“Sherries without a doubt are the best price/quality wines in the world. We can buy an amazing Amontillado over 30 years old in Jerez or Sanlucar for 30€.” Jose Gonzalez Godoy, Sommelier at Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, London
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.
Jose Gonzalez Godoy, Spain
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I work at Ametsa with Arzak Instructions, the new venture of Juan Mari and Elena Arzak at The Halkin by COMO, London. I hold the position of Restaurant Manager, working together with our Head-Sommelier Alvaro Prieto. I also teach future sommeliers in different schools across Spain. Ametsa is an exciting project to be involved in, being the first Spanish Restaurant ever to receive a Michelin Star in the UK, after being open to the public for six months only.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Diverxo, in Madrid, the latest three-star Michelin Star Restaurant in Spain. The food was really memorable but for me the service stood out. They are a breath of fresh air in the restaurant business that is really needed – I think they don’t realise that!
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Atrio, in Caceres, Spain. They have a huge representation of wines from all over the world, and a spotless wine service. Actually, they probably have the biggest collection of vintages of Chateau D’Yquem around the world.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I must say Mugaritz and Diverxo. Mugaritz because their philosophy blows your mind away, the depth of their investigation on ingredients in the kitchen never ends and Diverxo because they approached the restaurant in a uniquely new way.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I like to try different places but there is one eatery I come back to over and over again. It’s the Diamante Restaurant in Marbella, which is owned by my friend Cristobal. They have some of the freshest fish and seafood you can find in Malaga. Other restaurants which I love are El Campero in Barbate, Cadiz, which serves the best tuna in the world. They have a tasting menu just made of different variations of tuna. Both of them are unpretentious restaurants, providing a warm and friendly service and high quality ingredients with reasonably priced dishes.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected? Yes I do like cooking at home.
I have to say that mushroom risotto is my signature dish.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Not really, I tend to try different places all the time to get new ideas on how to improve our own style and service.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I like Merchants that never stop looking for new styles. Merchants that demonstrate an interest in our business – showcasing products from smaller producers. A good example of this is “de Vinos”, based here in London. Their main focus is on Spanish wines.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Sherry wines, especially Amontillado and old Manzanillas, Burgundy red and German Riesling.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Old Sherries. The complexity that they can achieve is infinite. And I will always remember my first 19th century experience with a Port Colheita from 1880 and a Pedro Ximenez from Montilla, Cordoba, in Andalusia from the vintage of 1910. Ageing through the years, those wines create a unique aromatic palette.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Wines from Galicia in Northern Spain. Everyone knows Albariño, but there are many others really interesting grapes with tiny productions which give us brand new flavours white or red. For example Caiño (red and white), Loureiro (red and white), Doña Blanca or Merenzao. Really fine and elegant wines, with minerality and freshness.
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).
Well, I hope not to be tiresome, but Sherries without a doubt are the best price/quality wines in the world. We can buy an amazing Amontillado over 30 years old in Jerez or Sanlucar for 30€. Wines with this age in another well-known wine regions can easily cost over 300€.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I did a pairing by matching oysters with a Canadian Ice Cider, Neige, from the winery based in Hemingford, Quebec, La Face Cachee de la Pomme. Stephany and Francois are doing an amazing job there. The malic acid from the apples kept the sea taste of the oyster longer in the mouth at the same time this balanced the natural fat of the oyster. I never thought that I could match oysters with a sweet “wine”.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Ribeira Sacra, in Galicia. Most of them pick up the grapes in vineyards along the river on impossible slopes by small boats. And the gastronomy is quite satiating.
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
Sacristia AB, from my friend Antonio Barbadillo in Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz.
Around 10 years old, it shows you the real dimension of Manzanilla. Absolutely round, without edges, golden colour, and great complexity, just perfect.
Neige. An incredible Ice Cider from the winery “La Face Cachee de la Pomme”. Absolutely lively and playful, it goes with everything: cheeses, foie gras, chocolate, cakes, tuna, and even oysters! It’s nice as aperitif as the malic acid make the mouth salivate so we prepare the stomach for the digestion. Absolutely amazing.
Seco Trasañejo from the winery “Malaga Virgen”, in Malaga. Over 30 years old. A wine for meditation.
Candio 2008, from the winery “Suerte del Marques”. This is an incredible red wine made in Canary Island on volcanic soil. When you smell it, you believe to be inside the volcano. Absolutely mineral and elegant at the same time.
White Rioja. Something to discover right now. I remember the white wines from the wineries “Agricola Labastida” and “Exeo”, like for example, Tierra Fidel (9 varieties) or Cifras (white Granache).
Algueira Pizarra, from the winery “Adega Algueira”, in Ribeira Sacra and Caiño Goliardo from winery “Forja del Salnes”, both in Galicia. A good example of what in Galicia are able to do with the red wines.