In Medieval Provençal times they were saumaliers, animal pack drivers who evolved during Middle French kingdom to become court officials charged with transportation of supplies. So what does a modern day Sommelier actually do? Well, Wikipedia outlines as such, “A sommelier or wine steward is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food matching. The most important work of a sommelier is in the areas of wine procurement, wine storage, wine cellar rotation, and expert service to wine consumers.”
A reasonably accurate job description although perhaps a little parched as our new-age sommelier has evolved to a higher learning with a wine Jedi cognizance and a seventh sense that can psychoanalyse a diner, marry the person, the dish and the wine in seconds. They are now the gateway to wine discovery equipped with clairvoyance in food and wine trends, inspiring thirst around the world.
Feared by winemakers, loathed by wine distributors as the arbiters’ of wine lists, the restaurant patron should embrace their knowledge, skills and talent as they are hopelessly and passionately obsessed with wine and will take you on journey of gastronomic enlightenment. And our new-age sommelier is no longer confined to fine dining and can be found in casual eateries, wine bars, gastro-pubs, winery restaurants, wine stores and you’ll even bump into an air-sommelier at 30,000ft these days. Some have hung up their waiters-friend and metamorphosed to the wine trade as brand ambassadors, distributors or consultants, but once a sommelier, always a sommelier.
This column explores the gustatory and olfactory manifestations of sommeliers all over this planet. We take a cross section of the sommelier’s stomach and intestines to reveal what and where they eat. And we dissect their taste buds and dopamine receptors as they relent to the Wandering Palate narcosynthesis and confess to their personal vinous pleasures and closely-held secrets – this is The Sommelier’s Palate.
Benjamin Skipper, Melbourne, Australia
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I do some consulting for friends, local businesses and on the floor from time to time at Estelle Bar and Kitchen in Northcote, a pretty cool interpretation of classic tasting restaurant in Melbourne’s newest zone for more interesting artisan drinking and eating. www.estellebarkitchen.com.au
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Schloss Monaise in Trier, Germany www.schloss-monaise.de a few months back was a highlight of local produce, Chef at the table in traditional environment and some wonderful bottles(enjoyed a 1959 Mosel Saar Ruwer Auslese), although Chef was slightly unsure about departing with the bottle! Also Nick Poelart is doing some really natural stuff at Brooks, CBD Melbourne. I worked for him last year at Embrasse and great to see his plates in a fresh, dynamic environment. (Click here for Wandering Palate Best New Restaurant – Brooks)
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Hibiscus in Mayfair, London, it was some of the best service I’ve enjoyed. When it’s that good you really notice it; French staff help! www.hibiscusrestaurant.co.uk
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Easy hands down answer, Murgaritz, Spain www.mugaritz.com
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I find it difficult to surpass the European, CBD, Melbourne for classic, well done favourites…with a great selection of wines too. www.theeuropean.com.au
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes, and I’m trying to perfect my current Cabonara recipe. Enjoy putting together the classics, easy style. And I live with a Venetian.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Always enjoyed going to Juveniles in Paris when I have been there and City Wine Shop, Melbourne CBD, have to pop Gerald’s Bar, Carlton North, Melbourne in there as well. http://parisbymouth.com/our-guide-to-paris-juveniles/ http://geraldsbar.com.au/
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Germany Rieslings over summer as it’s been wonderfully hot… and Austrian Gruners. Also a renewed current interest in Martinborough Pinot Noir from New Zealand www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Totally:1985 Maison Joseph Drouhin Marquis de Laquiche Montrachet, which I tasted in 2002 and still remember it to this day. The length, power and body was something I’d never experienced before. I have tasted this twice since and it remains on my wish list to sit down and savour a bottle. http://www.drouhin.com/en/wines/montrachet-marquis-de-laguiche-grand-cru.php#/FicheVin/31
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
A recent affinity for Gallician whites; I visited the region a few years back and the wines are quite accessible and on trend now in Australia. Also, Alvarinho from Vinho Verde slightly further south in Portugal.
Tell us what is your ultimate wine bargain discovery in terms of price/quality rapport? (i.e. does not have to be cheap but over-delivers in quality for the price)
Millton Vineyards Te Arai Chenin Blanc, from Gisborne, New Zealand – The wines are totally under priced and represent quality in a style which is unique to this vineyard. Old world fruit flavours and wonderful texture. The wine stops short of representing Loire in NZ with its cut minerality but works fantastically with many food styles. www.millton.co.nz Read more on Milton Chenin Blanc on The Wandering Palate – click here
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Last week I paired a Kracher Rosenmuskateller TBA Nummer 3 from Burgenland, Austria, with a savoury course of Venison with figs, fresh and pureed, grape and chocolate sauce and kale. It matched beautifully. http://www.kracher.at/
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Select a six pack of wines that you think are absolutely outstanding and inspirational, and that will set people on a journey of vinous discovery and enlightenment.
Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay, Nelson, NZ – With 3 to 5 years on it. One of my first introductions to serious Chardonnay and always a style I thoroughly enjoy. www.neudorf.co.nz
Giaconda Chardonnay, Beechworth, Victoria – One of my vices and when you get them at the right age they are true boutique products. Serious wines, built for the long term. www.giaconda.com.au
Huet Vouvray Sec, Loire Valley, France – Always a grand introduction to Vouvray, although they seem to be current changing style slightly as there has been a regime change. They are textbook Vouvray’s to be enjoyed. www.huet-echansonne.com
Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, NZ – A go to for classic NZ Pinot. The wine that put New Zealand Pinot on the map www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz
Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia/Tondonia, Rioja Alta, Spain – Old school definite Tempranillo from a marque producer in the zone, showing many years cellar potential and thoroughly defined this traditional style of Rioja for me. www.lopezdeheredia.com
Nicolas Joly Coulee de Serrant, Savennierres, Loire valley, France – My love for chenin blanc confirmed. With age these are class acts and are emblematic wines with sincerity and loads of personality. Chenin at its most abundant and often misunderstood. You need to drink these to grasp their magic www.coulee-de-serrant.com