“I am in to new world Viognier. Floral and perfume aroma make it a great relaxing wine after a long day work. My recent favorite Viognier wines include: Darioush Signature Viognier, Jaffurs Viognier, and Cold Heaven Viognier.” Sommelier Alice Hama
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.
Alice Hama, Japan – Working in California
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I am currently working as Manager/Sommelier at Crustacean Beverly Hills, USA. The restaurant was awarded Best of Award of Excellence in Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Wine List Award 2013.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Arroz Negro with squid and shrimp that I had at one of the restaurants in Madrid Spain when I was traveling through Europe back in 2005.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
If I want to have a great pizza with a glass of wine, I always go to Pizzeria Mozza in Hollywood.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I love cooking Japanese traditional Sukiyaki and open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Friends of the Vine in Redondo Beach, California
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I go to The Wine House when I am looking for Library wines.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I am in to new world Viognier. Floral and perfume aroma make it a great relaxing wine after a long day work. My recent favorite Viognier wines include: Darioush Signature Viognier, Jaffurs Viognier, and Cold Heaven Viognier.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Chateau Lynch-Bages 1983
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Japan. When it comes to Japanese wines, Koshu is the key word. The Koshu grape is primarily grown in Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture near the foothills of Mt. Fuji. Because of the region’s unique climate with harsh winter and hot and long summer, in addition to the suitable terroir mostly composed of volcanic soils, the region produces wines with particular structure and finesse. If the wine is made with late harvest grapes, the wine will have a deep golden color almost amber looking and has a floral and gorgeous elegant aroma which wine professionals can easily mistake with a very expensive Tokaji Aszú, the signature Hungarian sweet wine. On the other hand, the dry version can have similarity with cooler climate Pinot Grigio or even a very floral Viognier, depending on wine making processes.
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)
Chateau Poupille, Cotes de Castillon, France
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Santa Barbara Uni (sea urchin) with dessert wine. The pairing of A+ grade uni, often referred to as the foie gras of the sea with the quality dessert wine “Nobility” from Napa Valley which is made with the botrytized grape was phenomenal.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Loire, France. The caves composed of “tuffeau” soil are very inspirational to me. The local food and people were very nice and warm.
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.
2004 Château de Figeac – 1er Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Emilion, France
1983 Château Mouton Rothschild – - 1er Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac, France
1998 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva, Ribera del Duero, Spain
2004 Dominio de Pingus, Quintanilla de Onésimo, Ribera del Duero, Spain
2006 Beau Paysage Chardonnay, Yamanashi, Japan
2001 Piedra Feliz Pinot Noir, Casablanca, Chile