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.
Name: Franck Crouvezier – Nationality: French
Franck Crouvezier, or ‘French Franc’ as he is known in the trade is a legend – on all continents – and he has been audibly present on most of them. Underlining audible, Franck has an unmistakable booming laugh that belies his size to which the staff at the Dragon I Night Club in Hong Kong used to track him down by; he was the General Manager of this outrageous temple of debauchery and would go missing amongst the crowd, until he laughed, then every knew where Franck was.
It will sound ironic that a Frenchman was the leading expert Sommelier on Italian wines, but that is how I came to know Franck, when he was the resident Sommelier at “The Restaurant” in Ultimo, Sydney. Ah, those were the days… great, wholesome Italian cooking from the Manfredi family and Italian wines are giveaway prices. Then they moved to the city, with Restorante Manfredi and boy was it a powerful statement, and quite a ride.
Franck was also pivotal in the evolution of the Sommelier Association in Sydney and Australia, and the architect of the formal Sommelier course, to which he out did himself and trained countless waiters and Sommeliers. Frankly (no pun intended) he should have received a Merit of Order – for his services to the Australian wine and restaurant industry.
It was Australia’s loss and Hong Kong’s gain when he ended up in China, moreover I had my drinking buddy back as I too was living in Hong Kong at the time. Franck was initially there to open and be the manager of a groovy Indian restaurant called Veda, which was a lot of fun and we introduced the world to Wine Kama Sutra. It wasn’t long though before Franck was lured away to run Dragon I, the most hip nightclub in all Asia. I always recall the New Zealand door bitch here as it was utterly impossible to get past her unless you were uber-cool or filthy rich – which I was neither – but as a friend of Franck, I cruised past the huge line of hopefuls at the door and was always greeted with “Hey Bros”, as the two gorillas let me through.
And then Franck was gone… to the wild, wild east of Shanghai, where he ran Kathleen 5, on The Bund, for what seemed to be an eternity. He was our man in Shanghai in many ways, again shaping the restaurant industry and training up countless waiters, Sommeliers and would be artists, actors et all, and was the beacon of wine hope in what was then unchartered territory.
But time for a change and a bit of rest Franck said and he is now luxuriating in Bangkok. You can be guaranteed he won’t be horizontal for long and if anyone in Southeast Asia is looking for the best General Manager, Sommelier on this planet, I would be tracking him down – fast – as I already hear rumours of Bali.
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
While I have been Managing for the last 15 years (Hong Kong and Shanghai), I have kept under my wing the wine list. The process of accumulating over 400 samples of wines and structuring 7 sessions of wine testing followed by staff training, the end result was the best balance and value wine list in town with wine reps and staff educated on what the market was offering at the time.
As a manager you don t have all the time necessary to offer wine services to all the diners and proper trained staff are a must. I have found that the wine industry has provided a hope of better life and direction to many! – Developing passion, taste and life opportunity.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
My last impressive diner was at the Sir Elly’s @ the Peninsula Hotel Shanghai. Great service and fantastic food www.peninsula.com/Shanghai
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Being in Asia for the last 10 years, hard to say!! I don t look for a library wine list. The shortest wine list is the hardest to be balanced and be interesting. The local wine tax and abusive mark up make it hard to have a positive Whoaa factor!
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
A hand full comes to mind; a wine dinner at the Hyatt in Sydney with a famous Japanese chef around 1999… the food presentation and texture were fantastic – theatre, creation at it best.
I guess another one was in a Beijing Duck restaurant in 1991 eating a 9 course Peking duck with people who could only speak Mandarin , so I eat eat eat so many pancakes
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Use to! Osteria in Shanghai, at the moment I am still amazed by the street food of Bangkok http://www.osteriaspirit.com/
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
The last 2 years I have started again using the local products and creating my own fusion food
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Water library, Bangkok http://www.mywaterlibrary.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Water-Library/53349802244
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Torres wines in Shanghai – great selection, great people, good prices http://www.torreschina.com/
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Either Franck has gone teetotal (which I doubt) or he missed this question… to be updated
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
My first love was Ch La Lagune 78 and Veuve Clicquot Rose 76 and I fell in real love for Burgundy Pinot, the sexiest of them all, best with at least 5 years of age, enjoy the perfume, sip it slowly and go back to it, it will give you a caress and energy to follow through to total orgasm.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Spanish wines are on the rise for the last few years and great value wines can be found there .I would also pay attention to South Africa, I recently tasted Jordan Riesling 2009 which was beyond expectation http://www.jordanwines.com/
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)
Another missed this question… or he might have had his nose in a glass of burgundy and could not get his head around price… to be updated
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Nederburg Private Bin Eminence Muscadel 2008 served with fresh mango and half of a Magnum ice cream (at home) http://www.nederburg.co.za
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Tuscany, beautifull architecture, wines and eating, Italians are dramatic enough
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.
Santa Digna Carmenere Reserve 2010 Miguel Torres Spain www.torres.es
Elegant and well structure ,would replace a bordeaux at any time
Benito A Gran Reserve Yilum, Argentina http://www.bodegapaloalto.com.ar
More typical of new world style yet a big Bordeaux style with developed toasty and vanilla characters, for the new world lovers
Nederburg Private Bin Eminence Muscadel 2008, Paarl South Africa http://www.nederburg.co.za
Nectar of dessert wine with all you want in orange peel, tone of caramel, creamy and tropical fruits, for any sweet tooth
Domaine de Villarzens Eburomagus White, Pays D Oc France http://www.villarzens.com/
Tiny BIO production, a Meursault like wine at a fraction of the price
Yealand Estate Sauvignon Blanc Single Block, Marlborough, New Zealand http://www.yealandsestate.co.nz/
Well we knew NZ is good with Sauvignon Blanc but this one bring you to travel to France also!!
Chambolle Musigny” la combe d’ Orveau”, Domaine Jean Grivot 2007 http://www.domainegrivot.fr/
Add a Pinot in the basket and you have a pretty good voyage!!