Time to put the finalists for Best Sommelier of Belgium 2016 in the spotlight: Gianluca Di Taranto

Now we know who the  finalists for the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium are  it is time to get to know them better and have a sneak peak in their life as sommelier. The second semi finalist I want to put in the spotlight is my dear friend Gianluca Di Taranto. I met Gianluca a few years (I think about 5 years) ago during Apéro Vintage Leuven an event from Bordeaux wines and we’ve had lots of meals together ever since 🙂 :-).
At that time Gianluca still worked at his dad’s restaurant. Which I think that  was one of the reasons (next to our love for good food and wine and the fact that we’re both Italian 😉 ) why it connected between us…my dad also used to have a restaurant where I worked every weekend. After having gotten a good base at his dad’s restaurant (Spiga d’oro aka one of my preferred Italian restaurants in Belgium) for a few years it was time for a new challenge . This new challenge brought Gianluca to the 2 Michelin starred ‘t Zilte where under the leading hand of Sepideh Sedaghatnia that knowledge he gained at his dad’s restaurant was taken up to the next level. I personally think that ‘t Zilte brought lots of great opportunities to Gianluca (visits to great wineries, new styles of food, etc…)
Nowadays Gianluca is the head-sommelier of Sergio Herman’s Antwerp 2Michelin starred restaurant The Jane. Something I admire about Gianluca is motivation and dedication of wanting to achieve the maximum by giving the maximum. While other people go on holiday, Gianluca has done internships at top restaurants like Piazza Duomo ***,  Osteria Francescana *** or visit vineyards or give wine courses at his dad’s restaurant… basically everything is related to his work with maybe sometimes 1 or 2 days to rest…. then again if you do something with passion I’m sure it doesn’t always feel like work.
I wish Gianluca (just like all other 2 contestants) the best of luck on 16/10/2016 during the finals.
Let’s see what Gianluca answered at the 10 questions:
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
Immediately a difficult question! The answer really depends on my “mood” and on the season. My favorite region could very well be Piedmont (for both emotional and qualitative reasons) but I find it really, really harsh to not mention the incredible versatility of the Loire (my fav. region of the moment), the thirst-quenching whites of the Mosel, the fragrant reds of Beaujolais or the complexity of Burgundy..
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
A combination of passion, knowledge and understanding the guest you’re serving. The way you communicate and “feel” your guests is nothing to be underestimated, especially today. On the other hand, the financial side of our job and managing the stock in a successful way is no less important.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Perhaps it used to be but I think times have changed, or at least they are changing. The sommelier-scene in the USA is on fire (thanks to Somm the movie) and sommeliers are becoming as important as chefs and rock stars over there. We’re still some way from that here in Europe but I clearly feel sommeliers are being appreciated more and more since a few years. 
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
My father is a sommelier and he’s the one who took me to several wine regions and winery visits since I was little. He’s the one who pushed me to the studies of sommelier when I was 19, albeit involuntary back then.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Obviously a very special mention goes to my father. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Nationally I have a whole lot of respect for Steven Wullaert, one of the most talented people in our scenery here in Belgium. Internationally I’ve been following Arvid Rosengren both on Twitter and on his blog since 2012 now, even before he became the Best Sommelier of Europe in 2013. His talent is unparalleled and even while he’s on top of the world, he’s still very humble. I’d love to see him at work on the floor one day!
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
I don’t like making things too complicated. Usually the most traditional combo’s are unbeatable. When people have been serving a certain wine with a certain product in a certain region for decades, there must be a certain logic behind that.. But besides that I try to work without blinders and to be open to everything. Going wild and contrasting can be fun at times but I still prefer the old-school way of harmonizing wine and food. Or food and wine!
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Piedmont, in autumn. A myriad of colors, vineyards and hills combined with countless aromas which prickle your senses. You have to experience at least once. Unforgettable.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
The 1982 Monfortino from Giacomo Conterno. The Barolo which put Barolo on the world wine map.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
Hotel management school? Which hotel management school? 🙂
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
The Etna. It’s a mysterious and dramatic place with a landscape which resembles to the moon. Even though it used to be a very important wine region in the 19th century it is now reinventing itself. We are witnessing a rebirth. Think of a cross à la Piedmont x Burgundy with a dash of the New California! The viticulturists/oenologist are only now starting to discover the huge potential all the different Contrada have to offer. Tons of vineyards which are more than 120 years old combined with uncountable different soil compositions and structures. It’s a region buzzing with life. Visit it now while it’s still “underground” and practically undiscovered. 20 years from now you’ll tell your friends that you knew that exciting DOC long before them..

Lunch on top of Antwerp

It took me a lot of time, but I finally had a meal at the restaurant with the most beautiful view over Antwerp… I’m talking about 2 Michelin star awarded restaurant ‘t Zilte. I’m not sure why it took so long, but thanks to a good friend of mine, who insisted (a few times)I just had to try ‘t Zilte, I finally made it there (in his company)… and I’m happy he did as I had a wonderful experience. I have to correct myself I was already at ‘t Zilte, but this was for the press conference of ‘Taste of Antwerp‘, but that time I didn’t have a meal.

Viki Geunes

What makes this restaurant extra special is first of all of course its wonderful location on the 9th floor of the MAS… which gives you the best view  over city of Antwerp. And secondly the vibe. The first vibe you get when entering somewhere  is the most important one (or it is to me), so the same goes for when you enter a restaurant and although I was sure the vibe at ‘t Zilte would be good, but you never know 100% in advance.. anyway it was good 🙂 and it only got better by the minute…

Zilte Interieur

My view

I know it is expected of restaurants like’ t Zilte that they serve very nicely presented plates, but still it must be said they have outdone themselves  as we saw some very nice looking dishes that day and with keeping my preferred saying in mind keep it “simple”. As even though all the dishes looked amazing they still wanted to make sure you understand what is in your plate and want to respect every product/ingredient.

As I arrived last (my table guest was already there) I just joined him with starting our lunch with perfect drink, a glass of Blanc de Blanc Ruinart champagne 🙂 With this we got served a variety of delicate “amuse bouches” which were great to already start to tickle the taste buds and stimulate the appetite (for as far as I needed it 🙂 ) and as if that wasn’t enough they came to us with a breadcart filled at least 15 different kinds of fresh bread!!! I’m a huge bread lover and it was more than only a treat for the eyes as man that was some good bread!!! I would already return just to have more of their bread.

hapje 1

hapje 2 met crispy parsley

Hapje 4

hapje 3

I wasn’t wrong was I when I said there dishes looked very njammy?? And they tasted even better. Anyhow now it was time for some real business…. As it was lunchtime it seemed best for us to go for the lunch menu… although I must say the other menus also seemed great, but sometimes you just have to make some though decisions… but as a peace offer we took and extra course with our lunch menu… as who could say no to turbot with porcini?

Finding the right wine with your food is never an easy task, especially when they give you a wine list from which you would want to order everything that it on it… luckily ‘t Zilte has not 1 but 2 sommeliers to help you make a choice. One of the sommeliers was another reason I wanted to come to ‘t Zilte as it is none other than my friend Gianluca that you might remember from my blogpost about Spiga d’oro(the better Italian restaurant)  as Gianluca is the son of the owner 🙂 (and their former sommelier).  So to make a long story short I was pretty sure I was getting some great wine pairing 🙂 (with a bit of consulting by the long time sommelier from ‘t Zilte Sepideh Sedaghatnia)

The first dish of our menu was a Crab and foie gras “pâté” with tomato, mushroom and curd (this some kind of drained yogurt ). With this dish my good friend paired us a Slovenian Rieseling from Joannes Protner, because  because the minerality of Riesling goes well with the crab, greasiness and filming character for the foie gras and acidity of the wine is  for the tomato and the earthy character of the wooden casks for the earthiness of the mushroom.  BTW these are Gianluca’s words, I really couldn’t define it as well 🙂

Foie gras  met crab

The next dish to put our teeth into was the turbot, for this dish we had a bit of a blind wine tasting as we got served two wines that both fit this dish but both in another way… and as it was a blind tasting we didn’t know in advance which ones we would be trying.  The first wine was a 2010 Burgundy – Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plaisir  which is actually a Chardonnay. The other wine was a wine that if I had to pick on on color this would be my preferred one 🙂 it on top of that came from a region in Croatia aka Istria where I still have some family living (my grandfather was originally from Croatia), it was a white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvazija, and Pinot Gris called Ottocento made by Giorgio Clai.  I’m still not sure which of both wines fitted more with this dish as both gave the dish another dimension

Blind tasting

Turbot with porcini

The last dish we got served before the dessert was lamb with zucchini, ricotta, panisse (kind of polenta made from gram flour) and cremolata. The lamb was cooked with perfection and melted on the tongue. With this came a lamb tartar  and a lambstock with herbs.  This time  Gianluca  chose a Austrian red wine to go with our dish, a 2010 Burgenland which has lots of common characteristics with Syrah wines, but the Burgenland is a bit smoother.

Lamb filet

Lamb tartar

Lambstock with herbs

I’m glad the menu “ended” (it wasn’t totally over yet) with a refreshing dessert with strawberry varieties with crushed Gin ice and white chocolate… I must admit that I wasn’t really a fan from the Gin ice, but together with the white chocolate it got balanced (I don’t like bitter tastes 🙂 ) . I normally don’t like wine with my dessert, but who could refuse it when it is presented with so much enthusiasm? He did surprise us by giving us a glass of Riesling (not a dry Riesling obviously) with the strawberries, it was a 2011 Kabinett from the  Reinhold Haart  wine estate.

Strawberry variaties

But best was yet to come as now instead of the the bread cart, the now came with the “cookies” for with the coffee cart 🙂  I wasn’t planning on being greedy, but I just couldn’t stop myself and I honestly didn’t care what they thought of me!! everything looked just sooo good, like the mini Berliner’s (in this case grease is very very good) or the Madeline set in a rum, vanilla and sugar jar… you would think it would have a too strong taste, but it didn’t it was juuuuust right 😉 … the reason to go back for a meal at ‘t Zilte just keep adding up 🙂 (BTW I didn’t take a picture of everything I had, that would have been to confronting 😉 )

What shall I take with my coffee

madeline in rum vanilla and sugar friandises

I can only say that I had an amazing lunch that because of the good coordination and professionalism from Viki Geunes’ team (multicultural team even) became an every greater experience!!  I’m sure this isn’t the last you’ve seen of me. Thanks!

Restaurant ‘t Zilte

Website: http://www.tzilte.be/

Address: Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000 Antwerp – Belgium (in the MAS museum at the 9th floor)

Phone n°: +32 (0) 3 283.40.40