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 psychoanalyses 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.
Francesco Gabriele, Italy
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Chewton Glen, Bournemouth, England www.chewtonglen.com
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Locanda Locatelli in London has been a good experience
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Restaurant Chiron, in Madrid. Service has been outstanding, traditional food in a contemporary
perspective, with a good wine list .
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
La Pergola at Cavalieri Hilton in Rome , an Heinz Beck restaurant .
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I do not have any favourite restaurant at the moment in UK as I am still having a look around and to be honest it is not that easy to find something interesting regarding good food, cooked in a proper way, wine and service. Unfortunately there is often something missing but I am sure I will find something.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I really love cooking and I would say that I am quite good . I do like to cook in a very simple way; food is the protagonist and I try to respect each ingredient as an essential part of the whole dish . My favourite creation is “raviolo spritz aperol” . Raviolo is a type of pasta, essentially it is pasta filled with soft and delicate ricotta cheese cooked in a sauce made with Aperol and sparkling wine.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Vinopolis and Negozio Classica in London . In Italy my favourite restaurant wine bar is in Rome and it is called Il Giuda ballerino. Peck in Milan is outstanding but unfortunately I don’t have so many chances to go there .
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Not really , I am more focused on wines rather than merchants so I first look for the wine that I would like to try and after that I look for the merchant.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Now I am focused on different styles of Cabernet Sauvignon and it is amazing to discover how different can be a wine made from the same grape but from a different area of the world.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
J. Selosse 1968 Champagne. Outstanding wine that I had the chance to try during a dinner with friends in an amazing restaurant with just 16 covers. Service was so professional and friendly at the same time, everything was perfect and the wine I mentioned had a big part during the meal . The sommelier started to talk about that wine in a way that made me understand how huge is the wine world and that champagne is still in my mind as an example of how a bottle of wine can be simple and complicated at the same time.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile , Vineto Chadwick . Complex wine , deep in color, dry, warm, soft tannins, elegant with a just detectable acidity and tastiness. Leather, tobacco, giamaican coffee, black ripe plums, berries, violet. Long finish, a wine that evolves in your mouth. And I have to thank the hotel I work for and my head sommelier for having the chance to taste a massive quantity of wines from all over the world.
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)
Solera 1885 Scholtz Hermanos , Pedro Ximenes.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Mussels in a red spicy sauce and merlot L’Ecole 41 from California .
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Tuscany at the moment has no competitors in terms of food and wine: fish or meat , vegetables or pasta , white wine or red , sweet or dry . You can have all of that from the same small region .
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.
Champagne Anselme Selosse , Les Carelles , France
Comte Leloup de Chasseloir , Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie , France
Peter Michael , Chardonnay Point Rouge , USA
Fattoria del Cerro , Nobile Di Montepulciano , Italy
Vineyard Marie Zelie , Pinot Noir , New Zealand
Peller Estate , Cabernet Franc Ice Wine , Canada