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.
David Lawler, Australia
Ladies and Gentleman please be upstanding for one of Melbourne’s most polished and respected sommeliers, David Lawler, Beverage Director for Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple and The Waiting Room. Lawler is also Vice-President of Sommeliers Australia www.sommeliers.com.au in keeping with his solid credentials as a Len Evans Scholar and wine show judge. The Sommelier’s equivalent of a Sandhurst leader, Lawler is a true ‘Officer and a Gentleman’ rising through the ranks in a long campaign in the trench’s of the Melbourne fine dining scene developing his skills at Marchetti’s Latin, Paul Bocuse, Bortolotto’s, Toofey’s, Ondine, Langton’s and Vue du Monde. His wine knowledge is as encyclopaedic as the Rockpool Bar & Grill wine list, acknowledged by Gourmet Traveller Wine, Judy Hirst Award for Best Wine List in Australia, 2010. He is your consummate Sommelier with impeccable standards and a most charming demeanour along with his commanding people skills and distinguished service.
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Rockpool Group Melbourne, including Bar & Grill, Spice Temple andThe Waiting Room www.rockpool.com
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Loam Restaurant on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria is a very special expression of great local produce considered with utmost respect and poise. http://loamrestaurant.blogspot.sg/
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
I had an awesome experience at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, the wine service generous, wholesome and intelligent http://www.bluehillfarm.com/food/blue-hill-stone-barns
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Very difficult question, certain dishes feel like they have changed my life; the Peas at l’Arpege in Paris, Prawns at Etxebarri, Veal Marrow at Stone Barns, the Pigeon at Ma Cuisine, Chanterelles at Troisgros…so many dishes, such little time!
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
The genuine and wholesome hospitality at Sosta Cucina in North Melbourne keeps me coming back…and the delicious wintery roasts http://www.sosta.com.au/
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Ever since they took the Roast Duck with Cherries off the menu at France Soir, I have been driven to recreate this dish…I think I’m pretty close. It’s hard to get the bustling restaurant feel and those frites just right at home though…
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
In Melbourne it’s pretty hard to pass by the City Wine Store… without stopping for a glass of something interesting www.citywineshop.net.au
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
There are many Merchants supplying many great wines in Melbourne. I have many friends within the industry but when it comes to wine; the discussion needs to be about ‘What’s in the Glass’, not who’s selling it
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Having recently returned from Piedmont I now have to wait for the 2008 Barolo’s to land…in the meantime the 2009 Quinta do Vallado Touriga blend is dangerously delicious wintery wine http://www.wonderfulland.com/vallado/
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
So many wines have moved me for differing reasons at differing stages of my career. Blain Gagnard Criots Batard Montrachet was the first wine that spoke to me clearly about a ‘sense of place’, this is the thing that keeps me so engaged with wine
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
The latest vinous revelation for me has been the changing face of Australian Chardonnay; a definite move towards purity, elegance and finesse
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)
For me Chablis can represent a terrifically versatile, fresh and great value glass of wine ; I am loving the delicious, bright and electric mineral drive of many 2010’s
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
We recently had a dish of Slow Cooked Egg, Bone Marrow and Brioche on the Menu at Rockpool Bar & Grill, a perfect match was revealed in the Equipo Navazos Oloroso No 28. Textures and flavours of both food and wine entwining to create a new completely harmonised sensory experience http://www.equiponavazos.com/en/inden.htm
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
It’s very difficult to not consider the dramatic scenery of the Mosel, or the great eating and inspiring vineyards of Burgundy; but if I had to nominate a region that encapsulates all three elements, I would think most about the Douro in Portugal.
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.
Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla No. 32 – Spain http://www.equiponavazos.com/en/inden.htm
2008 JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling – Mosel Germany http://www.jjpruem.com/
2009 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay – Margaret River WA http://www.cullenwines.com.au/
2006 Domaine Ghislaine Barthod Charmes Pinot Noir – Chambolle Musigny http://www.bibendum.com.au/Ghislaine-Barthod
2004 E. Pira & Figli Cannubi Barolo – Piedmont Italy http://www.pira-chiaraboschis.com/
2005 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier – Canberra District ACT http://www.clonakilla.com.au/