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How The Italian Wine Shop is Bringing La Dolce Vita to The UK
Eat and Drink
March 2024
Reading time 4 Minutes

It's wine o'clock somewhere!

It's wine o'clock somewhere, and in Yorkshire, Living North catches up with Angelica Sykes of The Italian Wine Shop to learn how to drink wine like a true Italian.

Ahead of Living North Live at York Racecourse (22nd–24th March), we caught up with Angelica Sykes from The Italian Wine Shop, exhibiting with us for the first time, to talk about discovering new wines, connecting with customers and finding la dolce vita for yourself.

Why Italian wine specifically?
I don’t come from the wine industry so it’s purely a passion in that sense. My mum is Italian, so my heritage is half-Italian, half-British and I’ve always been more connected to my Italian side. So although I have a broad Yorkshire accent, certainly in my heart and in my soul I’m an Italian woman for sure.

As soon as school ended after sixth form I decided to move to the mountains. I grew up skiing so I moved to the Italian Alps and then through living there, after 10 years you become immersed in the local culture. What you learn is that wine is so intrinsically linked to the foundations of Italian culture. It is in every day life and you can’t help but be immersed in it so when you’re going for dinner, when you’re talking to the Italians and in every aspect of life, wine is quite centralised. I found the culture around drinking quite interesting because it feels much more balanced than it does in the UK, and I became quite enamoured with that.

How did The Italian Wine Shop come about?
I realised that I didn’t want to snowboard for anyone else anymore, I wanted to do it for myself. I started working in tech and one job in tech became another job in tech and before you know it, you’ve sold yourself to the rat race. During Covid, I realised that life was happening to me as opposed to me experiencing it. So I asked myself, what do I actually want to do and what do I actually like in life? I like wine, and I like food so how can I have a job that ties all of those together? Can I take my experience of living in Italy and make it something?

I’m a really existential, nostalgic person, so while I was having an existential crisis in London I decided to go and buy one of the wines I used to drink when I was in Italy and think about my life choices. So I went to what is supposed to be the biggest collection of Italian wines in London. I walked in and I had four wines I wanted in my mind. The first one, he suggested that I made it up. The second one, he suggested that I was mispronouncing it, which is untrue because I speak Italian. Then the third wine he said no definitely not. Then we walked past the last one at the till and he didn’t even realise he had it in stock. So the whole scenario was really underwhelming. Wine is so much more than a drink. It’s memories, it’s experiences, it’s feelings and it’s much more emotive than other drinks. I think the only other thing it’s akin to is how people relate to whisky. It’s not there to be the centre of the stage – it’s supposed to be the thing you drink for a great conversation or the thing you drink while you’re having a romantic date, and you’re gazing into your partner’s eyes. So there was definitely a market for a shop that sells the Italian experience, that thing that makes Italy so special, and connects the wine culture to the wine itself. I started the company last year.

How would you begin to curate a collection?
You think about the moments where you drink wine and what the environment is for that. Often, I think about girls’ drinks on a Saturday afternoon while you’re getting ready to go out or maybe just having the girls over. I think about what would you like to drink in that moment. It’s probably a little pink fizz, something vibrant, light and easy to drink.

If I’m with a mixed group of mates on a Friday evening after a long week, we’re having a big dinner and maybe there’s steak or something like that. For that I’d want a full-bodied red that warms the cockles. So you have to think about the key moments when people generally would drink wine or reach for a glass of wine. Not every night of the week is a night for an expensive bottle of wine, but some nights you want to crack into a great bottle with an incredible story behind it and that’s what I think about when I’m curating a collection.

What has the reception been like?
People very often come to us and say they don’t know much about Italian wines and they like a merlot, what have you got that’s like a merlot? I say why don’t you try a fumin? Fumin is a native variety and very fruity – it’s full and it’s interesting, just like a merlot, so it would give you the satisfaction that a merlot would. If people say they love a prosecco, what have you got? I say why don’t you try a musita passito from Sicily instead – it’s fruity, it’s vibrant and it’s on the sweeter side, but it has much more texture and much more character. Customers have really liked that.

Customers have been very open to trying wines that they have never heard of before because it feels like you can set the scene. Take this wine and imagine yourself on the beach, in the sun, sand under your toes and you’ve got that breeze from the sea. People can get very visual about it and it really helps to capture their imagination.

What does 2024 hold for you?
People aren’t going to take a punt on a new business without knowing us, so we are doing tonnes of events where we want to meet them. We love it when people come to our stand, sit down, pull up a pew, we’ll have a little tasting and we can get to know each other and we can say what wines are going to be best for them.

Quick-Fire Questions

What could you not live without?
My sister, I live with my sister and she’s kind of our creative director. I can’t live without her because she is very grounding. My family in general really. I couldn’t do this without them.

Tell us a hidden gem in Yorkshire.
You’ve got to go to The Gilded Grape in Ilkley – it’s a fantastic little wine shop and they do the best cheeseboards I’ve seen outside London. Zucco in Meanwood, Leeds is an incredible local Italian restaurant too.

What’s your favourite outdoor spot?
You’ve got to go for a walk at the Cow and Calf Rocks in Ilkley. It’s stunning and the air feels so fresh, it feels like you’re on top of the world.

Find out more at Living North Live at York Racecourse from 22nd–24th March. Early-bird discounted tickets are available here.

For you chance to win a gift box of three hand-picked Italian wines, enter here.

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