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 Clarke, originally from Australia, currently South Africa (arrived Jan 2013)
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Burrata Restaurant, Cape Town
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
George Jardin at Jordan in Stellenbosch
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
My birthday is between Christmas and New Year, thus somewhat limiting dining choices, but I was never left wanting for more options as Rockpool Bar and Grill in Melbourne was always open. The service is crisp, knowledgeable, efficent and welcoming. The wine list? A comtempary classic in Australia. David Lawler is “the man”.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Le Calandre in Padova – will never forget this meal. The last noteworthy meal of a 4 week trip in Italy and it stands out clearly in the memory. The 2nd most expensive dinner I’ve ever paid for, but easily the best value.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Still finding one in Cape Town
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes I cook as often as I can – I try different recipes/methods all the time. I am very fond of preserves, pickles, conserves, condiments and sauces etc. Cooking things “from scratch” as it were. In the last week I have made some sweet chilli sauce and some lemon cordial. When we moved to SA, I had to give away a lot of jars af jams etc. I love to roast a piece of meat and have all homemade sides/condiments to accompany.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Not many wine bars here in Cape Town – many have tried, they just don’t seem to work. I always enjoyed stopping at the City Wine Shop in Spring St, Melbourne for a glass.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Getting to know the local muck – really digging Cape Cinsau(l)t and Chenin Blanc at the moment.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Probably my first Barolo was a “fuck me” moment. I had no idea wine could be like that up till then.
Also – Cartology from Chris and Suzaan Alheit forced me to reassess what I thought I knew about white wine from the Cape. And a 1940 Ch Libertas made me think again about what is/was possible for Cape reds.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
The wines from the guys in the Swartland Independent are really unique and special. Chardonnays from Peter-Allan from Crystallum based in the Hemel-en-Aarde are very serious (and seriously tasty).
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)
Top-end South African wine is dirt-cheap by international standards – the entry-level stuff is mostly ho-hum, but the top stuff here can compete easily. Thinking Badenhorst Family White, Mullineux Syrahs, Beaumont Hope Marguerite, David Sadie’s wines, Sadie Family Wines (esp. the Ouwingerdreeks).
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Maybe it’s a bit naff – but any food and wine combo that puts a smile on the wife’s face is a victory for me. It usually involves some sort of cheese and a wine from Italy….
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Piedmont – without any shadow of a doubt. The combination of the wines and the food is mind blowing. Barolo and tuber magnatum: impossible to beat. Mt Etna was also very cool.
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 think I’ll keep it all South African as it is still an under appreciated country. 4 whites (all Chenin-based) and 2 reds. I think that sums up what you should be drinking from South Africa, for every red you drink, drink 2 whites.
2012 looks to be a cracking vintage btw.
- A A Badenhorst Family ‘White Blend’, Swartland
- Beaumont Family Wines ‘Hope Marguerite’ Chenin Blanc, Bot River
- Alheit Vineyards ‘Cartology’ White Blend, Western Cape
- Mount Abora ‘Koggelbos’ Chenin Blanc, Swartland
- Sadie Family Wines, Ouwingerdreeks, ‘Pofadder’ Cinsault, Swartland
- Reyneke ‘Reserve Red’, Stellenbosch