“I have recently tasted a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1996 and it was just incredible.”
Romain Bourger, Head Sommelier at the Vineyard at Stockcross
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.
Romain Bourger, France
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I am working as Head Sommelier at the Vineyard at Stockcross, a 5 Red Star Relais and Chateaux Hotel located just outside of the West Berkshire town of Newbury. The Vineyard is privately owned by the Michael family since 1996, who also own the highly regarded Peter Michael Winery in California. Thus we have big connection with this fantastic wine region. Our wine list contains over 2700 references including approximatly 650 Californian wines and also a selection of over 100 wines available by the glass. The kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Daniel Galmiche and consists of modern French cuisine with a lot of British influences with the use of seasonal, British produce.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I had a great lunch in July at Michelin Starred, Texture in London, created by Agnar Sverrisson and Xavier Rousset MS.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
A great wine list that I have seen was at a restaurant called “Les Mirabelles” in the New Forest, the wines are as varied as great values!
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
In the 3 Michelin starred restaurant called L’Arnsbourg in Baerenthal, Moselle where I worked before coming to the UK.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I like to try different places, although I love to go back to my 1st English place of employment, Hotel du Vin in Winchester. I really love the atmosphere over there and both the food and wines are of a great quality.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
When I have the time I love to cook! I usually love to cook seafood; I recently perfected a dish of pan fried scallops with some braised chilli mango, beurre noisette, toasted almonds and asparagus.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
There are plenty of in the UK, I like to go to 28-50 if I go to London, but there are so many that I still need to discover!
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
It is a difficult question to answer, I work with a lot of different suppliers and they all have different specialities…different regions/countries etc so couldn’t pick one. I think that I am lucky to have a very good relationship with them!
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I drink mainly white wine. I really love dry Rieslings, Gruner Veltliner and dry Tokaji specially when aged. If I go for a red wine, I tend to like them to be full bodied like Priorat or Rhone Valley Syrah.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
I would almost say everyday brings a new surprise! I have recently tasted a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1996 and it was just incredible! One of the best wines I have ever tried was a Gruner Veltliner Vinothek from the Wachau region in Austria made by Nikolaihof, 1993 vintage at Medlar retstaurant in Chelsea. I was hugely impressed by the complexity and the great freshness of the wine.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I discovered Asian wines quiet recently specially a Koshu from Japan which really blew me away when I first tried it.
Tell us what is your ultimate wine bargain discovery in terms of price/quality rapport?
I had the opportunity to taste an English sparkling wine from an estate called Sugrue Pierre in Sussex. The winemaker; Dermot Sugrue, was winemaker for one of the leading English estates, Nyetimber. The wine is priced around £22.00 at cost price and,for me,it can compete with some of the best Champagnes! I dont really drink sparkling wines/Champagnes but I think this one is one of the greatest I ever tried!
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I did a pairing recently with our Head Chef of Parsley root velouté with a cannelloni of cepes accompanied by a Manzanilla Sherry and thought that the pairing was very good, sadly sherry is a very underestimated wine which normally accompanies food beautifully.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to visit that many wine regions yet, I do have a preference so far for Alsace. I think the landscape there is just magnificent.
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.
Coopers Creek, Albarino, The Bell Ringer, Gisborne, New Zealand, 2012
Istvan Szepy, Dry Furmint, Szent Tamasz, Tokaj, Hungary, 2003
Priorat, Clos Nelin, Rene Barbier, Catalunya, Spain, 2010
Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Graillot, Rhone Valley, France, 2009
Verite, La Joie, Sonoma County, CA, 2002
Gusbourne Estate, pinot Noir, Kent, England, 2010