Enrico is one of the most unique, interesting and charismatic people I have met in my life. His life is rhythmed by Wine, Food and Fly Fishing and his knowledge about each of these topics is absolutely incredible. One could sit for hours and listen to him talking about his passions …. as long as you are willing to do so over a glass of wine!
Enrico, first of all could you please tell us where do you come from? Were either of your parents involved with the wine industry?
I was born in Venice. My dad was a designer and my mum was a stay at home mum. I believe that I inherited my dad’s artistic side and I probably developed an interest in cooking thanks to my mum. Food and wine always played an important role not only at home but everywhere in Venice. After war time, people embraced living: everybody wanted to enjoy life and be happy. It was normal to sit down, take time to have lunch and dinner and of course, wine was part of both of those meals.
I grew up in a world full of flavours and today I love what I do because it gives me the opportunity to work with flavours. The only thing is that food, in the past, used to have more taste than today and that everything used to belong to a season. For example, nobody would have been eating tomatoes in winter. Today, they are tomatoes all year around and they are unfortunately often, pretty tasteless all year around…. I believe that little bit by little bit, over time, people are losing their senses of smell and taste as a consequence of the food losing some of its flavours.
So from a young age, did you always want to work in the wine industry?
Not at all, I had quite an unusual start in my working life. I had been playing the French horn professionally for the Venice orchestra for over 10 years and, one day, I realized that working everyday with one hundred people sitting beside each other was not for me anymore.
My interest in wine had slowly developed before I quit the music world. It all started with a wine and food magazine that I bought in a local agent out of curiosity. I read the whole magazine with interest and once I finished reading it, I was left with a real curiosity for wine. I decided to start drinking less but better and to start buying more expensive wines….. and I ended up spending a fortune!!
The wine that changed everything for me was Soave Classico Pieropan 1993. I remember thinking: “how did I manage to drink such poor quality wines for so long? I want to drink this wine for the rest of my life”. From that day, my curiosity for wine became a real appetite for knowledge and I started visiting many producers from around Venice.
I also was very lucky to meet a guy who owned a beautiful wine bar just outside Venice called “Oenoteca La Sosta”. I used to stop there all the time coming back from concerts with the orchestra. I became very good friend with this guy who was actually studying oenology. He thought that I had a good palate and he suggested I follow him during his visit to different vineyards. Monday used to be my day off and every single Monday the two of us used to drive all around Italy to go and taste wine.
I feel very lucky. I knew nothing about wine and I got the chance to learn by listening to passionate winemakers and taste wines at every stage: from grape juice to a finished product.
So what did you do once you left the orchestra?
I originally left without really knowing what I was going to do with myself. I got offered a part time job in a wine bar and two months later I was managing the place.
One day a customer was sitting at the counter in the wine bar and we ended up having a chat. His name was Mauro and his dream was to run his own business…. 3 months later we opened a wine bar together. Not only I had met a business partner but also a friend for life.
The place had a small kitchen and I started cooking and realizing that I actually could cook well. We got very busy very quickly, it was a real success. Unfortunately, the contract with the landlord was for 2 years originally and because he realized how well we were doing, he refused to renew it and took over the place.
I ended up with no job again and as I could cook, I ended up working as a chef for a few months in Gratz (Austria). I then moved back to Italy, near Milan, in a restaurant called “La Crema” which had a Bip Gourmand. I got the chance to work with top class ingredients and one of the best butchers in Italy.
What brought you to Ireland?
In 2003, Seamus Sheridans, who I had met previously when I owned the wine bar, called me to help him open a restaurant in Galway city. I was originally supposed to stay for a “couple of weeks”… and here I am 12 years later.
I worked with Sheridans for a few years, trying to develop Italian wines on the Irish market. It is hard to believe nowadays but at the time, back in 2003/2004, nobody was interested in Italian wines. Nobody wanted to buy them, nobody wanted to drink them. At the time, one of the only people who believed in what we were trying to achieve was Peter Dunne from Mitchels wine merchant. He actually became our first customer for Italian wines.
You then decided to open your own wine company “Grapecircus”. I always wondered how you came up with such an usual name?
Italian wines were getting more popular and I wanted to work for myself. I opened Grapecircus in 2006 but I am still closely working with Sheridans.
I always thought that there is a side to the wine industry which is too serious, “old-fashioned” and the opposite of “fun”. I suppose Grapecircus was an attempt to break this monotony and encourage a smile!
How do you choose the wines that you import ?
If we left the obvious stuff on the side, the wines that I import are wines that I like, that I can drink, and that are digest and have good drinkability.
Also, I need to like the person behind the wine. All the producers I work with care deeply about what they do, they are passionate, some of them are really quirky and temperamental but it does not matter because at the end of the day they are real perfectionist and I respect that.
From your list, what is your favourite “value for money” wine and where can we buy it?
Il Casolare Rosso by Fattoria San Lorenzo from the Marche region. It is a blend of 50% Montepulciano and 50% Sangiovese grown biodynamically. It is such a charming and complex wine for the price, I believe it is impossible to find better value. It has fruit, earthiness, dried flowers notes, hints of spices and the palate is beautifully savoury and smooth. It retails for approximately €13.99 and you can find it in Sheridans, Mitchels and the Wine Work Shop.
And now, with no budget restriction, still from your list, what is your favourite “spoil yourself” wine at the moment?
Sacrissassi Rosso 2011 from Le Due Terre winery. It is a wine from Friuli, a blend of 70% Refosko and 30% Sciopettino. The estate is run by husband and wife, Flavio and Sylvania, and their daughter. For me, this is one of the best wines produced from Italy and it remains unknown and untalked about. I absolutely love this wine! The Wine is available from the Wine Work Shop at approximately €40
Finally, what are your favourite Italian grape varieties? In white and in Red?
I really like Fiano for the white grape varietal. It gives some beautifully elegant style of wines with lots of minerality. They can age very well and become very mineral like some of the top German Riesling.
For the Red grape, it has to be Nebbiolo. I am a massive fan of old Nebbiolo wines from Piemonte. They have such a great potential for deep, classy and characterful wines. Yes, they are not the cheapest wines out there but they are certainly worth aspiring to, to complete some special occasions.
In my own opinion, Italy is a country with a fantastic variety of wines available and it is a great inspiration to me any time I meet Enrico to be reminded what little gems Italy has to offer. These are often from areas which need to be highlighted by a passionate guide and without doubt, Enrico will continue to enrich the Italian wine offering in Ireland for years to come.
Thank you so much to Enrico Fantasia for giving me so much of his time for this interview. If you are an Italian wine lover or would like to know more about Italian wines, you can taste most of Enrico’s wines in Sheridans wine bar in Galway while having a lovely plate of cheese or charcuterie. You can also follow Enrico on Facebook www.facebook.com/grapecircus.atsheridanswines or on twitter https://twitter.com/grapecircus.
Thank you for reading and Let’s keep on Tasting, Discovering and Sharing !