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Published:  23 July, 2008

Alessandro Marchesan moved to London, from his home town of Venice, five years ago. He worked at Kensington Place in Notting Hill before moving to Rainer Becker's Japanese restaurant, Zuma, two years ago, as wine buyer and sommelier. He is also the wine advisor for Becker's new restaurant, Roka, which opened last year in Charlotte Street. Marchesan won the Dan Pontifex Award in 2002 and spent six weeks visiting Australian wine regions, sponsored by The Dan Pontifex Memorial Fund.

Zuma's head chef is Colin Claugue and the general manager is Russell Norman. Key suppliers: Enotria Winecellars, Liberty Wines, Fields Wine Merchants/Morris & Verdin (Berry Bros & Rudd), Bibendum Wine, Lea & Sandeman Co, Robert Rolls & Co, Billecart-Salmon (UK).

What are the challenges when matching wines to the food at Zuma and Roka?

It's all about finding a compromise between the flavours across all the dishes that have been ordered by the table. It's not that difficult to find a good match if you take it dish but dish, but in a Japanese restaurant the food keeps flowing throughout the meal and everyone shares dishes. If you take several together, you first have to work out the strongest flavour in the set and then find a wine that works with that flavour. When it comes to sushi and sashimi, many different wines will work, but each will give you a totally different experience on the palate. It's really enjoyable trying things out.

Can you tell me some of your favourite wine and food matches?

With sashimi dishes, I often recommend a New World Riesling, particularly from Clare Valley or Eden Valley in Australia, and with sushi, southern Rhne-style whites are very good. Sherry is also a great match for sushi, but no one is interested in ordering it, unfortunately! When it comes to grilled dishes, an unoaked Chardonnay usually works really well with white meat, and for red meat you generally need a fruit-driven wine with soft tannins, such as a Cte de Beaune-style Pinot Noir or, if you want something with more body, a juicy Shiraz, Grenache, Nero d'Avola or Merlot. The three key attributes are fruitiness, juiciness and soft tannins. An all-round great match with a lot of dishes is Chardonnay. It's a very versatile grape and produces a wide range of styles. I believe Chardonnay makes the best white wine in the world and the more minerally, lightly oaked, citrus-fruit

Chardonnays work extremely well with our food. I really dislike Sauvignon Blanc. It's a very bold and boring grape. If I could take all the Sauvignon Blanc off my list, I would.

Does Sauvignon Blanc sell well at Zuma and Roka?

Unfortunately, yes! We have a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand available by the glass for 7.60, and we sell 80 bottles a week even though it's relatively expensive. People ask for it without even looking at the list. Or they ask for Pinot Grigio, and it doesn't matter if it costs 50 a bottle. It makes me really annoyed, so when I selected the Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Chablis for our list I found quite expensive, but very good, examples of each to encourage customers to consider something different instead. If they aren't put off by the price then at least they will be drinking a very good example of each of those styles.

What other wines sell well?

This is Knightsbridge so people tend to look for the classics, such as white Burgundy or red Bordeaux. Although those wines do not go as well with the food that we serve, they are a big part of what we sell. If I am selecting a white Burgundy I'll look for the more citrussy, peachy, melony styles with less oak, rather than a big buttery Puligny-Montrachet. With claret, the more forward vintages, with softer tannins, are best and I tend to go for the lesser vintages rather than the classic years, because they suit the food. Otherwise it has to be older vintages, although that can sometimes be a problem too. For example, Haut-Brion 1982 works because it is very fruit-driven and exotic on the nose, but a Pichon-Lalande 1982 doesn't work at all. Rhne wines are very good with our food and I also have a substantial selection of wines from Australia, California, New Zealand and South Africa. I'm a big fan of Australian wines.

What do you particularly like about Australian wines?

There are some wines that are unique to Australia, for example Clare or Eden Valley Riesling, Barossa Shiraz and Semillon from the Hunter Valley, and you will never get anything similar anywhere else in the world. I like the originality of the wines but also, on the other hand, the way that Australian producers are blending between regions and getting a great result.

Anything you don't like about Australian wines?

I'm worried about the mass production of very bland wines. Some of the big companies should start concentrating more on quality rather the quantity, because they are damaging the image of the boutique wineries.

What are the differences when buying wines for Zuma and Roka?

It's totally different as Roka is based much more around the Robata grill, so I have selected more of the full-flavoured, structured wines that work well with grilled food. The list is also smaller at Roka, which makes it difficult. I want to offer good value for money, but at the same time have a few bottles for someone who wants to drink a very expensive bottle of wine. The challenge at Roka was to offer a wine list that would be strange, unusual and controversial, but also offer the classic wines for commercial reasons. Some people walk in, and it doesn't matter what I think about Chablis and Sancerre, they still want to drink it.

Zuma 5 Raphael Street Knightsbridge London SW7 1DL Tel: 020 7584 1010