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.
Mark Protheroe, Australia
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Grossi Restaurant group, Melbourne
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Pic, France. They did all the little things so effortlessly.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Fix St James, Sydney
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Il Sakalleo, Sicily
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Simons Peking Duck, Box Hill South
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
With 2 young children this is really the only option most nights. I enjoy cooking on my days off and have managed to fine tune a very passable crepe suzette.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Osteria a la Carega, Verona
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Boccaccio Cellars is always a source of good information and wine.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Sottimano 2010 Nebbiolo Langhe
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Sorrenberg Chardonnay. This was the first time wine, producer and region all came together to have a profound impact on my enjoyment of a wine.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I recently went on a trip to Canberra with the beverage team and we loved meeting the emerging wave of producers coming through.
Tell us what is your ultimate wine bargain discovery in terms of price/quality rapport?
Sangiovese based reds from the south-western corner of Tuscany near Grossetto. Open, accessible and very versatile with food. Australian Chardonnay is also offering great value from various regions especially the Yarra Valley, however it is probably unfair on other areas to single it out.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I have been exploring the use of Sake with some of our more delicate dishes on the menu. Gingo sake and some hard Italian cheeses are proving fascinating companions.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Sicily was very inspirational for all three. Ancient phylloxera free vineyards, erupting volcano’s, and great food! Priorat also left a strong impression but there were not quite as many dining options in sleepy Gratallops.
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.
Pol Roger ‘Sir Winston Churchill’, Champagne, France
Prager ‘Klaus’ Riesling Smaragd, Wachau, Austria
Giaconda Chardonnay, Beechworth, Australia
Domaine de la Romanee Conti ‘La Tache’, Burgundy, France
Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Giacomo Conterno Barolo ‘Monfortino’, Piedmont, Italy