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.
Fabien Lainé – France / Norway
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
For now, #winelover and Somm 3.0, I work as Sommelier and Cellar Manager in Norway. One of the most important thing for me is to share and transmit my passion and knowledge, I’m devoted blogger on VinDeling.com, all around Wine, Food and Travel. Spending a lot of my time, traveling, to discover more about wine and food cultures, meeting winemakers, people with the same passion and chefs, sharing experiences and ideas, creating links, and relations that often become friendships. Creating posts, pictures and creating videos. And working on a few projects (secret). Also I do some consulting on side. Looking for new job opportunities, where I would be able to travel as I do know around wine and food culture to bring the best to people.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
The most notable last experiences are in Portugal, Central Lisbon a hidden jewel “tavern” at Taberna da Rua das Flores, where André Magalhães, who became a friend, is co-owner. Traveling the world on his free time he gets inspiration. Everyday new dishes, new recipes and reborn creativity! He is first of all a man of experience and passion. His cooking is combining freshness, respect of product, creativity, tradition and a touch of simplicity.
Also great discovery also in Portugal, Restaurant Adraga in Colares, based on fresh and basic sea food dishes, in a basic and friendly atmosphere. And, in Sicily, but not a direct restaurant, a dinner from a revolutionary chef Carmelo Chiaramonte for a unique dinner in Marco De Bartoli estate.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
One of the place that I was really impressed was Breidenbacher Hof, a Capella Hotel in Dusseldorf, great wine lists and even greater assortment by the glass, an excelling service where I took 8 courses selection, paired with different wines by the glass, the sommelier there was very helpful, skilled, to bring my experience to their Jazz Bar Cigar Lounge, ending with some great cigars and aged Armagnacs.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I have done a few already but going in a few days to El Celler de Can Roca, and I guess I will be more than impressed, so cannot tell much now.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Not really I like to try new restaurants often, and discover new culinary experiences and new products. Find new products and get things to different levels, either very traditional, experimental, fine dining even street food… Sometime the most “simple” is the best!
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
First graduated as a chef and as a food lover, I cook always home. Dish that I have perfected? Kind of complicate, since I love to cook fresh products and often depends of the “feelings” of the day! And I’m a really big eater, I never get enough, I just get the pleasure to sit around a good table with friends and magic bottles, no problem to spend couple hours eating J I’m a good food enthusiast, gastronome and epicurean!
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Favorite wine bar? A good question, but for now living in middle of the Norwegian fjords, make things complicate, so the wine bar is often my apartment, or the rest of the time when I travel abroad, “friends”! I bring bottles and they bring some. Very social times, even inviting some other people often.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Haha, a very good question, but not really I like to buy in different merchants and during wine events like the Adegga Wine Market, events for wine consumers. I like to get out of the to formal wine professional spirit, to be able to meet more the consumers.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Many different wines, Champagne lover, Rhone enthusiast, Portugal passionate, Bordeaux blood, and eager of discoveries, lately I felt in love for West Sicily wines, few days back I was there to discover more, and especially Grillo grape and Perricone, such producers like Marco De Bartoli by Renato his son, Nino Barraco, Marilena Barbera, Giacomo Ansaldi, and others all wheeling to preserve history and wine culture (local grapes) making amazing wines and restore the image of Marsala and its unfortified wines.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Oh very hard one! Not only one but many… The first one is probably a Montbazillac from 1986 that my father bought when I was born and kept in the familiar cellar. And also a few good others such as Chateau Cheval Blanc 1982, Vina Tondonia 1964, Montes Real Gran Reserva 1964, Clos St Hune 1992, Echezeaux DRC with friends.
But thena and most of all many good names such as Niepoort VV, Montirius Confidentiel, Movia Veliko, 5G Portwine, Laroche Reserve de l’Obebience 1996, Egon Muller Rieslings, Mouchao Colheitas Antiguas 2003, Staffelter Hof Old Auslese and Icewein, and some others. The world is full of amazing bottles even if really rare.
The latest wines are from Marco de Bartoli with Renato his son, a private magical tasting of old Marsala wines from 1903 and 1958 in the cellar and later some Vecchio Samperi (non fortified style), Bukkuram 1986 and Integer Grillo! When you tasted wine like those you know that the wine planet is full of amazing hidden jewels and that you will never have enough of a lifetime to find and taste them all!
This is probably what moved me out so much, those producers who live, give all they got love, passion, lifetime, transmitting knowledge, history and traditions, integrating also their own “modern” concept with a few wine innovation. People that are dedicated to bring a story, inspiration, dream, and awake your deepest senses, bring a unique experience to people that will drink their wines. This is much more than a wine that you taste and enjoy.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
As I said previously, West Sicily, Marsala and Menfi region, Grillo and Perricone, Marsala wines and the old style before British influence.
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)
The Ultimate wine bargain for me, now, would be Portugal for now, displaying so many local and old varieties, Lisbon area, Dao, Douro, Alentejo.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Vignammare from Nino Barraco, based on Grillo, natural style, paired with raw fresh lemon marinated shrimps, in his vineyard, 200m from the sea, experiencing the true taste and character of his wine.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Difficult to say… I have been to some such as Umbria, Lisbon, Marsala, Menfi, Chablis…. But still so much to try and do such as Douro, Piedmonte, Germany, Burgundy…
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.
What I would advise as outstanding and inspirational for a journey to discovery and enlightenment? Will be really in diversity. If you can get your hands on, to me those wines are a unique experience, a lifetime memory, I named some previously, and I guess would bring many people to the holy light There are also many small producers that I could name!
1903 Barrel Sample from Marco de Bartoli Marsala
Egon Muller Rielings
Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
DRC Romanée Conti
Vega Sicilia Unico