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.
Nick Hildebrandt, Australia
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Bentley Restaurant & Bar where I am a co-owner. We hope to have a second venue open by the end of the year. www.thebentley.com.au
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I enjoyed The Bridge Room in Sydney’s CBD. The food was modern, clean and unique. www.thebridgeroom.com.au
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney has an amazing list and the service to match. www.rockpool.com
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Too many to mention just one. Often the best meals I’ve experience have been just as much about the company than the food.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I love cooking at home – I don’t know if it is perfect but I’ve been told my Bouillabaisse is pretty good.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
A favourite no – in Sydney there are many good ones to choose from.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Not really – I get most of my wine through the restaurant. I do get bits and pieces of wine from auction.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Donnhoff Trocken Riesling from the Nahe, Germany – perfectly balanced and delicious. www.doennhoff.com
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
No – I couldn’t put my finger on one particular bottle. It really has been a culmination of great wines over the years.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I’m enjoying the latest batch of small artisan producers in Australia who are playing with wild yeasts, whole bunches and little or no oak. Lucy Margaux, Jamsheed and Laffers Lane to name a few. www.lucymargauxvineyards.com http://jamsheed.com.au
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 think Loire valley Chenin Blanc still fly’s under the radar when it comes to a quality and price point of view. The drinkability, complexity, sense of terroir and ability to age all contribute to this.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Smoked Ocean consommé and a Givry rouge from burgundy was fantastic. It was an occasion when the dish and the food actually lifted the wine. All to often we look at food and wine matching in the reverse –(ie wine to match food) so it was nice to reverse this.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
For me Alsace. The scenery, history and culture is great. All of the small medieval towns. The beautiful vineyards and the restaurants make it a great place to visit.
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.
2011 Lucy Margaux ‘Monomieth Vineyard’ Pinot Noir – bright, fresh and energetic with unusual depth and complexity for an Australian Pinot
2011 Jamsheed Moonambel Syrah. 100 %Whole bunch juicy and delicious – Gary Damon Mills is Australia’s answer to Herve Souhart
2009 Saint Joseph ‘Saint Epine’, Herve Souhart – one of my all time favourite wines - the essence of northern Rhone shiraz http://romaneaux.destezet.free.fr/presentation-e.htm
2008 Jean-Francois Ganevat Chardonnay ‘Grands Teppes’ V.Vignes – a monumental chardonnay that in my opinion outshines more expensive and prestigious burgundian rivals
2009 Huber ‘Malterdinger’ Pinot Noir – Baden Germany – one of the best pinots I have tasted this year. www.winzerhof-huber.de
2011 Between Five Bells White – an interesting field blend from Geelong in Victoria. Textural, bright and powerful. www.betweenfivebells.com.au