passion for enogastronomy started very early. I was thirteen years old the first time I experienced a Michelin star restaurant, and that dinner shaped my future. I am originally from Piedmont, where wine and food are not only products but also culture and art. At Uni, I graduated in arts and cinema, my other big passions, and I started working in films and computer graphics. But visiting vineyards and trying new restaurants were my favorite things to do. At the peak of my career in Visual Effects, one day, in the middle of a Valpolicella vineyard, I had a eureka moment. I decided to change my life completely and become a sommelier. Best decision ever!
I started my learning journey with the Italian Sommelier Association, which ended in London, where I moved in 2011. Immediately after, I started working for the UK Sommelier Association organizing sommelier courses, events, and competitions and at the same time studying to become a teacher. After years of hard work, I was promoted to Vice President of the Association a few years ago. I teach wine tasting techniques, wine, and food pairing, and Italian wines, and I run the training program.
In 2016 I decided to use my food and wine pairing knowledge to develop a learning tool for my students. I created a wine pairing app for iPhone and Android called Wine it Up.
Lastly, four years ago, I thought it was time to combine my two passions and I attended a script writing and direction course. Using my filmmaking and direction skills with my wine knowledge and connection, I now create wine videos, and I recently started working on a series of wine documentaries.
Image: Federica Zanghirella
Why did you want to become a sommelier?
I became a sommelier because I think this specific qualification has the best approach to wine. You can use your skills and knowledge not only to work in the wine business but also to enhance your personal experience with wine and food.
What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier?
Assuming that the sommelier has a great understanding and knowledge of wine, he/she needs to be charming and have great social skills. After all, we sell experiences, stories, culture, and passion, and the sommelier needs to be able to pass them on with enough grace and charm to enhance the customer experience.
How I would train my new staff member in their first seven days of joining.
I've been training staff at different restaurants and I always make sure to tell the trainees the story behind the bottle and interesting details about areas, traditions, and culture. Anecdotes are easier to remember than technical data and more entertaining to share with customers.
Image: Federica Zanghirella
What methods do you use to grow wine sales? Please explain with examples.
I essentially teach my students techniques to improve sales, such as becoming a trusted adviser to their customers, by focusing on their preferences and not trying to upsell the most expensive wines on the list.
What methods do you use to grow profits?
I suggest my students cultivate a great relationship with importers. This will then ensure they will pay the fairest price for their wines.
How do you self-learn and improve your skills?
Talking to winemakers and oenologists.
What's the best part of your job?
The best part is, indeed, the connection with my students. I love sharing my knowledge and witnessing my students' confidence, and tasting skills grow. My favorite moment is the final celebration at the Graduation Ceremony. This year I received 50 big hugs that gave me so much positive energy! I was glowing at the end of the evening! My students' happiness definitely pays me back for all the hard work. And after 10 years of teaching, I have a lot of friends all around the world.
How do you elevate the guest experience? Please give 4-5 examples and insights here.
Be charming, elegant, and informative but not too technical, be discreet, and be up to date with the latest trends.
An unforgettable wine experience for you - tell us the whole story!
I absolutely love wine trips. Recently I've been to an incredible place in the Saint-Chinian area in the heart of Languedoc. The Village & Château Castigno is a beautiful, extravagant and arty village/resort with vineyards and one of the most amazing wine cellars. Shaped like a bottle and covered with cork bark, it looks like a spaceship for wine lovers. The wines are excellent and the food delicious. I hope to be back there soon on vacation.
Image: Federica Zanghirella
Your favorite restaurant in London right now?
I don't have an absolute favorite. It depends on the occasion. I love Roka. The group hires many of our students, and I always have one or more of our sommeliers working there. It's nice to see familiar faces. And of course, the food is great.
I've recently been to Berners Tavern at London Edition, and I loved the food and the atmosphere. The head Sommelier is the super skilled Giuseppe D'Aniello, who also happened to be my ex-student and this year's first runner-up of our competition Best UK Sommelier. I don't want to sound like a proud mama of sommeliers, but I can deny I am!
Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for London drinks enthusiasts?
I could write a full article only about my favorite wine and food pairing. But my most unforgettable and unexpected experience was a foie gras steak with soya sauce and hazelnut crums paired with a 49-year-old sake. The nutty complexity of the vintage sake and the savory umami sensation were perfectly paired with soya reduction and hazelnuts. The combination was beautifully balanced thanks to the great smoothness of the sake in contrast with the slight bitterness of the liver. A pairing to be remembered.
Your favorite book?
Understanding Wine Technology by David Bird. It is the book we use for the course. David also is one of the teachers and a good friend. But it's also the book I used for my exams 12 years ago, and I have an emotional attachment to it. I love the fact that it is very technical but also entertaining.
Name three sommeliers in the UK you like
Having a lot of my students in the industry, it wouldn't be fair to name just three. All my ex-students are amazing!
What's your personal career goal? And how are you investing or planning to get there?
My career goal is to become a full-time wine documentaries director and filmmaker. I am about to start working on my first mini-documentary and after that, wish me luck!
Give us one good story that you remember of a customer and you.
I can tell you about a special student who came from Italy with no experience in wine but great ambition and determination. He took our sommelier course, started working at the Ritz, and won our Best UK Sommelier in 2015. He never stopped studying and challenging his knowledge.
Image: Matteo Montone
He then became Master Sommelier, won World Best Young Sommelier in 2019, and is now one of the top professionals in the market. I am very proud of you, Matteo Montone!
Header Image Source: Federica Zanghirella