The Sommelier’s Palate – Jeff Taylor, Head Sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York City

 “I am really impressed with the quality and balance of Chardonnays, Pinot Noir and Syrahs coming from some new winemakers in the Yarra Valley, Australia.” Jeff Taylor, Head Sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York City

(pronounced suh-mal-‘yAy)

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.”

Jeff Taylor, Head Sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York City

Jeff Taylor, Head Sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York City

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.

Jeff Taylor, USA

Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?

Head Sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York City


Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?

Kajitsu (NYC) – a Japanese style of cuisine called shojin-ryori. An 8 course tasting menu of wonderfully composed and seasonal dishes – and completely vegan too!

Musket Room (NYC) – Matt Lambert’s food is fantastic and Erin Barbour Scala’s wine list and service are top notch.

Betony (NYC) – Two EMP Alumni, Bryce Shuman (Chef) and Eamon Rockey (GM) have created one of the best restaurants to have opened in the past year.


Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?

I’m a big fan of Pearl and Ash – Patrick Cappiello has a great wine list full of sommelier’s favourites for drinking themselves on their night off.

Rouge Tomate – Pascaline Lepeltier’s list is always full of little know gems. I love going there because I always get to try something I haven’t had before.


Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?

Daniel Patterson’s Coi in San Francisco and Alice Water’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley over one weekend a few years ago


Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?

I love Maison Premiere in Brooklyn


Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?

I can make a mean Grilled Cheese


Do you have a favourite wine bar?

Ten Bells and Terroir in NYC, also Winos in Margaret River, Australia


Do you have a favourite wine merchant?

Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, CA – Crush Wine & Spirits, Flatiron Wines, Chamber Street Wines and Astor Place Wines (all in NYC)


What wine are you drinking at the moment?

Usually Champagne, Riesling, Burgundy and Northern Rhone Reds


Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?

Domaine Huet, Le Haut Lieu, Moelleux, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France 1947. I have been fortunate to have this bottle a handful of times. There is so much history in this bottle! When the winemaker, Gaston Huet, made this wine, he had just escaped being a POW during World War II, came home to a war torn vineyard and home, and had just become Mayor of Vouvray. He said the ’47 is the best wine he ever made, period.


What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?

I am really enjoying Corsican whites and reds at the moment from Comte Abbatucci and Antoine Arena.


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)

I am really impressed with the quality and balance of Chardonnays, Pinot Noir and Syrahs coming from some new winemakers in the Yarra Valley, Australia.


Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently. 

Jean Thevenet, Domaine de la Bongran, Cuvee Botrytis, Macon-Villages, France with Chef Daniel Humm’s Poached Maine Lobster with Carrots and Vadouvan Granola. This was an inspired pairing because it had the richness of the chardonnay to complement the lobster, but just that hint of honeyed sweetness to soften the spice of the Vadouvan Granola.


What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?

Most recently, it would have to be Santorini. Wonderfully unique vineyards with a gorgeous blue (sea) and white (architecture) background, and amazingly fresh local Mediterranean cuisine.


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.

The champagnes of Bérêche & Fils

The rieslings of Weingut Keller in The Rheinhessen, Germany

The wines of Domaine Roulot in Mersault, Burgundy

The wines of JL Chave in the Northern Rhone

Weinlaubenhof Kracher, Zweigelt, Beerenauslese, Burgenland, Austria

Equipo Navazos,La Bota de Palo Cortado, ‘Bota NO,’ #41, Jerez, Spain





You might also like:

The Sommelier’s Palate – Matthias Breitsameter, Sommelier at Restaurang 28+, Gothenborg, Sweden
The Sommelier’s Palate – Fabien Duboueix CSW CSS – Sommelier at Joël Robuchon Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore
The Sommelier’s Palate – Our Rocky Mountain High Sommelier Brandon Tebbe. Denver, Colorado
The Sommelier’s Palate – Julia Oudill, Sommelier at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, London
The Sommelier’s Palate – Ladies and Gentleman, All The Way From Zeeland, The Netherlands, Lotte Wolf , Sommelier at the Legendary 3 Star Michelin Restaurant Oud Sluis