Welcome back to the “Our Italians” series of interviews that focuses on food artisans, experts, and producers in Italy or abroad. These passionate individuals are committed to sharing the best in Italian food, wine, and traditional products, through family-owned businesses and small scale enterprises, and we’re here to introduce them to you.
Today we’ll meet an Italian sommelier whose focus is on natural wines, especially those made here in Sicily. I met Stefano via Instagram, as all new-age friendships begin these days. I am always on the hunt for places to grab a delicious glass of wine in Palermo so he has become my secret ticket to the best sips in town. He is funny, a bit loud, cheeky and full of life, and a true wealth of knowledge on all things wine and music related. Meet Stefano!
Casa Mia: Where are you working now and what are your responsibilities there?
Stefano Bagnacani: I work as a sommelier at Caffè Letterario Garibaldi on the edge of Piazza Magione in Palermo, Sicily. From June until November this year, our bar and the Garibaldi Theatre next door, have been the host of MANIFESTA, a European traveling biennial contemporary art fair. Since I joined the team and we reopened as a natural wine bar in January 2018, I created the wine list from the local distributors we built relationships with in our company’s other sister restaurants.
Working in this natural wine bar, I have the privilege to make discoveries everyday and share them with locals, artists, and tourists from all over the world. The beauty of Sicilian natural wines is not only nero d’avola but also all the other native grapes of this fascinating island. This summer, I curated a series of wine tasting experiences in our wine bar. By offering specialized wine tastings like “Natural Red/White,” “Shades of Nero d’Avola,” “Pink Sicily” and “Orange is the new White”, I’ve been able to introduce guests to natural wines not only from southern Italy but from France, Spain and Slovenia in an approachable way.
CM: Where are you from? What do you miss about home?
SB: I am from Reggio Emilia, the land of Lambrusco! I have been living in Palermo for nearly 10 years. I adore this city, the sea, the people and Sicilian food. I don’t think I could live anywhere else. Obviously, I miss my family, my mother, my brother and my friends. But, life is like that. Sometimes it’s necessary to leave your home to pursue something elsewhere, even if within Italy that is a very rare thing to do.
CM: How did you end up working in wine?
SB: I completed sommelier training with AIS in Palermo but for many years, while studying at University in Emilia Romagna, I worked the Lambrusco harvest. I chose to work in wine because to become a sommelier is the most beautiful work in the world. I enjoy spending time with people, sharing stories of geography and cultures that are all connected through wine. A person who loves wine is usually cosmopolitan, open-minded and curious. Especially in these times of nationalism, to love wine means you can be a citizen of the world and friend of humanity which will always make you happy.
CM: What brought you to Palermo?
SB: I arrived in Palermo, after two years working as a performer in a few small resort villages within Sicily. I simply never left because it was too beautiful not to live here. Now, I believe it’s impossible to live in a city without the sea and without the famous spleen sandwich.
I have visited London, Paris and travelled through almost all of Europe, and I hope to do it again. Above all, I want to drink wine in every country of the world. I think it’s very interesting to travel when you are a sommelier because there is always wine to be discovered and in every place they have their own special way of making it. A sommelier is essentially a storyteller, one who reminisces of places and people, while opening bottles.
CM: What’s next for Stefano?
SB: Soon my natural wine blog will launch. It will be a way to talk not only about wine but a connection to life in general. I will include topics that I love such as music, food and books: everything that makes life feel a bit more human. In the future I would like to have my own wine bar, if not in Palermo, somewhere else, or hopefully near the sea. We’ll see, for now we toast to the present!
photos by Pasquale Buffa
The Cheeky Chef, Linda Sarris was raised in a big Greek-American family with a Chef grandfather, a fisherman Dad and a kitchen full of women who loved to cook. After a career in book publishing and a secret night-school culinary degree, she ran away to Sicily with a scholarship to work for a farm-to-table cooking school. She has worked as a fishmonger at Eataly, consulted for a restaurant in Romania, cooked for a Tuscan winery and underground supper clubs in New York. With a home base in Brooklyn, Linda works as a private chef and often travels to Italy for freelance jobs like her new project SNACK, a chef’s guide to Sicilian food/wine.