The Sommelier’s Palate – ‘Going to California’ – Francesco Ferrario, Sommelier at The Lobster Restaurant, Santa Monica, Los Angeles

The peppery and vegetable character of Loire Cabernet Franc matches wonderfully with Mexican food.”  Francesco Ferrario

(pronounced suh-mal-‘yAy)

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.


Francesco Ferrario - Sommelier at The Lobster Restaurant, Santa Monica

Francesco Ferrario – Sommelier at The Lobster Restaurant, Santa Monica

Francesco FerrarioI was born in Milan, Italy, and I have being a resident of Los Angeles for the past 24 years.


Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?

After running few different beverage programs around Los Angeles I have been at The Lobster Restaurant in Santa Monica for the past 10 years.


Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?

I had a great dinner at Bottega in Yountville during my last trip in Napa Valley. The food is simple but made with very fresh and vibrant ingredients; they have an extensive wine list and the service is very attentive and knowledgeable.


Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?

Bouchon in Beverly Hills always have great value wines and knowledgeable sommeliers. I have being lucky to be at the restaurant few times when Thomas Keller was there, which seems to bring incredible energy to the place.


Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?

Divino Bacco in Milan, Italy. This is a small, unbelievable Italian seafood restaurant with a hint of Asian influence. The “Crudo” plates and the shellfish we had still tasted of the ocean.


Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?

I love a little Pho restaurant in west L.A. called Le Saigon, and a Japanese noodle house in Brentwood called Taiko.


Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?

I cook all the time at home. In every restaurant I have worked I always spend some time with the chef de Cuisine trying to steal some recipes and techniques. Being in California we barbeque a lot, but my kid’s favourite dish is my slow cooked ragout (meat sauce) with rigatoni.


Do you have a favourite wine bar?

One of my favourite wine bar is “Il Cavallante” in Via Muratori in Milan. Great little Enoteca with great wines by the glass and very knowledgeable staff.


Do you have a favourite wine merchant?

Kermit Lynch is always reliable; their book is mostly French, with some Italian jewels. Their wines always have precise sense of place. H. Mercer Wines & Spirits import, a new little importing and distributing company, always have great little producers on their portfolio.


What wine are you drinking at the moment?

Provencal rose’ and Sancerre is what I mostly drink all summer. At night times, instead of a drink, I often opt for a Pinot Noir from Sonoma.


Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?

The first time I tasted Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne, 1999 vintage, I was amazed by the length and complexity that Chardonnay can achieve.


What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?

Pinot Noir from Valle d’Aosta in the Italian mountains; it is light, aromatic and very mineral.


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)

One of my favourite wines on our list is mall production Chateau de Peyrassol Rose from Provence. This great 1300’s winery was started by the Knight Templars were they build a post to protect the pilgrims on the way to the holy land. The wine is light and mineral and has delicate strawberry aftertaste with a hint of freshly cut herbs.


Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.  

The peppery and vegetable character of Loire Cabernet Franc matches wonderfully with Mexican food.


What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?

Without trying to be too obvious it is still Tuscany; rolling hills, medieval castles and unbelievable simple and delicious food.


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.

  • La Ginestraia Pigato 2012. It is like drinking two wines at the same time, because it starts like a Chenin Blanc and finishes as a Chablis.
  • Domain Tempier Rose 2010. This wine shows the great potential of rose’: it has length, mineral and good aging potential.
  • Bonneau du Martray, Corton Charlemagne 2010. The wine is always being great but since Jean Charles de la Moriniere inherited in the winery from his father in 1994 and converted it to biodynamic farming in the wine is much more alive and vibrant.
  • Terre Nere “Vigna don Peppino”, Etna Rosso 2009. This pre-phylloxera, volcanic soil grown Nerello Mascalese taste of mountains and wild red fruit.
  • David Duband “Aux Thorey” Nuit-Saint-George 1er Cru 2010. I love wines that bring memory of places to me and the bouquet of this wine reminds me of a walk in the forest after a fall rain, with great bark and mushroom’s aromas.
  • Peay Vineyard, “Scallop Shelf Vineyard” 2010. One of my favourite Pinot from Sonoma. It is silky and mouth-watering, with great tart red fruit and savoury components.



You might also like:

The Sommelier’s Palate – Karim Boulet
The Sommelier’s Palate – Miguel Cruz Liljegren, born in Sweden, ‘Wandering’ in the Maldives – sharing with us new world discoveries with old world inspirations, the essence of a Sommelier’s Palate
The Sommeliers Palate – Judith Cercós Terrés – Head Sommelier at Mandarin Oriental Barcelona and true ‘wandering’ palate
The Sommelier’s Palate – Inspiration from Sydney Sommelier, Lara Caraturo
The Sommelier’s Palate – Alex Calabro

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