Do you have a favourite wine bar? “Monvínic in Barcelona. Thousands of references in a cozy space served for very good wine waiters.” Sommelier Carlos Alvarez
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.
Carlos Alvarez, Spain
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I work on my own writing in my blog www.swotwinesblog.wordpress.com, organizing private wine tastings and selling wines.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Restaurant Shunka. I enjoy a lot every time I go for dinner at this Japanese restaurant in Barcelona, specially eating “uni”, “saba” and “katsuo and toro tataki” while drinking some acceptable sake and shochu.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Bar Quimet-Quimet in Barcelona. It is my second home, and I feel very fortunate to have it nearby.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Good question, and difficult to answer, as good company uses to be more important than the meal itself. If I were to choose one, I would say that it was at the Restaurant Cal Xim, sited at Sant Pau d’Ordal (Barcelona). First quality raw ingredients, extraordinary wine list (and spirits) and excellent service made that experience memorable.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Not really. I like to try new ones and experiment.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I like to cook for friends and I use to do it quite often. They say my arròs negre (black rice made with a lot of cuttlefish ink) is really good.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Monvínic in Barcelona. Thousands of references in a cozy space served for very good wine waiters.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
None. I appreciate very much the work of all of them, as everyone is bringing a bit of their souls, regardless if they are working in a small or a big company. At the moment, I am very close with organic wines.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I use to drink Fino, Manzanilla and Amontillado quite often. That is my core team. Besides this, I use to taste anything available, especially if it is different from what I have tried before.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Just in a word, SHERRY.
What’s your latest wine discovery –new region, variety or style?
“Crusted”. A typology of port wine.
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)
Val de Paxariñas Capricho 2012, by Bodegas y Viñedos Gancedo, DO Bierzo (Spain)
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Baked mackerel with garlic and butter sauce + Fino (in this case it was Fino Hidalgo because it is intense and weighty)
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
DO Montilla-Moriles (Spain). A fantastic destiny to get into the fortified Spanish wines while visiting the legacy left by Muslims and Christians. Poetry, people, sun, ancient culture, wine, food… What else could I say?
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.
Colosía Palo Cortado, a very old wine –more than 50 years old- produced by Gutiérrez Colosía at Puerto de Santa María (DO Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Spain)
El Maestro Sierra Oloroso VORS –about 60 years of average age- produced by El Maestro Sierra (DO Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Spain)
Don PX Ginés Liébana 1910 (an outstanding and never-ending PX “produced” by Toro Albalá (DO Montilla-Moriles, Spain)
Mas Llunes Garnatxa de l’Empordà Solera 2002 (an astonishing sweet wine made with the “solera” system, by Mas Llunes winery, DO Empordà, Spain)
Ónra ViDePedra Solera (a delightful sweet wine made in tiny quantities by Lagravera winery, DO Costers del Segre, Spain)
Caligo Essència (a sweet wine, produced by DG Viticultors at the DO Penedès, Spain, that made me cry)