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.
Eric Hastings, USA
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Del Posto Ristorante, NYC
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I had a terrific late, and long, lunch at a small French Bistro called Buvette in the West Village area of NYC
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Bar Boulud – the service and wine list are always impressive.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Ma Cuisine, Beaune, France
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I don’t have a “regular” restaurant as I try to go to as many as possible, but I do tend to spend quite a bit of time in Chinatown.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I do cook occasionally, but I usually leave that up to my girlfriend Adrienne, who is much more talented than me in the kitchen. I’m more like the Sommelier/Dishwasher at home. And prep guy, I cut a lot of vegetables.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
13 Celsius in Houston, Texas
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Chambers Street Wines, NYC, Chelsea Wine Vault, NYC, Houston Wine Merchant, Houston, Mondo Vino, Denver
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Anything from the Northern Rhône for red and Alsace for white.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Wine took it’s time persuading me over a year or two. There was no “a-ha!!” moment with wine for me.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
The restrained, low-alcohol wines of Australia have been tremendously enjoyable for me over the past couple of years.
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)
Willm Alsace Riesling at $10.99/bottle and Charles Brotte Vin de France, from Vaucluse is a great 100% Syrah for the same price.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
One of my favourite all-time pairing was Nanbu-bijin All Koji Sake with Chawan Mushi when I worked at Brushstroke.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Bouzy, Champagne, France
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.
Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis, Piemonte, Italy
Domaine Courbis Cornas, Rhône, France
Rainer Wess Achleiten Riesling, Wachau, Austria
De Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé Baron de L, Loire, France
Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California
Cesar Florido Fino, Jerez, Spain