There’s a new restaurant in town, and it goes by the name of Harry’s Bar. A storied establishment first opened by the Cipriani family in Venice in 1931, Harry’s Bar has grown into a global brand with outlets all around the world. Lucky Beirut, it counts the most recent addition. The bar and restaurant is credited with inventing the Bellini, a peach purée muddled with Prosecco, as well as introducing carpaccio—thinly-shaved meat or fish—to the world of appetizers.

Every self-professed gourmet knows that an Italian meal is incomplete without a robust wine to wash it down, and Head Sommelier Roberto Galli at Harry’s Bar Beirut abides by this truth. Originally an independent contractor for Ferrari, Galli enrolled in oenology courses by night, earning his certification in three years’ time. His friend owned a wine bar where he’d moonshine on weekends and improve his flair.

Three years later, Galli realized that Ferrari was eating his life away with its grueling, constantly on-the-go work, so he abandoned the job and his hometown of Modena, Italy, in favor of Marbella in the south of Spain. There, on a self-described sabbatical, Galli worked with an Italian chain of restaurants for two years before changing sails and embarking to London.

In London, Galli shadowed a seasoned maestro (l’oste) with an impressive cellar, and over an extensive period of time, the two traveled to Italy, France, and Spain to visit nearly 150 wineries. Later, Galli would graduate to a Chinese Michelin-starred restaurant called Kai in Mayfair, where he served as chief sommelier. Exactly 10 years after his arrival to London, he was approached to help open Harry’s Bar in Beirut, and in September 2014, he accepted.

Harry’s Bar opened its doors to the Lebanese public just a week before Christmas, and every night since it has seen an animated dining floor at full occupancy levels—75 guests seated around tables, and 25 relaxing in the lounge area. Galli has put together a compelling wine list featuring over 200 vintages from Italy, France, and Lebanon. There’s everything from Village to Premier Cru to Grand Cru, as well as sparkling wines and grappa (pomace brandy) well-suited with dessert. Wine can be ordered by the glass and ranges from 11,000LL to 50,000LL per 150-mL cup.

If it’s a bottle you seek, 45,000LL will fetch a Lebanese vin blanc label, which is extremely affordable given the restaurant’s high-end status. For those a bit more maverick with their liras, 12,000,000LL will command a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache Grand Cru Monopole from Cote de Nuits, France.

It’s a very delicate matter, making a wine recommendation to a guest. Galli has to “read” the customer and can only prompt him or her with one professional question once he learns the style—red, white, or rose—and desired province, if any. He also checks with the waiter to see which dishes were ordered before forming his opinion on a bottle.

“Wine is alive,” Galli insists. It should never be agitated by vibration, temperature variation, or any changes to its horizontal storage position. As long as the wine makes contact with the cork, the cork will not dry out, and thus the wine remains pristine. In fact, if left unperturbed and under ideal conditions, a good wine in a good vintage can easily last 50-60 years.

Decanting a wine bottle is a relatively uncommon and perhaps unknown procedure to Lebanese diners. Galli demonstrates how residue must be separated from the liquid drink in order to make for a pure drinking experience. To do so, he places a candle beneath a bottle held horizontally, thereby illuminating all residue particles. He then slowly pours the wine into a decanter and recoils the bottle gently if sediment is seen to be traveling to the bottle’s lip. Decanting is an imposed process that forces the wine to develop quickly. The evolution of its flavors transpires inside the glass, and Galli notes that every sip is unique as the wine transforms.

What observations has Galli collected of Lebanese diners? They tend to prefer vin rouge, and they’re heavily brand-oriented, unwilling to test something with which they’re unfamiliar. The good news is that 90% of guests usually opt for some kind of wine at the table, which validates Galli’s presence at Harry’s Bar.

Readers might be curious to know which Lebanese label Galli’s warmed up to. Hands down it’s Musar, which he describes simply as “elegant.”

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