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.
Julien HAIE, France
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Winter Garden (The Landmark Hotel, 222 Marylebone Road, London)
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Ragazzi Da Peppone, Bordeaux. This restaurant is owned by an Italian family whose particularity is to use only original product from Italy. You will find unique Italian dishes, all pizzas are 12€ and the Italian ice cream are not the cheap reproduction that you find on all the beaches. You have to pick by yourself your wine in an amazing cellar. There is also an Italian fine grocery. Everything that you can see on the restaurant can be bought.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Le Plateau, Canary Wharf, London. This restaurant is good value for money compared to what they offer: a true fine dining experience with a wine list worth around 500 wines, and a brilliant oenology club. All of this in a very modern ambiance with an amazing view (the restaurant is on the 6th floor by memory). All the staff speak fluently English, Spanish and French.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I celebrated my engagement in Le Train Bleu, a wonderful historical restaurant inside the Gare de Lyon, Paris. I booked with lafourchette.com and I will strongly recommend you this as a treat for the eyes on one side, with a Versailles-like design which is totally magnificent, and for the mouth as well, as we took with my partner the tasting menu, and I have been amazed by their bisque, which was outstanding, and by the level of service. At the table next to ours, the manager itself was preparing a steak tartare, from the sauce to the final presentation, all of this on a silver tray, very impressive!
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I do not have any regular fine dining restaurant, as I prefer to keep my addresses for punctual occasions. I spent most of my lunch times in London in Costa, Café Rouge, and Wetherspoon, whose burger are completely amazing. For the tea time, I go a bit of everywhere, but my favourite place is the Patisserie Valerie, whose food quality is unfortunately better than the service, which is sometimes a bit messy (waiters bumping on guest’s chairs, coke dropped, 10min to come to help…)
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
It happens that I take some time to cook something for my partner when I want to treat her. As I have Polish origins, I fancy cook some Platski, I changed a bit the original recipe, but it is still a good way to prepare a dish for 8 people when you have a low budget.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Actually I have two which are linked to my recent studies. When I came to Bordeaux to study wine, as most of the wine students I was looking for the cheapest way to taste good wine. I finally found for the middle-range wine the Maison du Vin’s wine Bar, place Quinconces, whose wine by the glass’s carte is changing on a weekly basis, this is as well a great place to meet people from various careers.
The second wine bar is the one who satisfied my big thirst for classified wines. The name is Max Bordeaux. This beautiful and modern wine bar, who is located on the main premium shopping street of Bordeaux, Cours de l’Intendance. Full of oenomatic machines, which preserve the bottle of wine for around a week of two, with my membership card, I had access to most of the classified wines from Bordeaux for a very affordable price. They have a great way of presenting their masterclasses: you can pay for the tasting, and a part of the money spent will be converted into credit for tasting other wine by the glass. The team is completely amazing and very helpful.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Without hesitation I will say Louis Jadot. Each time I taste with them, I always has been received in the nicest and most professional way, moreover, their wine range is very nice and tasteful.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Actually I am drinking the Hoopenburg’s range, from Stellenbosch South Africa. The estate’s strategy is quite brilliant, and the City of Oak (Eikestad) has a recent but great history!
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
I have been troubled by the Chateau d’Yquem 1994, as such a point that I took half an hour to describe all the information and sensations coming to my mind. As if I did not need to concentrate to find the most complex aromas. Everything came out very clear in my mind, and I suddenly understood why Chateau d’Yquem is considered as the king of dessert wines.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
My latest wine discovery is Brunello di Montalcino, a vibrant and very amazing top Italian red, whose influence on the European On-Trade market keep on growing.
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)
As a new world wine fan, I was not expecting to find a great alternative to one very classical premium wine : the Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
I have been told that the Cloudy Bay is the must have, so when we get some new contract with them in my wine shop 6 years ago, I bought 2 bottle for the excessive unit price of 27€/ bottle. When I taste it, I was totally disappointed, as I found it way to much simple and straight for the price. So when I arrived at the Landmark and spotted again this fashion wine, I decided to move forward, and after realizing that this wine is not modern enough, I looked for alternatives. Finally, I found the Torea Oystercatcher, whose name is linked with the bird from New Zealand. And I have been totally impressed by the very nice balance between exotics fruits and citrusy aromas and the light mineral touch of this wine. A must have.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
In terms of food pairing, I hate traditional and short-vision food pairing. My wine of the year, who can go on a very wide kind of dishes, is without doubt the Macon-Fuissé. This appellation produce an amazingly balanced Chardonnay that I paired most of the time with the fish-meat conflicts (when the guest has a fish as starter, then meat on the main). It worked on Lobster, Roasted wood Pigeon, Lamb, Shortrib, White Onion Soup, Chicken, Halibut, Poached Lemon Sole, etc…
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Well, as I am quite young within the wine industry, I do not have any specific region that I visited who touched me. But I would like to go in the Douro Valley, who is very appealing for the wine, but also for the food.
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.
- Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes Grand Cru
- La Pucelle de Romorantin, Loire Valley
- Blanc de Corail, Tahiti
- Chateau La Conseillante
- Chateau Rieussec
- Chateau Feytit-Clinet