Uncorked: Emily Acha Derrington

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Emily Acha Derrington head of wine Manteca Italian restaurant London

Related tags: Manteca, Emily Acha Derrington, Uncorked, Sommelier, Wine

The head of wine at Manteca raises a glass to the women that juggle working in wine and restaurants with young families.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine

I’m lucky that I grew up in a ‘wine drinking’ family and knew about wine from my parents and grandparents as a young child, although I do remember thinking Chianti was in Argentina well into my teens. It wasn’t until after university when I was living in Salamanca, having met a few people that worked for wine export companies in that region, that it dawned on me that wine could be a career. 

Tell us about your wine list at Manteca

Manteca is a restaurant that has lots of bold cooking, taking its Italian inspiration from Lazio, as well as the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna; flavours like garlic, chilli and deep meaty umami flavours stand out in many of the dishes. The list predominantly features wines from Italy, France, Germany and North America, and I love buying wines that use Italian indigenous grape varieties from other countries. The list is split between ‘classics’ and ‘down the rabbit hole’ sections; the latter encompasses low-intervention, or natural wines, as well as wines that may be more conventionally made but are from areas or grape varieties that are lesser-known.

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters? 

In one restaurant I worked, they had a load of wine on display in a glass partition between the restaurant dining room and PDR; it wasn’t me but I was standing right there when someone tried to get one of the bottles out during service, it slipped and knocked all the bottles underneath it off their perch and they all smashed to the floor and I couldn’t do anything to stop it, despite me trying to catch some of them. There was a lot of red wine to clear up. 

Name your top three restaurant wine lists

Amaya in Mexico City, Santo Palato in Rome and The Drapers Arms in London. 

Who do you most respect in the wine world? 

The last couple of years has been hard for a lot of people in the wine world - small makers, people who sell it, people with restaurants - there’s been a lot of uncertainty for people and it’s a hard job to do when it’s your livelihood. I have a lot of respect for everyone who has soldiered on and adapted what they do; however, outside that, I have the utmost respect, not just for women who are making their mark in the industry making or selling wine but for those women with small children and families who are doing it. I know myself how much sheer effort, planning and multi-tasking it takes to write a wine list, open a restaurant and run the list for a busy restaurant with a small family at home (my youngest was two weeks old when I was doing all my tastings and meetings for the wine list for Manteca - and it hasn’t stopped since). People like Vanessa Cherruau from Chateau de Plaisance in Anjou, one of the producers we have on our list, who did her first harvest eight months pregnant. There are plenty more but I think all the women who work in the industry whilst juggling their young family are pretty amazing.

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across? 

This is such a difficult one - and not one I can answer. There are so many people trying things all over the world now; one thing that I’m really into is winemakers in quite traditional fine wine regions making multi-vintage wines that they declassify and label as a separate project. Often it makes use of wine made in lesser years so they still are able to bring something to market as a small parcel. It appeals to my marketing brain. Cupano (from Tuscany) is a great example with his Rosso di Cupano bottlings, currently on its third release.

What are the three most overused tasting notes?

Fruity, great with food and medium bodied. 

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?

2014 Rosso di Montalcino from Poggio di Sotto. They didn’t make a 2014 Brunello, so it all went to the Rosso - it’s seriously good. I bought a small amount, which is growing smaller by the day. 

What is your ultimate food and drink match?

I’m not sure about ultimate - but one thing I love drinking each year when the puntarelle first makes its way onto menus is Lazio whites with skin contact and puntarelle alla Romana. I had this first in Rome one Sunday - it was Andrea Occhipinti’s Alter Alea with puntarelle, and I’ve revisited that combination each year since. We’re sadly sold out of that wine at the moment.

Old World or New World?

It’s all about cool climate for me, whichever ‘world’ we’re in. Sadly, climate change is affecting regions that used to be thought of as cool climate, and now it’s very much down to where in that region you are, down to the specific site. 

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants? 

Most wine service is excellent, and I love all types of it - whether it’s formal, or casual - but the one thing I think there is no place for is patronising service. It’s absolutely not something you see much, but I’ve seen it recently and it does still exist. 

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why?

Vincent Caillé who makes wine in Muscadet. His wines are everything you want to drink, especially the reds: brilliant expressions of the terroir; low intervention winemaking; and utterly moreish. They’re not particularly expensive but I just really love drinking them.

As a wine buyer, what question do you most get asked by customers? 

What’s the best wine on the list?

Which wine producing region or country is currently underrated at the moment and why?

I think Alsace is still under the radar for most restaurant goers and consumers more generally. It’s that beautiful mix of Germanic grapes (which I love) in France and, I think, other than fine wine collectors who know about Zind Humbrecht and the like, the region is still largely overlooked by most wine drinkers. There are lots of small artisan winemakers producing some wonderful things there that lend themselves so well to a wide range of restaurant food: aromatic, elegant with weight and never overpowering. 

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why? 

Probably an Emmerich Knoll Ried Loibenberg Smaragd Riesling; one with some age (depending on when I’m drinking it), just because they are fantastic and never disappoint.

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