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.
Mauricio Sánchez, Colombia
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Consulting, Own company (We Wine Group), Teaching cookery classes.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Tetsuya´s in Sydney. One of the greatest all time. Had a 13 course degustation menu as it is the way they do it and the wine pairing of about 6 wines with it. Astonishing wine list mixing Australian brands made exclusively for Tetsuya´s, Australian wines and world great wines. No less than 200 different wines combining sparkling, red, whites and roses at it bests. Pilu at Freshwater in Sydney. After 9 years of opening, keeps incrementing its wine list as well its quality. A Sardinian restaurant lead by Giovani Pilu, has its wine list with a great amount of Sardinian produced wine exclusive to the restaurant as well as more Italians and off course, Australian top brands. Both lists, really well balanced and really well matched to their menu style.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
This is a tough one as I have eaten at many restaurants and have most of the time got the best out of all of them. Having considered the best myself, for instance, the best entrée (starter) I had is probably a Tiradito al ají Amarillo, in Cartagena (Colombia), a Peruvian restaurant hosting the best ever tiradito, a traditional dish from Peru with fresh white freshwater fish. Another top of the top, I must say is the Foie Grass served at Le Bistro Restaurant in Light House Point, Fl in the states. Amazing and it comes with a shot of muscadel, lightly seared as it should be, not too hot not too cold, just perfect. Main course, must say a pork shoulder I had at Jamie Oliver´s Fifteen served with polenta and a touch of rocket. As well as Australian lamb cutlets with mint sauce served at The Rusty Pelican in Miami, not the best restaurant but the cutlets were just great. Dessert, mmmm, not that I have eaten many around the world but a beautiful crème brulée with passion fruit I had in a little café in Sydney, by the harbour bridge in north Sydney.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I do. As a matter of fact, I haven’t gone out of the country this year but have travelled several times to Bogota. There´s one of my favs ever since I left the restaurant as the chef. It´s called Abasto. Executive chef Luz Beatriz Velez looks really well after the food quality and looks very cautiously after the producers to the point that much of the produce and products are of local producers.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes I do. I love cooking Arepa, a traditional Colombian corn tortilla alike with ham and cheese, tomatoes and bunch of stuff from my beloved Linguine alla Bottarga, a beautiful Sardinian delicatessen that I buy over the internet or I buy it when I travel overseas. I have mastered that dish but I have also mastered a beautiful organic whole chicken, stuffed with a delicious homemade herbs butter (rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano) a bit of green apple. The stuffing is between the sking and the meat, so the whole chicken gets that awesome flavour. And that I roast over potatoes, so when they are read; OMG, it is to die for.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Unfortunately there are not many to none in Colombia. Used to be a great restaurant in Bogota that used to have up to 45 different labels by the glass but wasn’t that successful. Even though in Colombia wine culture is growing, is not at the top of the wish list of most people.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
No. I like and try to get my hands on many different wines. Bad enough, Colombian wine market is full with Argentines and Chileans. Not that they are not good wines, but are too many of them. So now everytime I travel overseas go wine shopping. In the states for instance a found a great wine place, Total Wines and more, they are all over the country and have great labels from all over as well.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Right now I’m more in to Europe; Spanish Rioja’s and Ribera del Duero. As well as in Italians, love Italians.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Tenuta dei Marchese Antinori 2001 – Love that wine. Had another bottle recently and thought the same as the first time, Bloody great wine. Actually have another bottle in my little cellar. More likely will wait a couple of years more to give it a go. Another top one was Turriga 98, Italian from Sardinia with 4 different grapes (Cannonau, Carignano, Bovale Sardo, Malvasia Nera). Have a 2000 at home and will probably give it a couple years more as well.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Tannat; South Americans are doing great things with Tannat. Uruguay is on top of the game, though Luigi Bosca from Argentina is doing a great job as well. They have varietal as well as blended; probably a new Cab-Sav as it is really strong and powerful, full bodied most of the times and a great character.
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)
As considering a tough one in Colombia, cost-quality gets harder. but found a really easy simple wine for a great price. A rose, Cote (or Coteaux) de Provence. A French table wine I used to drink while living in Spain. My sister was living in Aix-en-Provence at the time so she used to keep my fridge with it. In france is 3€ and price in Colombia was about 5€, is really good, with great balanced acidity and a great will to be matched with a lot of food.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
This wasn’t that recent but I did a pairing with Amarone della Valpolicella and bittersweet chocolate truffles. I loved it. Acidity, sweetness of the wine and at the same time the somehow sweetness of the wine just came together beautifully.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Even though I love Australia as a whole, I got to accept that Italy is in the top when food and wine come together. But for scenery I must say New Zealand. Having that snow caped mountains all over the places, makes you feel like in a winter-summer all the time. It´s awesome. Haven´t been to South America though.
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.
- Marramiero Inferi Reserva, Motepulciano d´Abruzzo. Italy
- Marqués de Riscal Resrva, Rioja. Spain
- Tenute dei Marchese Antinori, Chianti Classico Riserva. Italy
- Knappstein Enterprise Vineyard Cabernet Sauvingon, Clare Valley. Australia
- Henschke Hill of Grace, Eden Valley. Australia
- Almaviva, Puente Alto. Chile