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.
Charles Curtis (MW) USA
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
At present, I am a fine wine advisor serving private, trade and institutional clients with an interest in the market for fine and rare wine, offering consulting services in North America as CurtisMW and wine advising and trading in Asia as 名酒鑑 / WineAlpha.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I recently returned to DN innovación in Taipei, and the food just keeps getting better all the time. The chef, Daniel Negreira, trained in the best Spanish “molecular” restaurants from El Bulli to Arzak, and has won awards brining this inventive style to Asia.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
I recently had a spectacular evening at the Palais Coburg in Vienna. The food was great and the welcome was gracious, but the wines and the wine service were absolutely fantastic. (Added note from Wandering Palate, Mr Roman Nieschlag (ex Conrad Koh Samui) is recently taken up the post as Food & Beverage Manager at the Coburg – take a bow Roman)
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Without a doubt the most memorable restaurant meal I have ever had (or will ever) was the night I got engaged to my wife at Jean-Louis at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. in 1992. We’re still together, and I still remember the food and wine: a 1983 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Heimbourg VT with the foie gras, a 1982 Château Figeac with the roast duck, and then back to the Gewurz with cheese and dessert. Great food, great wine.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I love Bar Boulud up the street from me in New York. Perfectly-executed French “comfort food”, and Michael Madrigale is a great sommelier.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
After 13 years in the kitchen, I hope so! Usually today, though, it’s relatively straightforward unless company is coming. My last big dinner party featured dishes I invented or that inspired me during my years in Hong Kong, including “char siu” style foie gras; duck hearts with Maotai, whole steamed seabass with ginger and scallions, cumin-scented rack of lamb and mango sago
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Corkbuzz in New York, hands down. Laura Maniec MS is doing a fantastic job.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I shop everywhere, I’m afraid!
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I have many, many loves, but I’m always drinking champagne. Pierre Gimonnet tonight.
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 life-changer for me was ’82 Margaux, although there have been many since then.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I spent a week discovering the wines of Turkey earlier this year, and they’re producing some marvellous juice. I hope that the government in place doesn’t clamp down too hard on alcohol production in their quest to appease the Islamists in Turkey.
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)
Easy! German Riesling #1. Austrian Riesling, #2. I still say, however, that Champagne is right up there, too – it isn’t cheap, but for me Clos du Mesnil at $1,000 compares to Romanée-Conti at $10,000. I think the best champagne goes head to head with the best wine anywhere on the planet.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Knoll Riesling BA with the goose terrine at their family’s Restaurant Loibnerhof in the Wachau. Stunning.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
How could you not say Piemonte during truffle season?
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.
OK. Because you said “discovery and enlightenment”, I’m going mid- to upper- range but not stratospheric, but definitely the sort that can give “life changing” experiences. I’m glad you gave me six!
Brut « Mesnil Experience », Champagne Andre Jacquart
Riesling Smaragd Dürnsteiner Kellerberg, Weingut F.X. Pichler
Clos de la Roche, Domaine Armand Rousseau
Barolo Cascina Francia, Giacomo Conterno
Pomerol, Vieux Château Certan
Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moelleux, Domaine Huet