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.
Fabien Duboueix CSW CSS - French Born, Singapore Based
Advanced Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommelier, Certified Sake Sommelier
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Currently, I am the sommelier for Joël Robuchon Restaurant located in Resorts World Sentosa.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Portico is a new restaurant in Singapore that you will not stumble across out of pure coincidence. With an open kitchen concept, this place is a hidden gem and you really get good value meal for the amount you pay. As the chef is half Greek, you have to try the Pork Belly Kebab with paprika fries and Tzatziki as I think only a native from Greece can succeed in this dish.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Blackberry Farm, located in Tennessee. I will always remember going into this wine cellar where there were countless box-shaped racks entirely filled with various bottles of wine. The racks went on and on and I could barely see the end of the row. It was really impressive.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
The most memorable meal to me means, every aspect of the food served has to be delicious. I am often disappointed by restaurants where everything from their canapés to main course were nothing short of perfect but when it comes to the final dish; dessert, it falls short of expectation.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Not really. A restaurant, to me, is like wine. I am always eager to discover my next new favourite.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
The reason I came into this industry was to be a cook. I still enjoy cooking and I have as many cook books as wine books. And trust me; I have a lot of wine books. I can make a very good smoked salmon cured in red pepper juice, smoked with fennel seed. But as far as a main dish is concerned, duck breast with lychee gastric and ginger lime rice pilaf would be my signature dish.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
When we do our sommelier reunion to study together and practice the art of blind tasting, we will gather at Praelum. It will always be a good place for sommeliers as they have a wide and diverse selection of wines to taste unlike other Wine by the glass programmes.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I have the luxury of importing most of the wine from La Cave de Joël Robuchon. It allows me to be certain about the provenance of the wines, the quality of the shipping and to get unique, small winery. When I buy wine locally, I do not have any preference for wine merchants.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Champagne. I can’t help it. I was born and raised with it.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Before starting to be a sommelier, I remember trying this Lebanese wine known as Chateau Musar and it was an eye opener that wine could be made in the most unexpected wine region. Recently, I opened a bottle of Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux from Meo Camuzet, 2002 and that may be one of the best wines I have ever tried
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Greece has a high potential to be the next big wine region. The grapes are unique and the diversity of wine is as diverse as Spain, Italy or France. I guess the difficulty is to remember names such as Xinomavro, Assyrtiko or even Mavrodaphne, I believe that will hold the fame for this country.
Tell us what is your ultimate wine bargain discovery in terms of price/quality rapport?
Cornas Domaine du Tunnel, Cornas is not the most famous appellation for Northern Rhone, who allows only Syrah at its best. Stephane Robert is great, this wine smells like crack black pepper to me, I love it.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Capon with morel cream paired with 1978 Chateau D’Yquem is a great gustative journey.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Whenever I visit a wine region in the old world, I am always keen to find out the type of cuisine they serve as I strongly believe that there is a relation between the food and wine served in every country. I will always remember being in this little village of Barbaresco, looking for a restaurant to have our meal and we had to settle for pasta joint. Generally, I am not someone who will order pasta as I can prepare this dish at home but the thought of being in Italy and that I should try their iconic dish. The pasta I had was the best I have ever tried before and since, the texture is both firm yet tender and I spoke to Angelo Gaja about this, he shared with me that the lady owner has been doing this for decades.
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.
Choosing only 6 wines is very difficult as there are so many wines both known and unknown in the world. I have tried to put together a list that is as diversified as possible.
Sherry Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla No 22, Spain
Champagne Jacques Selosses Rosé, France
Vouvray Sec “Le Haut-Lieu” Domaine Huet 2009, France
Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Hochrain Rudi Pichler 2008, Austria
Cabernet Sauvignon Dunn Vineyard 1994, USA
Canava Roussos Vin Santo Santorini 1999, Greece