In an interview, Stefano Petta, sommelier of the year 2024, explains why he doesn’t have a favourite wine and why “fruit salad” put him under pressure during his training.

Mr Petta, what question should you never ask a sommelier?
Stefano Petta: Which is your favourite wine… because there is no one wine, no favourite wine in my eyes. Of course, you may have a favourite that you enjoy drinking and that you always have a bottle of at home. But wine also has a lot to do with the situation in which you drink it. And things like the seasons and their vis-a-vis are also relevant to which wine is best suited.

And what question is a sommelier never asked, even though it’s obvious?
I really have to think about that. Or I would change the question slightly and address a generalisation that often exists when it comes to a sommelier. Many people assume that a sommelier only drinks wine. And no, like everyone else, I drink beer, coffee and often water. (laughs)

How did you get into wine? Can you remember the day or the occasion on which you drank your first glass of wine?
What I can say is that I was certainly not yet 16 years old when I drank my first glass of wine. My parents are both from Italy and we always visited the family during the summer holidays. My grandparents, who unfortunately were no longer alive at the time, had also tended some vines for many years, so there was still wine stored in the cellar. And that’s why we definitely drank a mixture of wine and gazosa every now and then when we were growing up…

When did you decide to make wine your passion and therefore your career?
I first trained as a chef, then took another course dedicated to the restaurant industry. And when it comes to the latter, it is of course important that you understand the basics about wine. During this time I became aware of the possibility of training to become a sommelier and started it more on a whim. In my early 20s, I was definitely the youngest and it wasn’t easy.

What was particularly difficult?
The fruit salad. (laughs) The others were often much older than me and always tasted black olives, cooked carrots and the like at the tasting. I actually cooked carrots at home and tried to find that aroma in the wine. I did a lot of blind tastings while studying on my own to get better at this. And that’s alongside my work, as I did the training part-time.

Were there moments when you asked yourself why you were doing this?
Absolutely. Especially because you very quickly lose enjoyment when it comes to drinking wine in your private life. There are certain key words to describe wines. They apply worldwide and ensure a kind of uniformity in the assessment. But when you go out for pizza with friends in the evening and drink a glass of wine, at some point you can no longer switch off. Then these words immediately pop into your head. Then you suddenly get annoyed that the table isn’t white because you can’t optimally estimate the colour of the wine.

It was still worth persevering. You hold the title “Sommelier of the Year 2024”. How important is such a title for your job and how important for you personally?
It is certainly extremely beneficial to your career if you have a title like this. Also in my new position as Director of Wine for The Living Circle. I also give master classes. It would be wrong to say that titles are not important in this respect. The same applies to me personally. Of course I am proud of the award. This is good for the ego. Anyone who says otherwise… and when guests in the restaurant congratulate me on that, it makes me extremely happy.

By the way, what is the biggest sin you can commit with wine?
Store it incorrectly. I remember a holiday in Florence. The wine bottles were on a shelf behind the counter. It felt like 50 degrees outside, 30 degrees inside and the wine was around 29 degrees. No one should be surprised if the wine no longer tastes good. I know how much work the winemaker put into this bottle, so I just think it’s a shame. On the other hand, in the restaurant I have to accept when people pour Cola into their wine or mountains of ice cubes. If I couldn’t accept that, I wouldn’t be allowed to put the wine on the menu. Because customers pay for it and can enjoy it however it suits them.

You have been working closely with top chef Stefan Heilemann for years. How important is the partnership for you?
We parted ways in June after nine years. Even if that’s not entirely true. Because in my role as “Director of Wine” at “The Living Circle” Group, I still have an office in the Widder Hotel. But we had a great and passionate time. First in the Ecco, later in the Widder. Because when the restaurant was closed during the pandemic, we and a large part of the crew later moved to the Widder Hotel. The two of us are a bit like a married couple. We sometimes argue a lot because our jobs are definitely not the easiest. But on the other hand, we know each other so well that we have absolute trust in each other and can always rely on each other. A great collaboration.

How is this continuing in your new role?
As I said: The Widder belongs to the “The Living Circle” Group. That’s why I’ll continue to be in the establishment. But I’ll also be giving master classes in other establishments. We will no longer work as closely as we did as restaurant manager and chef, but we will still work together on a regular basis.

So to the future. Wines are also subject to trends. What’s currently happening?
Orange wines, or as they also say: natural wines. These are currently experiencing a trend, especially in the Nordic countries and the USA.

Which trend would you personally never take part in?
To stay on topic: natural wines are not my thing. I’ve tried a few now, but I can’t warm to them. I’m more of a classic sommelier. I find wines that are not stabilised difficult. But as with many things, you shouldn’t try to convince people of a philosophy. Neither with food, eating habits nor with wine. It just has to be right for you personally.

And for situation, the vis-a-vis and the season…
Exactly right.


36-year-old Stefano Petta has his roots in Italy, but today he lives and works in Zurich. For the last few years he has welcomed people to the restaurant of the Hotel Widder as a host. Since the 1st of June he has held the position of «Director of Wine» at The Living Circle. At the end of 2023 he also received the «Sommelier of the Year 2024» award. He is trained as a chef and a restaurant specialist and acquired his diploma as a sommelier ASSP at the age of 22. A year later he created his first wine list at the Schweizerhof in Bern. His professional career has been shaped above all by his years of trusting collaboration with Stefan Heilemann. They initially worked together at the ECCO in Zurich, and since 2020 the two of them have been jointly responsible for the delights on offer at the Widder Hotel.

Photos Copyrights: Widder, The Living Circle