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.
Alex Calabro, Italy
Having met Alex Calabro when he was the sommelier at Garibaldi restaurant in Singapore, we stuck up an instant rapport, for here is on of the most personable and charming sommeliers I have ever met, with a never-failing warm smile to ease you into your dinner and oozing an assuring confidence in wine and hospitality. It was great to see him evolve into owning his own restaurant, which is resplendent with Italian wines and truffles.
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
In my own restaurant: Casa Tartufo in Singapore www.casatartufo.com
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
In Milan “Da Giacomo”, an amazing fish/seafood restaurant; start with a raw seafood platter, followed by gratin of shellfish. Choose pasta or fish for main course and save some space for their amazing dessert trolley. All this served in a cosy old-fashion ambience by knowledgeable service staff. www.giacomoristorante.com/index-en.html
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Last year in Piemonte, in the village of Neive at “La Ciau del Tornavento”. Their wine cellar is inside a vault. You can imagine what it contains! www.laciaudeltornavento.it/ita
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
In Sicily, with my whole family. We had a big dinner in this restaurant called Ardigna www.ardigna.it located on a remote mountain- impossible to find. When we finally arrived there it was totally dark and we thought the place was closed. When we open the small entrance door, the place was full of customers, laughing and enjoying their food. We got a table next to the large fireplace. It was winter and the eat coming from the fire was really nice. We got so many starters that we were already full. Then few types of pasta followed by grilled meats. Finally the desserts made with fresh ricotta, locally produced. Obviously the meal was flushed with fantastic local wines.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
My restaurant, Casa Tartufo of course J
Eating at my restaurant every day, when I’m off I mostly like to eat local food. I especially enjoy Laksa, Bak-kut-teh, and Indian curry. I also love Pizza but still I haven’t found my favourite pizzeria in Singapore.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
My wife fell for my pasta with Rucola-Pesto, so maybe my best dish?!
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
In Milan I usually stop with my wife for the aperitif at Bar Jamaica in Brera-area. There, we enjoy the mix of artistic and old-Milano atmosphere. Their wine selection is not large but it’s always good, focused on Piemonte and Lombardia regions. Their food is simple, traditional; tasty and made freshly every day. www.jamaicabar.it
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Yes, in Italy but I cannot reveal my sources!
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Barbaresco Gaja and Guado al Tasso both 2008
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
I should not say it since it is a French wine: Chateau Latour 1990 www.chateau-latour.com
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Viognier from Sicily
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)
Bruciato Antinori 2010 http://www.antinori.it/eng/vini/vini_scheda.php?ID=498&tit=il%20bruciato
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Recently I love to eat Burrata cheese paired with sparkling Franciacorta
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Piemonte and Toscana without doubts!
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.
I would say, discover Piemonte and definitely taste wines like:
Gaia & Rey 1994 and Barbaresco 2008 by Gaja
Then if you have had “enough” of white Truffles, Barolo and Barbaresco ?!?!, drive your Fiat 500 to Toscana and abandon yourself in great wines like the Brunello di Montalcino Cerbaiola1997, Salvioni; Il Bosco 2004, Tenimenti D’Alessandro www.tenimentidalessandro.it and a classic Tignanello 2004 by Antinori. www.antinori.it
Of course enjoy them with a big piece of Fiorentina steak.