Meet Head Sommelier Melania Battiston

And discover Melania's delicious tips for Valentine's Day 

Melania Battiston, hailing from Italy, is currently based in Thailand where she is part of the team at the prestigious Aman Resort. Alongside her role, she co-hosts the 'Drive for Service' podcast with David O'Connor. Before joining Aman, Melania served as the Head Sommelier & Wine Buyer for Medlar restaurant in Chelsea, London. Her expertise in wine was recognised when she was awarded the title of Best Young UK Sommelier of the Year 2023. Melania is driven by her goal to become the first female Italian Master Sommelier. 

How did you first get into wine?

I grew up in a small town in Lombardy, but I didn’t really become passionate about wine until I moved to the UK 10 years ago. I was feeling a bit lost after finishing high school and decided – rather randomly – to study marketing. I was accepted at the University of Bath, and then moved to London to try and improve my English. Being a true Italian, I found a job as a bartender’s assistant at 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen, and met Clement Robert MS who was their wine director at the time.

Clement is a very humble, passionate, detailed, honest, and inspiring person. He believed in me from the start, and slowly introduced me to wine – encouraging and training me along the way – and I consider him my noteworthy, former mentor. I found that wine came naturally to me, but it made me want to learn more and more. 

Melania Battiston

What wine would you treat yourself to on a special occasion? 

I would need both a red and a white for a special occasion! I would choose Meursault 1er Cru Genevrieres Bernard Bonin 2019 for my white, and Profumo Di Vulcano, Federico Graziani 2016 for my red.

What is your ideal food and wine pairing? 

I love anchovies on buttered toast alongside a glass of Champagne. But while I’m in Thailand, spring rolls with a glass of dry Riesling is delicious. 

Wine is often seen as intimidating. How do you break down these perceived barriers to wine knowledge? 

There can be snobbery around wine knowledge, and the industry can also be way too technical at times, both of which are intimidating. I believe it’s good to break down the wine world little by little, first answering the most common questions and then diving deeper. I believe that simple communication, made up of clear explanations with tangible examples and true passion is the best way to excite and educate people about wine.

Valentine’s Day is coming up. Have you got any tips for creating a wine-tasting experience at home?

I would first challenge one another to buy a couple of bottles of wine, preferably different colours, choosing from the most classic grapes. Then print out a wine aroma wheel from Google to help guide and inspire you on flavours and smells. You can smell, compare, and mindfully taste the wines you’ve chosen. After each wine, have a little discussion about flavours, perceptions and perspectives, and what you liked about each one. It will be fun and educational at the same time. 

If you’re feeling more advanced, serve the wines blind and challenge each other with a blind tasting game following the Court of Master Sommelier Deductive Tasting grid. 

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Do you have any food & wine pairing suggestions for a quiet night in?

As I’m currently in Thailand, I would choose something traditional from here like Paad Thai Nuea Pu – a delicious noodle stirfry with Phuket crab meat, dried shrimp, and peanuts. To go with this, I would recommend one of my favourites, Hermitage Blanc from Domaine Tardieu Laurent 2016. The richness of this wine will compliment and support the greasy identity of the pad Thai and meatiness of the succulent Phuket crab. An indulgent explosion of intense flavours. 

Another wow option would be Nuea Yang Tao Fai – Australia Wagyu beef cooked on a charcoal grill with a spicy tamarind sauce. The charcoal grill intensifies the flavours of the Wagyu, so a fuller bodied red wine will be needed – and I think Alion by Vega Sicilia, Ribera del Duero 2017 is perfect for taming the powerful combo. The sweet oak in the wine will also counteract the slight spiciness of the tamarind sauce, creating an inviting mellow sensation on the palate. 

For a veggie option, I’d choose Yaam Hua Plee – a banana blossom salad with peanut, coconut, shallots, coriander, and chilli paste. This dish calls for an off-dry Riesling from Rheingau and I think Weingut Robert Weil, Kabinett 2013 is a match made in heaven. The heat of the chilli paste will be gently wrapped by the residual sugar, generating balance and flavour.

What would you finish up with?

I would go for one of my favourite dessert wines. Moscato d’Asti Nivole 2022 is simple, cheerful and great value for money – a vibrant, light dessert wine that pairs well with a bright lemony cake, a fruit salad or a meringue-based dessert. 

What is your general approach to pairing wines with a meal? 

Well, I start with the wine! I think about what I’m in the mood for – is it white wine? Sake? Rose? Red? Sherry? And then I choose the food which pairs best with my choice. To find the right harmony I think about weight, textures and flavours. However, I like to experiment and not necessarily follow classic or textbook pairings. I also discuss with my partner what he would like, and find the best match. And if we don’t fancy compromising, we open two bottles!

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Do you have any wine tips for people with a dinner reservation this Valentine’s?

Many restaurants will be offering a special Valentine menu with food and wine pairings that have been designed by the chef and sommelier together, and I recommend following their suggestions – let yourself be guided by the sommelier’s passion and storytelling, and enjoy the full sensory romantic experience. 

Do you have any tips on how best to approach sommeliers in restaurants? 

I have tips on how sommeliers should approach guests!  Just joking (mostly). I would say just be yourself. If the sommelier is a good one, he or she will know exactly how to speak to your party. 

Eto note: If you would like more tips on ordering wine at a restaurant, check out our article on how to talk to a sommelier, with advice from expert sommeliers here

What do you do with an open bottle of wine? Or leftover wine? 

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