North London's Cultural Guide

Sarah Park Meets: Gessica Di Giovanni, sommelier, Meat NW5

'It's important to spit it out because you need to taste it with your gums'

Gessica: ‘When I phone my mum the first question she asks is, “Did you eat something – are you feeding yourself properly?”’ Photo: Andy Stewart
Sarah Park
Sarah Park
After drinking so much wine for the past two decades you’d think I was an expert. I’m not – and still stand bemused and wavering between Argentina and France in Fortess Road’s chic butcher’s-cum-off license. Fortunately, cheery Italian vino connoisseur Gessica Di Giovanni is the deli supervisor at Meat and constantly saves the day with her robust knowledge of everything that tastes good.

Do most people know very little about wine, or is it just me?
Some customers have a very good knowledge of what they drink; they want to know the story behind the wines and they appreciate talking to someone who can tell those stories. I have some great conversations with customers and get to know what they like to drink.

So what are we looking for when we taste wine in restaurants?
It is a bit of a tradition to ask the person who seems to be in charge if they want to taste the wine but I don’t think, really, that everyone knows what they are doing. By tasting the wine you can tell if it is corked or if it is off. If you’re a sommelier you will be able to tell simply by how the wine smells in the glass.

When did you fall in love with wine?
I moved to London in August 2011 for six months, then went back to Italy and travelled for a while. When I returned to London in 2012 I worked in a restaurant in the Leadenhall market. The general manager of Meat used to come and so we got to know each other; one day she asked me to come and work with her. It was here that I started to learn more about wine and match it with food: I passed the Wine Spirit and Education Trust second level diploma with a very high mark in July 2015. And outside of work I am always studying and reading about wine.


Can London seriously teach an Italian about food?
Food and wine has always been in my DNA but coming to London gave me the opportunity to explore it and work with it. My background is all food and wine: my grandma and my mum are very good cooks. Italian cuisine is very simple and genuine, like fresh pasta, pizza and bread. When I phone my mum the first question she asks is, “Did you eat something – are you feeding yourself properly?”

Do you give your customers tips on how to cook?
Yes, I tell people to use beef and pork mince together for spaghetti bolognese and lasagne; the combination of white meat and red meat is a perfect balance. It tastes amazing. This is my mother’s recipe.

Meat NW5 with appropriately bearded butcher
Meat NW5: appropriately bearded butcher
So what would you recommend for dinner with friends?
You don’t want to spend all night cooking so I would recommend a plate of houmous, taramasalata and bread sticks; mortadella, burrata and a fresh tomato salad with a drop of truffle oil; and a good cheese platter, with French, Italian and English cheeses. I’m a big fan of English cheese. I would offer a prosecco, followed by a white Grechetto, Italian grape variety from Umbria. I would have a Recantina from Italy to go with the charcuterie. For dessert, serve a sweet wine like Cantado, which also goes really well with blue cheese.

Old World or New World?
Always old world, they’re classic and many are outstanding, but I am a great fan of the Shiraz from Australia. Chile is also producing some exceptional wine.

How should I drink wine so I appreciate it – or at the very least taste what I’m drinking?
Pour your wine into a glass and swill for a while – if you’re drinking red ask the seller whether its needs decanting or not before your drink it, not all of them do. Take a sip, spit it out, then try to pick out the flavours; herbs, floral, oaky. It is important to spit it out because you need to taste it with your gums and the taste buds at the front of your mouth. That is what will release the initial flavours.

Suggest a wine for summer I can impress my friends with?
An English sparkling wine from Kent, called Pelegrim – meaning Pilgrim in Middle English. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and is a fantastic bridge between Champagne and Prosecco. Yes, we do sell it at Meat.

Meat NW5 is open daily at 147 Fortess Road NW5. Follow Sarah on @sarahparktypes

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