Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Wine Runs Deep in Leo's Family Roots

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Wine Runs Deep in Leo's Family Roots

Article excerpt

Byline: By Helen Savage

I'm relieved The Journal photographers are used to shooting moving subjects because it was almost impossible to keep Leo Battaglia still for more than a couple of seconds.

He's been sommelier at the Fisherman's Lodge restaurant in Newcastle's Jesmond Dene for six years. Let loose in the cellar, his enthusiasm for wine was unstoppable, as he proudly grabbed bottle after bottle to explain why he'd chosen it, what it was like and what foods it might best accompany. Or not.

Wine is deep in Leo's roots, if not exactly his blood (you need to keep a clear head to be a sommelier). He comes from North-East Italy, where he remembers helping aunties and uncles with the grape harvest; "everybody had to learn how to make wine".

The grapes were trodden by foot and most of the wine sold to the local co-op.

"They're flat lands, with sandy soil, the wine hasn't much quality, but in North-East Italy it's just house red or white. Don't ask what's inside!"

A schoolfriend's dad also had a winery: "I used to watch him all year round. He's still making wine. When I go back to Italy, I go and see him."

Half an hour's drive (at Italian speeds) to the west of Padua, where Leo grew up, is the Veneto, the land of Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella, Leo's favourite wine, with some reservations. He's not sure, for example, about some of the pricey new super-cuvees: "They're so rich. You can't drink a wine like that all the time!"

While he also dismisses the rubbish sold at the bottom end of the market, he insists a well-made Valpolicella is perfect with food.

When he's picking a new wine for the Fisherman's Lodge list, his starting point is that it must be well-made and reliable. And although another of Leo's favourite descriptions for wine is "quirky" ( he loves bottles that are just a bit out of the ordinary ( he recognises his job is also to try to sell food with wine. And because, of course, the customer is always right, this might mean biting your tongue when they insist (as they occasionally do) on drinking Australian Shiraz with lemon sole. Almost as tricky, Leo muses, is when someone asks, "give me a nice white wine", but doesn't want to get into a discussion about what kind of "nice white wine" they'd really like. …

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