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.
Andreas Larsson, Sweden
Queue ‘The anthem of the saga’… behold! Our Jedi Master Sommelier symbolising vinous heroism and adventure; the Luke Skywalker of the wine world fighting the Dark Side of commercial, pedestrian wine… saving our thirsty Universe from non-descript wine. Back on planet earth, Andreas Larsson was 2007 Best Sommelier of the world and when you read his BIO, the man is a vinous Olympian studying and training for years and achieving the highest awards and accolades throughout Europe leading up to the crown of Best Sommelier in the World. He has rocketed to global status and reverently respected for his incredible talents as a wine taster, writer and presenter. It is perhaps his skills as a presenter that has impressed most, a great articulator and Vox populi of wine, his delivery is lucid, affable and magnetically engaging. I participated in a Sauternes/Barsac master class that Larsson conducted at Vinexpo Hong Kong which was possibly one of the most intelligent and enjoyable wine sessions I have ever encountered, possibly more intellectually informative and stimulating than any Bordelaise winemaker or merchant could have delivered – which I guess is why they got him to do it. It inspired me so much I wrote a 7-page article on it http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/buying-wine/sweet-but-not-just-dessert-wine/ Inspirational is the core point here and Larsson is the Sommeliers touchstone – there is no limit to a Sommeliers trajectory. Larsson has his own enforced ground-control; he is still a practicing Sommelier as Wine Director Restaurant PM & Vänner www.pmrestauranger.se – even if that encompasses globetrotting – “The sommelier profession is wonderful one and it enables me to travel the world and meet fascinating people.” Follow Larsson Inc at:
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I still do around half of my time in the restaurant PM & Vänner as wine director, I still love to practice my profession, unfortunately a lot of chefs and sommeliers leave the restaurants once they become successful, to me the restaurant business is a love affair. On top of that I consult as a taster, educator, speaker and other fields in the business. http://www.pmrestauranger.se/en/
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Recently on a trip to Asia with Air France I was lucky to be upgraded to first class and I must say I was really impressed by that meal, on a 12 hour flight there´s nothing to do but eat and drink and so I did!
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
La Tour d´Argent Paris! That´s an unforgettable experience and possibly the greates wine list in the world, very classic and very good. I regurarly go for pressed duck and old burgundies. www.latourdargent.com
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Probably when I was a young aspiring chef and went to Paul Bocuse in Lyon more than 15 years ago. It was my first 3-star experience and Mr. Bocuse was a legend and an idol, I had my picture taken with him. www.bocuse.fr
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
In Bordeaux, where I spend a lot of time, I love La Tupiñ where my favourite dish is simply Poulet frites (chicken with fries) but of the highest quality. www.latupina.com In Oslo, where I also spend a lot of time, I love Alex Sushi which is considered on of the best sushi restaurants in the world. http://www.alexsushi.no/oslo/index.html
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I used to be a professional chef before I became a sommelier so the truth is – yes, I cook, and bloody good too! I think it´s more interesting to cook fish so I normally go to my market and buy what´s fresh, a great favourite that I grew up on is simply steamed cod with browned butter, shrimps, dill and horseradish a Swedish classic.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Just around the corner where I live in Stockholm Erik´s Vinbar, a simple and unpretentious place that serves the great wines of the world by the glass, very affordable too. http://www.eriks.se/start.asp?lang=2
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I do quite a lot of en primeur from Berry Bros, I like the service and selection. For those rare and old vintages I buy from my friend Jan-Erik Paulsson, a fine wine trader based in Germany. www.rare-wine.com www.bbr.com
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Now during summer, it´s rather white – a lot of Riesling, Champagne of course, well chilled Manzanilla and for red, rather chilled Pinot Noir, however Rosé is a style of wine I don´t really appreciate.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Yes, the first great wine I ever drank that made me think – wow, wine is cool was 1983 Dom Pérignon around 20 years ago.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Dry white wines from Hungary, mainly from Tokay and Somlo, they have fantastic varieties such as Furmint and Harslevelu.
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)
I will surprise you by saying Bordeaux! Most people think of it as an over-expensive region, however in the field 15-30 Euros there´s such a plethora of great bargains, mainly from the right bank – Castillon, Fronsac, Bordeaux Supérieur and even more renowned appellations like Saint-Emilion and Pomerol plus the great whites from Graves. Sometimes we need to look away from the classified and famous labels.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Roast beef of venison with black truffle potato salad and 2006 Saint-Joseph Les Granits M. Chapoutier, we had this for my 40th birthday bash…
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
For scenery and inspiring vineyards probably Wachau Austria, a wine tasting on a boat along the Danube is something that should be on everyone´s to-do-list
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.
2009 Ch. Rollan de By, Bordeaux (a great bargain modern Bordeaux for around 15-20 EUR)
La Goya Manzanilla, (a great Manzanilla, such an underrated style of wine to enjoy with fine seafood and of course all kinds of tapas) www.bodegasdelgado.com
2008 Prager Ried Klaus Riesling (one of the greatest dry white wine of the world period)!
2007 A. Clape Cornas – another classic that I call one of the greatest wines on earth, not cheap but far from expensive http://kermitlynch.com/our_wines/auguste-clape/
2007 Pintia, Toro, Spain – an amazing interpretation of Tempranillo that delivers power, character and elegance, a monster of a wine www.bodegaspintia.com
NV Cuvée des Caudalies De Sousa, Champagne – a marvellous blanc des blancs from my friend Erick de Sousa http://www.champagnedesousa.com/en/