This Family-Run Lake Como Hotel Is an Unexpected Destination for Lovers of Rare French Wine

Nestled among tree covered hills on the shores of Lake Como, the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is more than just a secluded getaway literally steps from the town of Bellagio. This elegant retreat, a former private home built in 1854 for a noble family, opened its doors as a hotel in 1873. Formerly called the Grand Hotel Bellagio, the luxurious resort has been known as a wine and food destination since being acquired by Swiss hotelier Arturo Bucher in 1918. Under the direction today of Arturo’s grandson Gianfranco and great-grandson Jan, Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni offers an unparalleled wine and dining destination to its discerning guests, including a wine cellar filled with some of the finest wines that France and Italy have to offer.

Unlike most restaurants in Italy which offer only Italian wine save a bottle or two of Champagne, the 400-bottle list at onsite Restaurant Mistral is about half French and half Italian, and includes 45 Champagnes, 25 different sparkling Italian wines, classic Super Tuscans and Barolos, and a sizable Bordeaux and Burgundy list that includes six vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti dating back to 1966. In addition to taking a spin in a motorboat or a swim in the crystal-clear lake, you can also take a deep dive into French wine alongside chef Ettore Bocchia’s Mediterranean cuisine.

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A formidable collection of coveted wines is in the hotel’s cellar.
A formidable collection of coveted wines is in the hotel’s cellar.

“Historically, wines from France were ‘The Wines,’ with capital letters. I’ve certainly refined my palate by following the evolution of many French labels; abandoning them would be unthinkable for me,” proprietor Gianfranco Bucher tells Robb Report. “Moreover, France is the third market of the hotel (the first two are U.S.A. and U.K.), and French guests also love to find ‘their’ wines in the list.” Bucher began buying wine for the hotel alongside his father, Rudy, when he returned there after finishing university in 1982, and he has continued in the role since. While Gianfranco appears far from retiring, his son Jan, the general manager, is planning to take over wine buying when the elder Bucher is ready to relinquish the responsibility.

Holding a Level 2 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), Jan is priming himself for his future duties. “I went to the Hotel Management School in Zurich, and chose the enology course,” Jan tells Robb Report. “During my work experiences around the world, I also met several sommeliers that taught me a lot. But the main thing is to train the palate, that’s also why we have a family ritual: we try to make a wine tasting all together at my parents’ house at least once a month, and the theme of the tasting can be a region, a producer, or a grape variety.”

The two have assembled an impressive list featuring under the radar grower Champagne as well as labels one would expect such as Dom Perignon, Krug, and Louis Roederer Cristal. Highlights from Burgundy include Domaine Henri Boillot Bâtard-Montrachet, Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne, and Domaine Bruno Clair Morey-Saint-Denis. Bordeaux lovers will not be disappointed, with choices ranging from Château Cos d’Estournel to Petrus, Château Cheval Blanc, and beyond. The father and son duo are both adamant about wanting the wines they serve to be enjoyed in the restaurant; they have thwarted more than one collector from taking a well-priced bottle home by insisting that it be poured with a meal rather than delivered via room service with cork intact.

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni cuisine
Chef Ettore Bocchia’s menu compliments the ample cellar.

Italian wine afficionados will also find much to rejoice about. Piemonte is well represented, with a wide range of Barolo and Barbaresco, and Tuscan wine abounds, including a broad selection from Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri, and Chianti. Chef Bocchia’s cuisine is made with ingredients from around Europe such as Bresse chicken from France and large red carabinero shrimp from the north coast of Spain. Closer to home, he sources bottarga from Sicily, lemons from the Amalfi coast, and two other types of shrimp from Liguria and Sicily. His enticing but concise menu features delicate flavor combinations that will not overpower the subtleties of some of the world’s finest wine. Fans of powerful reds, be they from Bordeaux or Bolgheri, will do well to pair a prize bottle with ‘Wagyu in Three Versions,’ which offers grilled sirloin, carpaccio, and tartare in a single course. A seven-course tasting menu is available featuring a combination of a la carte menu items and specially prepared dishes.

For those who like to enjoy wine in the land in which the grape is grown, sommelier Omar Valente is proud to show off the hotel’s collection of local wines from the Oltrepo Pavere, Terre Lariane, and Valtellina regions. Having taken on the role of head sommelier six years ago, Valente states, “For me it’s not a job, it’s a life.” While he is aware that many guests have their hearts set on bottles from more renowned regions, he knows he can subtly sway them to try something different by asking questions such as “Do you prefer a buttery or mineral style?” or “What was the wine you enjoyed most recently with dinner?” and then suggesting a wine produced in close proximity to Lake Como.

The senior Bucher likes to have the local wines available because “…many guests want to discover this destination by its flavors as well. A glass of wine enjoyed in the region where it’s produced has a different taste and character, especially from an emotional perspective.”

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni restaurant
Dinner with a view at Restaurant Mistral

Farther afield, Gianfranco Bucher says he cannot get to the all the wineries on his 400-label list, but he tries to “to visit the most interesting ones in terms of technique, terroir, and innovation.” Although winemakers and winery owners stay at the hotel, Bucher likes to “…visit our main suppliers ourselves and see firsthand how the wines are made.”

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni has been a destination for celebrities and heads of state for many years. Guests in the last century included Sir Winston Churchill, President Theodore Roosevelt, President John F. Kennedy, Clark Gable, and Mary Pickford. While many celebrities visit regularly, Gianfranco Bucher states, “It happens quite often that we have famous or important guests, but they don’t ‘announce’ themselves, or they book with alias names, as they don’t want to be bothered.” Unless, of course, they would like help choosing a wine, in which case either of the Buchers or their head sommelier will be on hand to offer assistance.

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