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.
Andrea Briccarello, United Kingdom (originally from Italy)
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I’m currently the Wine Buyer/Head Sommelier for the Galvin Restaurants Group; I’m looking after La Chapelle and the Bistro de Luxe in Baker Street and the two new restaurants in Edinburgh. www.galvinrestaurants.com
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Unfortunately I don’t go out as much as I’d love, but my last memorable meal was at Viajante. The menu was intricate enough with good combinations of flavours and textures. www.viajante.co.uk
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
I usually visit Andrew Edmunds in Lexington Street for amazing value for money and great rustic food. http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80123/Andrew_Edmunds
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Pollen Street social was a memorable experience; I’ve spent a very enjoyable afternoon once with a great combination of dishes and wines; cocktails were very good as well. www.pollenstreetsocial.com
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
If I don’t go to Andrew Edmunds, I tend to visit Chisou (my favourite Japanese) or my local restaurant in Crystal Palace called Mediterranea where I can enjoy the true taste of Sardinian food; they make a stunning suckling pig on a Sunday to die for!! www.mediterranea.co www.chisourestaurant.com
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I always cook at home whenever I can; my partner is half Greek and half Ethiopian so we tend to exchange dishes and flavours all the time. I’m still working on my moussaka but I’ve really improved my bread dough techniques. Meat is my speciality particularly, the slow cooked one; my braised beef slowly cooked in Barolo is hard to beat!
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I love Aubert and Mascoli at the moment; they have a lot of small French and Italian producers mainly organic and biodynamic. www.aubertandmascoli.com
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
In the summer I tend to rediscover Riesling and Gruners from Austria and Germany, but I do enjoy some Greek whites form Santorini as well.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Here is my 3 top wines: 1990 Mazy Chambertin Armand Rousseau, 1999 Soldera Brunello diMontalcino and 1955 Monfortino from Giacomo Conterno.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I was in Jura few weeks ago and I’ve discovered some exciting producers like J.F Ganevat http://www.wineterroirs.com/2010/11/jf_ganevat_jura.html and Domaine Bornard www.lescaves.co.uk. Unusual wines but very versatile with foods.
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)
Spain and Italy (don’t mention the economic situation!) are offering great products at an amazing price.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I really enjoyed recently a succulent breast of duck with Maury. The tannins and red fruits of the wines matched the game flavours and intensity of the meat, while the sweetness and alcohol worked with the juices of the bird.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
It has to be Roussillon; this is where I found out the true meaning of terroir; from schist to cailloux to gravel they have it all! The food was amazing a mixture of French/Spanish a treat for my tasting buds. Colliure had probably the most amazing vineyards I’ve ever seen in France, overlooking the sea with lots of schisty hills.
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:
- 1. Wild Fremented Assyrtiko from Gaia www.gaia-wines.gr
- 2. Amarone from Roccolo Grassi www.roccolograssi.it
- 3. Cepparello from Isole e Olena http://www.thewinedoctor.com/italy/isoleeolena.shtml
- 4. Blaufrankisch from Kirnbauer http://www.phantom.at
- 5. Fernando de Castilla’s Oloroso www.fernandodecastilla.com
- 6. Prevost La Closerie Extra Brut http://www.polanerselections.com/producer.php?pID=3254