It was the kind of Friday afternoon that demanded to be taken advantage of in all its warm, sunny glory. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one with the idea to venture beyond building walls, being met with a vast expanse of well-dressed men and women indulging in Spritzers and vitamin D. I made it to 20 Bond street, the new home of Matteo Downtown, thirsty and delighted by the seemingly quaint and homey nature of this CBD restaurant. My editor, Brit and I were seated at a booth that stretched across a large portion of the room, parallel to a long row of open floor to ceiling windows. The luxury was not lost on me.
It was here we met Chiara Danieli, Head Sommelier of Matteo, who, with the kind of knowing that only comes with experience, would guide us through a long lunch we’d soon wish would never end.
A smile as warm as the Tuscan sun and the perfect amount of rambunctious cheek for a Friday, I’m declaring that Chiara is the best and only style of Sommelier you’d ever want, the one you wish were wining and dining right there with you instead of swapping chit-chat between top-ups.
Growing up in Italy’s Lake Garda, Chiara’s progression into hospitality seemed rather natural, despite none of her family partaking in the profession.
“I started at 14 years old to work every weekend, festivity and Summer in a local Michelin Star, Osteria, and right away I was fascinated about wine, service nature and people.”
And, it’s this fascination that fuels her determination for career progression, mentioning she’d love to be a Wine Director someday. “The wine industry is constantly evolving, so it’s impossible to get bored. Here at Matteo, I’m also learning more about management skills and how to be a leader. It’s not always easy to make everyone happy, so it challenges me a lot.”
She eloquently listed off the broad menu and the wines that encompassed it too, never faltering. And I sat by wondering how Matteo’s three-hundred wines could sit neatly in her head, ready to whip out at a moment’s notice, when I can barely remember a name after thirty seconds. Chiara spoke with such vindication over the menu that she could convince anyone, including me, the person that had never tried Octopus tentacle before today, to try something new.
After asking for a food and wine pairing it became clear, as if it wasn’t already, that she was completely at home within her profession, giving her recommendation gladly. “No doubts the Linguine alle Vongole with a glass of Terre Nere Etna Bianco, the texture and mineral palate of the wine complements the seafood so well, and the savoury character of it.”
As I sat there in the cushy booth, cradling (and savouring for once) my white wine, I occasionally observed Chiara (like the ex-psych major I am) fluttering around the restaurant to other patrons. She possessed a natural talent for people that appeared effortless to an outsider, looking about as comfortable in her environment as I feel and look reading by myself in my room. “I love the variety of clientele from the tied-up suits to the socialites. I’m part of a young and dynamic management team. I love the high energy and the simple but delicious menu and concept, it makes me feel more connected to my roots.”
She spoke of fond memories and perks that come with her career. “I was invited a few years back for Champagne from a British Lord Association with other Sommeliers and we had a blast drinking champagne, dressing up and smoking cigars. Not to mention serving your favourite singer or actor.” I had a brush with fame once. I saw Dr Chris Brown (the vet) in Coogee and it wasn’t a dignified affair. Chiara has a knack for maintaining her composure that a lot of others, admittedly, wouldn’t be able to account for.
Naturally being as good of a sommelier as she is, has a brain that’s a bottomless pit of knowledge. If being a sommelier was something that did take your fancy, luckily, she was more than ready to provide us all with some useful advice on how to make it, not fake it. “Travel to as many wine regions as you can, to connect with the producer and the land like this, you can really understand what is it about. Definitely start your career in the UK, there are so many mentors and such a great community to be sommelier.”
As the afternoon morphed into early evening, I mentioned something about the impending stampede of patrons showing up for the dinner rush and the long hours ahead, somewhat anxious on her behalf. But as someone whose job fits them like a glove, she merely shrugged nonchalantly and graced me with the bright smile she’d first given me when we met. “I love what I do,” she responded in a way of explaining something so second nature to her, and deep down I knew it was true.
At Meet The People we’re always looking for more incredible ‘outliers’ that break the mould in hospitality to feature in upcoming content. If you’d like to be profiled or know someone that should be – get in touch here .