To launch the ‘Sommelier’s Palate’, the very first to be featured and quintessential sommelier is Christophe Brunet, French born but living in Spain for over 15 years now. Apart from being a legendary, veteran sommelier, it is most pertinent that Brunet represents the evolution of a career sommelier; from restaurants to the wine trade and now a Wine Ambassador for Primum Familiae Vini representing some of the most famous vineyards in the world and subsequently perennially travelling and interacting with sommeliers all over the planet.
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.
Christophe Brunet, French born but living in Spain for over 15 years now
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I am not working anymore as a Sommelier but having worked as a Sommelier in ‘La Tour D’ Argent’ Paris, as well as in ‘Le Louis XV’ Monte Carlo, I moved to London in 1991. During my six years in London I was appointed Head Sommelier at ‘Les Ambassadeurs’ a London Casino Club. After this I moved to Spain, as a Prestige Account Manager at Miguel Torres for about 8 years and Export Manager at Paul Jaboulet Aine for 3 years. Currently I am a Wine Ambassador for the Primum Familiae Vini www.pfv.org
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Etxebarri in San Juan (near Bilbao) , about 10 days ago. One of my top 5 meals in a restaurant. Care and instinct under the discipline of fire and primitive cooking techniques, where simplicity and warmth of the grill inspire a natural landscape!! www.asadoretxebarri.com
Where have you dined (restaurant) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Villa Más, in Sant Feliu de Guíxols near Barcelona http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a201109021/layout/print.html
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I have many, not only one. But Etxebarri recently was just amazing! www.asadoretxebarri.com
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
No but if I could I would go every day at the Mangevin, a small restaurant of Tain L’Hermitage in the Rhone; one of my favorite bistrot with great food and excellent wine list. www.mangevins.com
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes I do cook at home. Excellent product from the market “a la plancha” – Gambas de palamos, Presa Iberica …
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Recently I am drinking wines from Ribera Sacra, Burgundy and the Rhone more than any region.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
May be this old Chinon, Clos de La Dioterie 1978 from Charles Joguet when I was at my wine scholl in the Loire Valley – But there are so many after this it would be hard to mention them all. Recently as well a 1976 Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese from Egon Müller and a Bass Philipp Estate Pinot Noir few weeks ago!!
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I am tasting great wines from Corbiere. It is an ancient region with great old carignan vines and this is a grape I really love. For exemple the Campagnès 2009 from Maxime Magnon (majority Carignan) http://kermitlynch.com/our_wines/maxime-magnon/
Tell is 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)
The wines from Montcalmes in Puéchabon Languedoc!!
(This is most definitely underground, secret sommelier Intel, as I cannot find much at all on the www; do you have some leads Christophe… anybody…)
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
A smoked Mozzarella with a Godello grape wine from Galicia
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
To have the three components is not easy (dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating) but I would say the Rhone Valley.
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.
This is very hard! I would recommend 6 regions that could make our wine aficionado travel…
Priorato and Ribera Sacra in Spain
Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf du pape in the Rhone Valley
Alsace in France and Mosel in Germany
And an outsider: Burgundy!
And there is so many more…