We had the pleasure of interviewing Mattia Antonio Cianca, best sommelier in Australia in 2017 and in Italy (ASPI) in 2019: he told us about his international career, his passion for competitions, the wineries he selected for the Sommelier Wine Box .
It was an opportunity to think about international careers in the world of wine. Truly international.
1. Mattia, how did your passion for wine come about?
I was 20 years old, I was in Perth on a working holiday permit and I started working in Western Australia . Before that moment I wasn't interested in wine – I had studied cooking at the hotel school – but I started helping in the dining room with the wine. There were 500 different references (500 wines), of which 90% were Italian, and since I didn't know anything I started studying .
2. And did you like it?
A lot, even too much!
3. How did your story progress? Because your career has been spent entirely abroad: can you tell us about it?
I spent 11 years in Australia . In 2013 I left Perth for Melbourne , to work in bigger restaurants. I started doing the WSET courses: more prestigious things in a more international context , being able to enjoy a whole other exposure and working with sommeliers from all over the world.
After the WSET diplomas I started the qualification process for the Master Sommelier in Sydney , I did the Advanced in Hong Kong in 2016 and in 2017 I started the Master Sommelier in London : a crazy exam.
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4. Meanwhile, in 2017, you became the best sommelier in Australia, two years later in Italy (ASPI)... what is the secret to winning competitions?
I did a few competitions as a young sommelier, initially with the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. In 2014 I came last : it was a huge disappointment and I promised myself that the following year I would win at all costs .
I won in 2015 in Australia and came third in the world as a youngster. At the Australian competition (the real one) in 2017 I won against my old boss: a great satisfaction.
5. Do you still like doing competitions?
I liked it a lot and honestly I don't know if I like it anymore , even if winning is nice, obviously...
Last month I did the world championships: it was very hard. A very good guy won, who imports wines to Latvia: with him I'm making a Champagne label for Porsche.
6. What does it mean to participate in sommelier competitions?
If you have to take the sommelier exams, you study hard and pass, while in the competition only one person wins , even if by half a point. I like this, it's a way to continue learning and challenging yourself especially on a psychological level.
The competition is a way to see yourself for exactly who you are , and what you could have done. You have to play some head games to keep your nerves but it's beautiful. And then you find super interesting people from all over the world.
7. Going back to your story, you then went to France…
Yes, immediately after the first confinement, in June 2020, I moved to Bordeaux .
8. What do you do now?
I no longer do service, I opened my own company and am an export manager : I wanted to consolidate relationships with the many people I met during the years in Australia. During the pandemic everyone wanted new things, particular wines, and I was thus able to satisfy the market, which I know well.
9. The best thing about your job?
Doing research is what I liked most when I worked in restaurants, that is, doing things different from others, finding particular wines and bringing every story to everyone's table .
Now the best thing is to look for the right producer for the right importer , to the point that I don't even feel like I'm selling . Therefore: a personalized importer profiling and winery profiling service. The beauty is offering something that you can't say no to.
10. The most complicated thing about your job?
Working on your own is hard , between business management, administration, deadlines... working 25 hours a day is not easy!
In everyday reality, then, it is difficult to work with small producers who answer you for half of what you ask of them, but it gives enormous satisfaction. On this aspect I am building a new business with an Indian lady who is doing the Master of Wine: we are combining our mutual skills.
11. Thanks to your selection we have enriched the Sommelier Wine Box selections of three French wineries: Grivot-Goisot (Burgundy), Domaine de Brondeau Lalande (Bordeaux) and Domaine de Saliès (Languedoc). Can you tell us why these producers are special and why you chose them?
They are wineries that come respectively from Nordic Burgundy , Bordeaux and Languedoc .
Grivot-Goisot is very interesting because it shows a different Burgundy , it makes Chablis but is in Saint Bris, the only appellation in Burgundy where Sauvignon can be made , and Sauvignon in Burgundy is very particular: they produce both Blanc and Gris. And then they make Aligoté, Burgundy Chardonnay, Pinot noir without wood. They are a nice young family with three children and a small cellar but they are dynamic and are starting to grow in exports.
The Domaine de Brondeau Lalande, on the other hand, is outside the major appellations and makes only one wine , Bordeaux Supérieur. It is no coincidence that it is Domaine and not Chateaux, a small house, with four barriques and four concrete tanks . The place is small and beautiful, super simple, here too the approach is familiar. Brondeau Lalande is perfect for telling not the gigantic image we have of Bordeaux and wines with a lot of wood (which I don't love) but that there are also other realities, the other Bordeaux but the good one . Here people have the typical approach of classic vignerons and produce honest and good wine . They are truly representative of Bordeaux without additions and you can feel it a lot in their wine.
The Domaine de Saliès can be understood by looking at Benoit's father , a very kind, home-grown farmer who takes you into his house - a Gallo-Roman villa that seems decadent from the outside but is full of history - and offers you wine and two onions . They are in Quarante in Languedoc.
They work very well and the super interesting thing is that they have some varieties of grapes that some local wineries do not valorise such as Malbec , and they make a blend of red with Marselan , a little-known grape variety that no one talks about which I included in the selection - it is of a grape created by crossing Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.
Their wines are super qualitative and thanks to their son they are introducing a slightly different vision for the future, but they remain genuine.
12. Do you have any advice for those approaching the world of wine?
To those who approach wine out of passion I say: ask questions . No one should ever be ashamed to ask. I have this anecdote from Gerard Basset who once mistook a Burgundy for Bordeaux : if he happened to make a mistake we can really ask any question.
However, I advise those who are in this world for work not to be intimidated : there is a lot of arrogance in wine, and it is an enormous limit. But it really cannot be said enough that humility must be the main ingredient of those who do this wonderful job.