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
Olivier Gasselin – France
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I am Head Sommelier for Hakkasan in the Middle-East (Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha) and China (Shanghai)
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Corte Sconta in Venice www.veneziaristoranti.it
Vini da Gigio in Venice www.vinidagigio.com
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire www.manoir.com
Constantia Uitsig La Colombe in Constantia (South Africa) www.constantia-uitsig.com
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
It would have to be either Les Amis in Singapore or Constantia Uitsig La Colombe in Constantia
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Les Amis in Singapore
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Taiwan Village in London www.taiwanvillage.com
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes I do, and I excel in French Pancakes
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Terroirs in London – click here for article
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Ellis of Richmond in the UK www.ellisofrichmond.co.uk
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Morgenhof Chenin Blanc 2011 www.morgenhof.com
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Domaine Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes 1998 www.peyrebrune.com
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I am particularly keen on the Lebanese wines from the Bekaa Valley, with plenty of upcoming producers, using either native grape varieties (Chateau Musar blanc) or international ones (Chateau Khoury, Chateau Marsyas, Chateau Ksara).
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)
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, as for a fraction of the price of an average Burgundy, it always delivers. One of the greatest Pinot Noir in the world. www.hamiltonrussellvineyards.co.za
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
At Hakkasan we constantly taste wines against food, to ensure all the wines we list are matching our food perfectly. In a recent visit to South Africa however, I have had a great match of seafood (langoustines, Namibian oysters) and Dover Sole, with the Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2011
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Walker Bay in South Africa
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.
-Domaine Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes 1998 (Coteaux du Languedoc, France)
-Castello dei Rampolla Vigneto Sammarco 1996 (Tuscany, Italy)
-Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru les Amoureuses 1997 Dominique Laurent (Burgundy, France)
-Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Chenevottes 2008 Domaine Amiot Bonfils (Burgundy, France)
-Montlouis Sec Remus 2009 Domaine de la Taille aux Loups (Loire, France)
-Petite Arvine 2012 Les Cretes (Valle d’Aosta, Italy)