WWC23 – Federico Moccia, by Yasmine Taherbeigi

Federico Moccia

This submission to our 2023 wine writing competition, by Yasmine Taherbeigi, is about Federico Moccia, head sommelier at 67 Pall Mall, London. See our WWC23 guide for more.

Yasmine Taherbeigi writes Yasmine Taherbeigi works across the marketing and events departments at London wine Club 67 Pall Mall. She spends her days writing copy for the numerous tastings held at the Club, and wrangling sommeliers, chefs and the like to produce wine fuelled content, when not busy sneaking a glass from the large formats sat atop the Vcanter.

The thing is, I prefer the Dom Pérignon, but Krug wins for this.’

Snap, snap, snap.

Contrasting the nuances of one Grandes Marques against another is a familiar custom for Federico Moccia, yet on this occasion, he is performing an action I have witnessed many times before; the ritualistic snapping of the elastic band holding together a heavily pawed leather-bound Krug notebook, an item typically clutched close to his chest, a talisman of vinous honour, and a repository of tasting notes, to do lists, and doodles. 

As I find myself in my familiar spot, seated between an animated Federico and his colleagues, I ponder: is it so deeply ingrained in every sommelier to compare tasting notes, that even the branded notebooks bestowed upon them by brow beaten account managers cannot escape evaluation? ‘Deep colour. Well put together. Good length.’

Federico Moccia is Head Sommelier to a rowdy, ambitious, and often revolving bunch of young sommeliers. He belongs to the old guard, an ever-diminishing group of wine professionals who pride themselves on a proficiency beyond distinction.

Deep within the digital depths of the 67 Pall Mall archives, lurk photographs of a fresh-faced Federico. A bronzed Ronaldo-type figure brandishing large formats amidst a sea of Zalto glasses, dutiful concern knitted across his captured brow. There is an embarrassment of pictorial riches to choose from over several years, notably chronicling his start as a cellar hand, running bottles through the labyrinthian building at all hours, long before he pinned grapes to his lapel.

With a certain triumphalism, he remembers it all. Like a soldier recalling formations, he can recite the intricacies of each service with disarming recall. Which guest only drinks Château Musar 1998, or the specific bottle from a guest’s cellar that was oxidised a dozen services ago, and how many glasses were set in the room for a vertical during his first year as somm. Not to mention, he will never forget how you said you would do ‘that thing’, yet didn’t.

It’s not all days of wine and roses; terse words may be exchanged between heaving slop buckets, twenty minutes into a service where everyone arrived at the same time. The infamous notification on your home screen ‘voice note from Federico Moccia’ on Sunday at 8am. Trust is earnt, performance is king, and the meritocracy of a good job and an immaculate wine service is what prevails above all. Once you have entered the fold of those Federico describes as ‘a hard worker’, you take pride in your designation.

It is an unfair stereotype bestowed upon the Italian hospitality professional, to be relegated to that of the dashing court jester. Often relied upon to bring the average spend up, and inject moments of welcome levity with a winning smile, but never quite taken seriously. Federico possesses these qualities in spades, accompanied by a superlative wealth of knowledge. For those of us privy to this information, there is no more vindicating sight than to witness surprise register on the faces of the unsuspecting, once he gets going.

Yes, he is that good. Yes, he can talk you through the details of every Barolo Commune without once peering at his notes. Yes, he really did do service for an entire floor alone because everyone was sick. Yes, you saw him last night, and here he is again this morning, and yes, he really does have an infant at home. Yet, more than being good at what he does, he is intrinsically good to people.

Hospitality is often a tale of upstairs, downstairs. On the floor, Federico deftly manoeuvres between tables, halting for conspiratorial pause between fellow sommeliers, carefully perusing the list for a bottle to suggest, and surveying the scene with care and grace. Barely making it across the threshold, the hands of merchants and members are reaching out for a warm hello at every opportunity, and he obliges.

However, where you find the Federico I know and admire, is in the cellar. An Inter Milan fan through and through, he is just as likely to show you a video of his beloved son’s first steps, as he is to be giving a fatherly speech to a member of his team. Here, amidst a heady melange of chefs trying to squash in some much-needed admin, and busy cellar workers running bottles, Federico holds court. If you have ever attended one of his tastings, you know he can take you on a journey from Barolo to Bordeaux with ease and flair. Here too, he talks from the heart, though it’s likely you will be wracked in peals of laughter, rather than vinous rapture.

A champion to his homeland, he forgoes trendier regions for his true love, Franciacorta. Those who have the pleasure to work with him know the familiar comedic faux groan which follows the recommendation ‘Bellavista’ for the next social event, but few would deny his pick. His first experiences of the region were hand in hand with his father as a small boy; an idyllic start to what has thus far proven to be a lifelong passion. 

This earnest devotion to a region exemplifies all of those qualities Federico holds dear: a small, close-knit community of producers committed to quality, constant learning, and technical excellence, whilst staying true to their roots. It’s an emblem for the sort of sommelier —and man— he is, for it is in his humanity, his incredible balance, and his idiosyncrasies, that make Federico my favourite person in wine, before we ever even mention the abundance of treasure he has poured into my glass.

The photograph is the author's own.