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.
Along with the likes of Shane Harris, Charles Leong, Andrew Guard (Sir) John Clancy, Ben Moechtar, Jerry Jones, Stuart Halliday, Sam Christie is one of the Mod Squad Sommeliers that shaped the Sydney wine scene in the 90s. When I was wine distributor in Melbourne, visiting Sydney and plying Victorian wines, Christie was one the few sommeliers that would give me an audience and was even daring enough to list Victorian wines, blasphemy in the days of Interstate rivalry, moreover he listed pinot noirs (Gembrook Pinot Noir) which was completely left of field in a land dominated by big South Australian reds and a parochial palate defending the Hunter Valley. Christie evolved from a sommelier to restaurateur opening Longrain championing modern Australian Thai in Sydney and subsequently pioneering avant-garde contemporary Asian, communal dinning and no booking policy in Melbourne. Rather ironic that it took a Sydneysider to radically change/evolve the dining scene in Victoria. Christie is arguably the first sommelier to delve into the unorthodox and properly explore pairing wine with Thai cuisine and Asian flavours, something that is seemingly ingrained in Australian sommeliers nowadays; but credit where credit is due – Sam is the man.
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Momofuku Seibo http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/seiobo/
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
The Wine Library, Paddington http://www.broadsheet.com.au/sydney/nightlife/directory/restaurant/bar/wine-library-profile
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
The Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco for its simplicity and genuine old school hospitality http://www.zagat.com/r/swan-oyster-depot-san-francisco
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Bar Lourinha, Little Collins Street, Melbourne www.barlourinha.com.au
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I love cooking at home. I am partial to ceviche at the moment. Hang on, is ceviche actually cooking!
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
The above mentioned The Wine Library
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
My old mate, Paul Stenmark www.winestock.com.au
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Currently I am enjoying Head Red GSM from the Barossa. www.headwines.com.au
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue your wine obsession?
No particular wine however, when I started discovering White burgundies, when tasting customer’s bottles whilst working as a sommelier at Tetsuya’s, I am still obsessed…
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I am loving Sicilian reds
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)
Just opened a 2001 Richmond Grove Riesling that I remember buying Woy Woy Liquorland for about $10 – Perfect aged Riesling under screw cap, great acidity, lovely lime sherbet and marmalade and not too much kero -Another great John Vickery Riesling
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
It would have to be the Taramasalata at The Apollo with the 2009 Domain Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko www.domaine-sigalas.com
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Loire Valley in summertime, eating local goats cheese and drinking Vouvray
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.
NV Larmandier – Bernier Blanc de Blancs Champagne or any great ‘Blanc de Blancs’ for that matter www.larmandier.fr
2010 Weingut Hirsch Zobing Riesling, Kamptal, Austria www.weingut-hirsch.at
Domaine Francois Raveneau Les Clos, Chablis, France (any vintage) http://kermitlynch.com/our_wines/domaine-francois-raveneau/
2010 Cullen Chardonnay Margaret River, WA www.cullenwines.com.au
Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir, NZ www.dryriver.co.nz
Any Barbaresco by Gaja http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaja_%28wine%29