“The Yalumba ‘Virgilius’ Viognier from Eden Valley is very luscious and layered in the autumn.” Sommelier Kara Maisano
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.
Kara Maisano, Melbourne, Australia
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Masani Italian Dining & Terrace, 313 Drummond Street, Carlton
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
After an exhaustive Bordeaux tasting, I popped into Acland Street Cantina which was a lot of fun. The dishes were tasty, not too much going on, and well presented. I had too many margarita’s with black salt rims-oops!
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Dining at Le Pont de la Tour, London was a marvellous night out. Eclectic range of European wines, and professional European service with charm and personality.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Masani-naturally! Richard’s classic Cacciucco alla Livornese - the best local fish & shellfish from the market that morning, braised in a crustacean brodetto, fennel & capers. You can lick the plate and it goes with powerful structured whites and velvety aromatic reds.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Regular is difficult as my celebratory occasions big and small are at Masani, starting at the bar with handmade canapés then moving to the table for dinner… But I do crave Japanese, and I usually head to Akari in Fitzroy, classic and contemporary with always interesting seafood’s; whiting, scallop, sea urchin, sardines, eel…
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes! I relish cooking a relaxing lunch or dinner at home on my days off. My Paella always works and is perfect summer or winter. It’s also just the one pot!
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
After work, usually the midnight hour, I relax over a cheese platter and good glass of something at Polly in Brunswick Street. Top service and bartenders, seasonal cocktails, fortified, Armagnac, absinths ..the works, and big chesterfields to fall into!
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Domaine Wine Shippers. Passionate people, the crème de la crème of Burgundy, Chablis, Alsace, Champagne and a wonderful family headed by the elegant Melinda Steel and charming Damien Steel. Patriarch Mr Gary Steel is always a lot of fun and very welcoming.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Everything for my exam! But The Yalumba ‘Virgilius’ Viognier from Eden Valley is very luscious and layered in the autumn.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Where and When do I begin?? Dom Perignon Rosé New Years Eve when I was 13 was a good start, can’t remember the vintage- sorry. The 1997 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche Grand Cru still sings on the tongue, 1983 Penfolds Grange, 2007 Josmeyer ‘Hengst’ Gand Cru Pinot Gris so rich and powerful, 2001 Aldo Conterno Quartetto, 2009 Chateau Palmer were all special, divine and captivating…and just a few that have kept me on the path. My restaurateur parents and being immersed in the restaurant life from a young age have inspired me continually-the people, the stories, something exotic from the market, sourcing that bottle and finally opening it.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Loire Valley’s Chinon, excellent quality and we are receiving more and more benchmark producers. You can see why Cabernet Franc is special.
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)
Aged Madeira. We don’t see enough here which is a shame but 10 & 15 year old Malmsey’s & Verdehlo’s just fascinating and ideal pre and post dinner, with cheeses, dessert, canapés…And very affordable.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Richard’s juniper crusted venison, seared rare with forest berries was ethereal with the 2007 Georg Breuer Berg Schlossberg Erstes Gewachs! Aromatics, intense stone fruits, spices & steely minerals played on the juniper berries and gaminess of the venison.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
I have not had the opportunity to travel as much as I would have liked, however, I immensely enjoyed Sicily. Settling in Catania, I travelled around the island and saw a glimpse of this wine region. The people, Mediterranean sun, coastal seafoods, the majestic Mt Etna, intimate lagoons, beaches and sunset. There are some quality wines really starting to show their Sicilian colours, well made, fruit driven and excellent with Sicilian cuisine. An aromatic white which I fell in love with was Inzolia…and of course Passito di Pantelleria. Their mountainous coast, hilly vineyards and way of life are unique. Sicily is: cannoli filled to order, brioche stuffed with gelato from the beach kiosk, candied citrus and crafted marzipan fruits, swordfish caught in the morning, the fish market, fat green olives, black mussels with basil, chilli and garlic.
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.
2008 Dalwhinnie Moonambel
2009 JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese
2005 La Spinetta ‘Gallina’ Barbaresco, Piemonte
2009 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
2007 Etude Pinot Noir, Carneros
2006 Clarendon Hills Astralis, McLaren Vale