“Raspberry soufflé with a NV Bugey-Cerdon from Renardat-Fache. The pairing of both texture and aromas was incredible.” Master Sommelier Nicolas Clerc
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.
Nicolas Clerc MS, United Kingdom
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Until few weeks ago and for the past 5 years, I was in charge of the wine and beverage for a company named D&D London. I was mostly responsible for the iconic Le Pont de la Tour Restaurant, as well as a site name Old Bengal Warehouse, with two restaurants, a cocktail bar a wine shop/wine bar. I am now waiting for my next challenge.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
The Ledbury, since nearly a decade that restaurant has been on the top of the UK scene. Precision, finesse are key for the food, while the service and particularly the wine service is spotless! During the game season, the grouse is simply memorable.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Medlar restaurant. The front of house team is superb. The job that the head sommelier Clement Robert has achieved here is respectable, and reflecting in the entire ambiance of the restaurant. He is for me the most regarded Sommelier in UK at present, and for more time to come.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Vue de Monde restaurant in Melbourne. At that time, back in 2008, it was one of the most amazing restaurant in the world.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I wish to be able to afford more often Roka in London
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes, I love cooking, I find it very relaxing. I do not have really a signature dish, but I can eat and cook everything in a pork (except the trotter)
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Sager and Wilde in Hackney. Everything is good there, and the pricing are unbeatable. The selection is changing constantly and Michael Sager is such an entertaining guys.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Not really, but I am lucky to have worked with people like Nick Brooks from Vine Trail and Matt Wilkins MS from H2Vin. On the last 2 years, the portfolio of Field Morris and Verdin has been a joy to work with.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
It will depend my mood or my company. I like riesling from everywhere in the world, as much as the nearly occult character of the Loire chenin blanc. Syrah from the Rhone are on the top of my list too.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
La Grange des Peres Rouge. From the start of my career until now, this wine as always come around at the perfect time. I remember my first bottle on the 97 vintage, with a good friend. On that night my vision of the wine, of the restaurant industry and most of all what I wanted to do and achieved changed forever.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I was lucky enough to visit British Columbia in Canada early last year. As well as being in the company of the great Gerard Basset, the style of riesling (Tantalus) and Syrah (Laughing Stock) were world class and a huge discovery. Sadly, those wine are very difficult to source.
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)
Vintage Madeira, of every style. You are able to taste eternity for a real good value
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Raspberry soufflé with a NV Bugey-Cerdon from Renardat-Fache. The pairing of both texture and aromas was incredible.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Last month I visited the town of Montagnieu in The Bugey AOC in France. I am originally from that region, but funny enough I never visited that part. This was a beautiful day and the visit of Franck Peillot was monumental! This region is full of lake and river, so try some frog legs, a speciality!
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.
Sugrue-Pierre, Traditional Method Sparkling ‘South Downs’, Sussex, England 2009
Telmo Rodriguez ‘Mountain Bianco’, Sierras de Málaga (DO), Andalucia, Spain 2010
Domaine de Fondreche ‘Fayard’, Ventoux, Rhône Valley, France 2011
Agathe Bursin, Pinot Noir ‘Strangenberg’, Alsace, France 2011
Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti ‘SP68’, Sicilia IGT, Italy 2012
Gonzalez Byass ‘Finest Dry Oloroso’, Sherry, Andalucia, Spain 1968