A native of Torino in Italy’s Piedmont region, Marino Monferrato is general manager of Cecconi’s in West Hollywood. In Italy, he worked with three-star Michelin chef Gualtiero Marchesi, then in London and in France. In 1994, Valentino's Piero Selvaggio lured him to Los Angeles to work at Primi Ristorante. He later became maitre d’ and general manager at Masa’s in San Francisco.
At Cecconi’s, the West Coast outpost of the trendy Cecconi’s in London’s Mayfair area, Monferrato can’t keep himself from fiddling with the wine list. “Wine is one of my passions,” he says, “and food and wine go hand in hand. You can have a great menu, but without wine, the experience is not the same.”
What's your favorite wine region to visit?
I’m Piemontese, so I have to be a partisan for Piedmont, and especially the Langhe, which is so beautiful in any season of the year. I like to go there because there is such a great harmony between the food and the wines that are grown in that region. When I’m there, I love to stop in the local osterie where you sample the homemade cuisine of the region. The price is correct. The food is fresh. And 90% of the time, the mother or grandmother is in the back cooking. No menu -- they do it by voice. It’s like eating in somebody’s house, but you are actually in a restaurant. It’s so nice to go and drink a nice bottle of Barbera for 10 euros (about $13) in a restaurant.
What's the sleeper on your list?
I have a bottle of wine that is called Montalbera Ruché from Piedmont, the 2006 vintage. Ruché is an indigenous grape varietal from Piedmont that’s been rediscovered in the last few years and is finally now making it into American market. I describe it as halfway between Nebbiolo and Barbera, with the right amount of acidity and good amount of tannins and body.
If you could encourage every customer to buy just one bottle, what would it be?
My personal preference? If the doctor ever told me I could only drink one wine for the rest of my life, it would be Champagne. Whether it’s vintage or rosé, I love the flavors and the feeling Champagne -- or a great sparkling wine from Franciacorta -- gives me. A feeling of happiness.
What’s the last wine that really blew you away?
I’m lucky enough that have some friends that are wine collectors, so when it’s my birthday, one San Franciso friend will always go down into his cellar and open up something great. Last time it was a 1985 Domaine Dujac premier cru Cros Parantoux Burgundy and I was speechless. I wish I could have a birthday every week. I don’t care if I become 223. With wines like that one, it’s nice to age.
Who else has a great list?
The obvious one: Valentino, because of its depth. You can go there and find great wines on Piero Selvaggio’s list. Prices are also very good.