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.
Stéphanie Rigourd, France
Stéphanie was the Wandering Palate Sommelier of the Year two years ago,
http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/wine-feng-shui/sommelier-of-the-year-asia/ and is an extraordinary young lady with a depth of wine knowledge and service talent that makes you scratch your head in disbelief – that is makes you realise how less-talented I was in my sommelier days. You will find her at the Hilton’s ‘il Cielo’ restaurant, on the newly renovated top floor, pool deck of the Hilton, Orchard Road, and has to be one of the best kept secrets in Singapore – wonderful Italian food and a cosy semi-alfresco-poolside atmosphere… at great wines of course.
Stéphanie Rigourd, France
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Hilton Hotel Singapore and its outlets
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
In Singapore, “Provence”, a new restaurant with the young Chef Fanny. The food is delicate and elegant. The wine list is good value for money, with small wineries I love. Manuel the Manager and sommelier with Alex carrying their passion to the guests; I had a lovely time.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
In Italy, “Ristorante del Belbo da Bardon” at San Marzano Olivieto. In a lost area of Piemonte, an old “Trattoria” with a wine list of 1500 labels!
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
at restaurant André http://restaurantandre.com an amazing restaurant. It is true, it’s a budget to dine there, but you don’t regret it at all. In France, a dinner I will never forget and I am always impressed when I am going there: Restaurant ‘”Les Cedres” at Granges les Beaumont in Drôme www.restaurantlescedres.fr
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
In Singapore, yes, “La Creperie des Arts” in Prinstet street. I am going their meanly for the ambiance. I fell like home. There is a lovely couple from Brittany there; they take care of me like if they were my Aunty and Uncle. www.hungrygowhere.com/singapore/creperie_des_arts/
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
With our job in Food & Beverage we eat every day at work for lunch and dinner. During my off days, I hate eating alone so I am always going out. There for the new place where I am staying doesn’t even have any kitchen since I never used it in my previously place… And to be honest … Myself cooking it’s just a disaster. I like it but I have never learned how to do it…
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
In Singapore, I used to go a lot to wine connection, the oldest one at Robertson Quay. Yes the quality of the wines is not high but if you really take time to look at the wine list, you will find some nice wines from New Zealand, perfect for simple moment. The prices are amazingly low.
I don’t enjoy their new Wine Connection beside the one I am talking about. www.wineconnection.com.sg
In France, at Beaune “Le Square” one of the Escoffier sons opened that wine bar, it’s so lovely.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
In Singapore, I like working with Alpha International. Bruno Vaillant and his team are really good. www.ewineasia.com
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Anything! I really don’t have any favourite. When I am home sick, I drink wines from Rhone Valley. Otherwise I love discovering new wines anytime.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
That happened to me a few times recently since I am just back from a one month wine trip in Italy. I barely new that country and its wines before – I fall in love for what I have discovered and learned there. Like the wines from the Mont Etna “Passopiciaro” or the wines from Montalcino, I am thinking about the winery “Il Marroneto” their wines made me speechless…
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Nerello Mascalese, Mont Etna, Sicily, Italy.
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)
Pernand Verglesses From Vincent Rapet, White. “Rapport Prix Plaisir” incredible… www.domaine-rapet.com
Or the Cote du Luberon “Chataignier” from Domaine de la Citadelle
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Scallops Carpaccio with citrus touch paired with Chateau Grillet 2003. The fatness from the Viognier matched with the texture of the scallops. The touch of citrus cut down the opulence of the wine and made a beautiful relief.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Again since I am just back from Italy and “still on the clouds” it’s tempting to talk about it again.
But my first love was with “South West” of France with the wines from Madiran, Pacherinc du Vic Bilh and Jurancon, the gastronomy such of Foie gras with Jam, Magret de Canard, their cold cuts and hard cheese and their strong tradition “Pays Basque”, I was travelling by myself for a week there, when I was 19, It’s one of my best experience, as a French I didn’t even know that region could be that impressive.
Then … the same thing happened to me last year in Central Otago, New Zealand. I had a meal with Rob from the Chard Farm at Queenstown and work in the vineyard with his team for a couple of days, I am dreaming of going there again. I loved the Lamb with their Pinot Noir. I was so impressed. Before I was sure Burgundy was the best for Pinot Noir, I won’t say the same thing today… www.chardfarm.co.nz
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.
Central Otago, New Zealand
Mont Etna, Sicily
North Rhone Valley, France
South West, France
Burgundy, it’s not exactly what you asked but it’s a must for me!