Sager & Wilde in Hackney as it’s in my neighbourhood. Staff is friendly and place is relaxed with a good crowd and an interesting wine list. Oliver Brandenburg, Sommelier at Bar Boulud, 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.
Oliver Brandenburg, South Korea
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
London Mandarin Oriental, Bar Boulud
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I think it was at the Poggio Rosso restaurant in San Felice. Had a 97 Vigorello which is considered the first Super Tuscan along with Sassicaia.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I like Turkish food and there are few good restaurants in Dalston which is located in the East of London.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Well, I do cook at home and my specialities are Korean pancakes. I believe it is really difficult to find proper Korean cuisine outside of Korea, even in London I’m still looking for a good spot.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Sager & Wilde in Hackney as it’s in my neighbourhood. Staff is friendly and place is relaxed with a good crowd and an interesting wine list.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Not really, there are plenty of good ones in London and more to come!
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Pretty Random, but if I have a chance, I’m always up for a good glass of Vecchio Samperi from De Bartoli and Spätburgunder from Rheinhessen. Delivers great value for money if you know where to dig.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
I remember having an Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Spätlese 2006 with great company. We had it along with very authentic Japanese food. The wine still lingers in my mouth… Again, I had a lot of these wonderful moments and there are many more to come… And that’s great that I can relate each of my memories with a good bottle of wine. But as I always say, the people you having it with, the occasion and especially the location plays a major role.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
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 believe that top end Riesling from Germany always delivers great value for money. I’ve never been disappointed with Spätlese from Nahe or the Mosel… But knowledge about the producer is essential. Beside, I believe that Langhe Nebbiolos from good producers are always convincing too.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I have interesting pairings all the time especially when I’m moving away from the classic pairings of fish with white wine and meat with red wine. Love the idea of having spicy Korean dishes and Kim Chi with a good reasonably aged Spätlese Riesling from the Mosel. That’s always exciting. Just difficult to find a Korean restaurant with a good wine list.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Without any doubts Piedmont… The time of my life. Great food, great wines and people have a great sense for hospitality. But Sicily is also a must! For sure a food heaven and scenery is just beautiful.
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.
Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg 2003 Spätlese
Henri Bonneau Cuvee Celestines 1998
Vecchio Samperi Marco de Bartoli
Gosset Blanc de Blancs NV
Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubio 2004
Leoville Las Cases 1996