Italian Wine in UK: find the best one with Michael Palij

Do you aim af finding out the best italian wine available in UK? Michael Palij can give you some insights avout it! He is an adventurer, entrepreneur, and Master of Wine, from Canada and now in UK. We have met with him today to learn about his story about wine love and how has met Cincinnato!

So, you moved from Canada to UK in 1989, and you explored the wine between them! What’s the main difference between how wine is seen in Canada and in UK?

I obviously had an interest in the wine in Canada, but there is a State monopoly! When you go to a wine shop, there are no bottles not to tempt you to drink it! You had to choose bottles filling a paper, and then the counter would pick up the bottles.
Indeed, It was like being in sort of Aladdin’s Cave and I found that amazing!
When I moved to UK, you could find out about all the varieties existing in Europe starting from your experience in a wine shop. In fact, my first job in UK was in a wine shop!

How did you find more about the European varieties?

The old fashion way, actually. Hence, I joined a course in the Spirit Education Trust which is the world’s oldest source of wine education and back then they had three different wine qualifications. It’s much bigger now, and the market has changed and grown and there is more competition.

You started your company in 1997, and you started to import spanish and italian wine in UK. What’s your main focus now?

After I stopped working in the wine shop, I became a buyer for a group of companies and that was when I had my first buying trip to Italy in 1991. I was absolutely amazed, and I fell in love with Italy!

That was my special subject, but my company has grown. Now we have wines from Spain or Germany and we do import new world wines. In fact, we have a selection from Australia, Chile and Bolivia, but the point about this is simple. It is about curation, so it’s about this idea of going to Italy and it is about discovering the producers of wine in Italy which really share our philosophy, so family estate, minimal intervention, maximum sustainability and I know these are just words.

These are easy words to say, so we have to look at these things really by going to the estate. It’s not the sort of thing you can buy with desk research. You need to spend time in Italy, need to get in the car, you need to drive around, and you essentially need to do an audit of the winery.

So, you said you’re sustainable, let’s go look at your tractors, okay let’s go look at the type of machinery you’re using, show me what you mean by sustainability, you say you’re a family estate let’s meet your family. We were the pioneers of such great varieties in UK!
In Cincinnato we crossed such a great example of estate, we had a lot of empathy. For this reason we thought it was a good italina wine to import in the UK. Now Cincinnato is a cooperative, but with the right philosophy of preserving the terroir we really really share.

What’s the opinion of UK people toward the Italian indigenous grapes? Is the general audience moving toward wine drinking?

We are still a beer drinking country. However, wine consumption has doubled and now it is sort levelling off. The average wine price in UK remains incredibly low as we have a deregulated market – you can basically buy wine anywhere. What we’re not doing is teaching the consumer why they should spend more so we’re not taking that consumer on a journey with just saying here it is it’s on sale you should buy. Australia is the main wine exporter to UK as they have a very good overall marketing strategy, while Italy has no has no cohesive marketing strategy – there isn’t even a marketing strategy for most regions! Unfortunately, the real last marketer of Italy is us – buyers.

Then, how do your customers react to your stories?

Here’s a story – in gardens positioned near Rome where the climate was so mild here never slowed and the Romans planted grapes for two and half thousand years here– this is Cincinnato. Do you want to try it? Of course, you want! The problem is that nobody is telling it.

What are the most popular wines of Cincinnato in UK?

Bellone! Fresh crisp acidity. I love Nero Buono though – it is like Pinot Noir and has a this Aglianico smokey and with the body of a Cesanese. Malvasia then! You have so many types in Italy, and the Malvasia Puntinata is such a great product with an awesome nose profile.

How would you pair Cincinnato wines with British dishes?

Nero Buono is very versatile – it can easily go with chicken dishes, the acidity of vegetables or ragu sauce pasta.
Bellone – shellfish, chocolate, light cream sauce. You do want the wine to support the flavour of the dishes.
Malvasia sits in between – let’s say if Bellone falls about structure and acidity and lesser perfume, and I think Malvasia is half and half, maybe a bit more aromatic and so I could put that with more aromatic dishes – Asian dishes, provided them without sugary sauces. But also pasta dishes – one great is pasta with pine nuts and spinaches, a sort of puttanesca style, or another one would be a Caprese style pasta.

Thank you! Last question – In your opinion, do you think wine is still seen as a drink for women in UK? Like if it is subject to gender prejudices by the general audience…

I think globally we have a long way to go to get rid of that kind of what I call the pink and blue prejudices, you know that we seem to inculcate in our children from so early on voice – boys should do this and girls should do that – I find all of that is really holding us back from achieving our potential. I think those kinds of stereotypes sadly still persist but I think the situation is really changing.