The Buyer
Vincenzo Arnese’s formula for NoLo pairings at Raffles London

Vincenzo Arnese’s formula for NoLo pairings at Raffles London

Vincenzo Arnese took on the role of director of wine at Raffles London at the OWO in 2023, curating the wine list for the renowned Michelin-starred chef Mauro Colagreco. With numerous accolades, including Taittinger’s UK Sommelier of the Year in 2022, Arnese and his team orchestrate an impressive wine-pairing tasting menu at the restaurant, seamlessly integrating wine, vermouth, and sake. What adds to the allure is the team’s exceptional non-alcoholic pairing. Leona De Pasquale speaks with Arnese to delve into the intricacies of the thought process behind these remarkable pairings.

Leona De Pasquale
30th January 2024by Leona De Pasquale
posted in People: Sommelier,

“There is so much room for creativity in non-alcoholic pairings, but it’s a lot of work!” concludes Arnese.

Mauro Colagreco and head chef Leonel Aquirre (r-l) outside Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London at The OWO ©Matteo Carassale

After holding the position of head sommelier at prestigious establishments such as Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Vincenzo Arnese underscores the importance of unconventional thinking in wine pairings.

“In my honest opinion, some wine pairings can be boring; it’s always wine, wine, and more wines,” he confides.

For Arnese, the individual presenting the pairing plays a crucial role in achieving success, particularly during extended fine-dining services that easily last for two to three hours. Recognising the need to capture guests’ attention throughout and accommodate diverse preferences, the tasting menu at Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London at the OWO not only features wine pairings but also incorporates a striking selection of vermouth, sake, and yuzu liqueur.

“We chose the vermouth by accident,” Arnese admits.

After tasting 10 wines with their supplier and failing to find a suitable match for the simple but flavoursome dish, red oak lettuce salad (sourced from Elephant and Castle) with smoked fish, they stumbled upon the Vinmouth Blanc, from Vermouth Indépendant (available through Les Caves de Pyrene). The supplier had brought it along that day “just for a bit of fun,” and to their surprise, it perfectly complemented the dish. Arnese recalls receiving the thumbs up for such pairings even from Mr Alain Ducasse, chef Colagreco’s friend, when his team sampled the menu before the restaurant’s grand opening.

Chef Mauro Colagreco’s dishes require careful thought in matching – with or without alcohol. ©Matteo Carassale

The demands of NoLo pairing

While wine pairing poses its challenges, Arnese notes that non-alcoholic pairing is even more demanding. In his words, it involves “ten times more work in non-alcoholic pairing” due to the extremely limited options, especially in the NoLo wine category.

So where does Arnese find inspiration for his non-alcoholic pairings?

“It was during a visit to chef’s 3-Michelin star restaurant, Mirazur, in the Côte d’Azur to observe the team’s operations in France,” says Arnese, who describes the trip as a truly eye-opening experience. Chef Colagreco places significant importance on sourcing from his ‘garden’, which is, in fact, a total of 7-hectares near the Côte d’Azur spanning two locations. This showcases the impact of distinct climates on ingredients. Consequently, the Mirazur team has the resources to produce its own beverages for non-alcoholic pairings, such as Kombucha.

Motivated by the visit to Mirazur, Arnese and the team aimed to spotlight the UK’s local produce and establish an unique identity with a specific focus on non-alcoholic pairings. Diverging from Mirazur’s approach due to resource constraints, the team reimagines its strategy. They identify those opting for non-alcoholic choices due to religious or personal reasons, who might not have tasted wine before. These guests become their key focus when designing the pairing, and thus, they stop referring or comparing it to wine when the sommelier presents the paring. They also transition from a ‘bartender’ to a ‘chef’ approach with the goal of crafting beverages that mirror dish elements such as acidity and umami. This involves collaborating with chefs to create a more extensive and diverse flavour profile.

Working with head chef Leonel Aguirre, Arnese’s team undergoes a meticulous process that involves trying, experimenting, and adjusting pairings over one to two weeks. During this time, they gradually refine their ideas based on taste, acidity, alcohol content, flavour profile, and intensity. For Arnese, the key to successful non-alcoholic pairing lies in collaborative efforts with the entire team, embracing diverse ideas, and continuously learning from industry peers. The expansion beyond traditional wine and spirits to include sake and soft drinks widens the knowledge base, pushing him and the team to learn more every day.

“Some people choose non-alcoholic pairings for health reasons, and if the pairing is loaded with sugar, that is contradictory,” Vincenzo Arnese ©Matteo Carassale

De-alcoholised wines and tea

Apart from a selection of non-alcoholic spirits and juice, Arnese uses two de-alcoholised wines in the pairing, one of which is the Noughty Syrah used to pair with the main course, either venison or monkfish. Arnese was initially sceptical about Noughty, considering that some de-alcoholised wines might lose flavour through reverse osmosis, resulting in a burnt taste.

“But I later realised that depends on how you do it. I was happily surprised by Noughty Syrah and its cold, low-temperature de-alcoholisation method, which preserves the maximum flavour profile,” comments Arnese.

When asked whether tea will ever be included in the pairing, Arnese notes that, at the moment, even though the trendy sparkling tea is not part of their non-alcoholic pairing options, he believes that, given time, there could be more opportunities.

“There is more work to be done, especially on the guest side, as most people still think tea is for the end of the meal without realising the diversity of tea and the complexity it can offer,” remarks Arnese.

Raffles London at the Old War Office ©Mauro Colegreco

Arnese also comments on a key challenge for non-alcoholic pairings, which is the excessive sugar that could potentially be present in such a tasting menu.

“Some people choose non-alcoholic pairings for health reasons, and if the pairing is loaded with sugar, that is contradictory,” says Arnese.

He mentions that they are looking to use CO2 for texture and developing their own tomato essence to enhance acidity and earthy flavour, serving as an alternative to lemon or vinegar in drinks, aiming to maintain flavour structure while avoiding excessive sugar.

“There is so much room for creativity in non-alcoholic pairings, but it’s a lot of work!” concludes Arnese.

The menu at Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London changes every season, meaning they are now gearing up to preparing the pairings for the new menus. A lot of ideas are in the pipeline, according to Arnese, so make sure your eyes are peeled for their next offerings.