Breakthru NV’s Henry Davar Becomes One of Seven Certified Italian Wine Experts Worldwide

May 22, 2017

Henry Davar Header Image


Had you asked Henry Davar 20 years ago what he’d be doing today, his answer most likely would not involve being an expert in Italian wine. But he is one. And not just an expert, he is a certified Italian Wine Expert with the Vinitaly International Academy, and he is one of only seven in the world. What’s more – he is the only one to date who has passed the certification process on the first try.

Who is Henry Davar? He’s Breakthru Nevada’s Wine Educator and Business Development Manager, and he knows his stuff when it comes to Italian vino. Clearly.

But Davar wasn’t always involved in the world of grapes and hillside vineyards. In fact, he is a two-time career changer who started out on Wall Street. In the early 2000s, he traded the stock market for the kitchen, only to find that he couldn’t take the heat. Literally. “After cooking school, I made it all the way to what I thought was my dream job as a cook at NYC's Gramercy Tavern, only to realize I wasn't built to handle that level of order flow," Davar said. 

Realizing chef life wasn’t his calling, Davar enrolled in the Viticulture and Vinification course at the American Sommelier Association, where he caught the wine bug. During his studies, one of his instructors invited him to join the Wine & Spirits Magazine tasting panel, and in 2007 the magazine honored him as one of the “Top Young Sommeliers of the Year.” The rest, as they say, is history.

We sat down with Davar to celebrate his certification and to learn more about what makes Italian wine —in his eyes and consumers’—so desirable.

Henry Davar Q&A Spacer Image 

How did you become interested specifically in Italian wine?
Henry Davar: Italian wine was my first love. I remember the day I ordered two different Italian wines at a restaurant in New York: an Amarone by Masi and a Taurasi by Antonio Caggiano. Both offered the typical Italian push-pull of ripe versus savory flavors I had never encountered in any other wines before. I think this type of tension or counterpoint is a distinctly Italian phenomenon. However, what really draws me to Italian wine is that you can’t consider it as simply a beverage, but you must consider it rather as a portal into another culture. When I drink Italian wine, I am drinking a place, a people, a language, a history—and I’m always drinking it with food! There are many stories to be told and many connections to be made. Italian wine is made greater by its context—all those factors that I just mentioned.  But you have to buy into this type of experience. You have to have natural curiosity and you have to open yourself to the richness that is available. When I started studying wine, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich were redefining Italian cuisine in NYC. They made the context part so appealing that I eventually went to work for them. Mario and Joe brought me to Las Vegas and eventually back to NYC to run the top Italian wine program in the country.


What was the process like to become a certified Italian Wine Expert? 
I have been working with Italian wines for more than 10 years, and although I don’t currently manage an Italian portfolio, I work hard to keep the skills sharp. That is the real answer. To answer your question specifically however, “Expert” is the top accreditation of a fairly new organization called the Vinitaly International Academy, which offers a certification course taught by Dr. Ian D’Agata a famous advocate and critic of Italian wines who currently writes for Decanter Magazine and among other publications— and is based on his landmark book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy. In order to attain “Expert” level on the exam, one must answer correctly 90% out of 100 multiple choice questions. The candidate is then invited to a blind tasting as the second portion of the exam. This was the third year the exam was given. There were 60 students in my class and I was the only one to attain “Expert” level, and the only candidate to date to do so on their first attempt. 


What differentiates Italy’s wine regions and its wines from other parts of the world?
The Mediterranean Sea and the Apennine Mountain range, which run along Italy’s “spine,” are the two most important influences on Italy’s climate, which would otherwise become increasingly more Mediterranean the further south one travels and very likely too hot to make balanced wines. Instead both of these cooling influences serve to moderate temperatures during the growing season and to provide a diurnal temperature change—the difference between day and nighttime temperatures—that helps to preserve aromatics and acidity. The Italian wines that are really great are those that express a natural tension, or counterpoint, between fruitiness and acidity. They never become tiresome to drink and many age very well. And I haven’t even started talking about the various soil types or Italy’s national treasure: Its abundance of native grape varieties! That’s a true point of distinction in a market seemingly dominated by Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon but in some areas starting to clamor for unique drinking experiences.


Do you have any favorite Italian varietals that maybe aren’t as well known to consumers?  
Great question. This spring I’ve been drinking Malvasia Istriana whenever I can find it. Malvasia Istriana is a white grape native to the Friuli region in Northeast Italy. It is a lightly aromatic variety that is a great transmitter of terroir. I’m a huge fan of Italian white wines, and the overall quality is better than ever! Verdicchio from the Marche, Fiano from Campania, Carricante from Mount Etna, Garganega from the Soave region—all are making world-class wines that might also surprise you for their longevity.


Last year, Italy was the No. 1 international supplier of wine to the U.S. both in volume and sales. Why do you think Italian wines resonate so well with American consumers?  
Much of Italian wine’s early success had to do with the Italian diaspora, which has made Italian cuisine, and in turn, Italian wine, familiar to American consumers. A second factor has to do with the quality versus price ratio that Italian wines offer with respect to their European competitors—namely, France. When I began learning about and drinking wine, Bordeaux and Burgundy had become so expensive that they were financially out of reach. For many sommeliers and wine lovers of my generation, Italy presented a great alternative, and many of us cut our teeth on Italian wine and use it as a reference point as much as previous generations might have referenced France. Finally, in today’s boutique marketplace where consumers are looking for distinctive products that speak of their origin, Italy is poised to reach greater heights as consumers continue to discover new wines from Italy’s astounding number of native grape varieties—officially 550 registered at last count!


To hear more from Henry Davar, check out his recent interview on the Italian Wine Podcast, which can be accessed here.

Make sure to talk to your Breakthru Sales Consultant today about our Italian wine portfolio.


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