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.
Ollie Yan Qiu Wang, born in Beijing, China, living and working in Melbourne, Australia.
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I’m working at The Smith Restaurant & Bar, in Melbourne, Australia.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I have to say Les Caves de l’abbaye De Maizieres in Beaune, France. I love the building, the cave (restaurant), the food, and the wine, and the hostess can speak a few languages, very helpful.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
I was impressed with Bistrot Le 7 in Epernay France. A Swiss Sommelier and an Italian Sommelier came alone with me, after we went to visit Champagne Gosset together. We drank some Champagne of course. I loved the list of Champagne, I enjoyed my food, it was classic; the service is just enough, professional and attentive, that’s more than enough to impress me.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I have to say last time when I visited my family in Beijing, China. My family took me to a restaurant outside city. The restaurant offered everything from the property, they had goats, chickens, fish and vegetables; we had to order our whole roasted baby goat 36 hours before we came to the restaurant. The whole goat was on the table, it was juicy, tender, wonderfully seasoned. I could not use any words to describe it, you really have to experience yourselves.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
My regular restaurants are France-Soir, David’s Place and Ling Nam Chinese Super Restaurant, they are all in Melbourne. I tried some restaurants and I loved them, but I don’t have enough time and money go back often enough.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I have to say I’m not a very good cook, but I cook at home whenever I can. I enjoy the process rather than outcome. I try to master my steamed fish with mixed soy source, top with boiling hot oil. I love to cook it whenever I buy fresh Barramundi or Snapper, and open a bottle of Grüner Veltliner from Kremstal Austria.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
I don’t have a favorite one, I don’t go out drinking as often as I love to. I don’t have much time.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I always look at what in glass rather than who present the bottle.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I always try different wines, always look for the producers I don’t know. I store away some wine but those wines are my library I don’t drink them often. At moment, I’m happy to drink, and have reliable amount of Prager ‘Steinriegel’ Federspiel Riesling 2007, Wachau, Austria, and Hubert Lignier Bourgogne Rouge 2010, Côte d’Or, France.
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 to tell a story here. I was born and grew up in inland city Beijing of China. When I finished high school, I wanted to go to see the ocean, which I had not seen before. I arrived Qing Dao coast city of China. I sat on the beach drank a bottle of riesling; I couldn’t remember which one I was drinking, but I always remembered the sweet sea wave attacked my taste-palate, and the salty sea breeze blew on my nose. I didn’t know I could make living as Sommelier, honestly I would not know the word ‘Sommelier’ at the time. But I started to appreciate drink rather than abuse drinks since then.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I have to say that Australian Chardonnay has improved a lot as whole, more pure variety character, with sense of origin. Also, some dry rieslings from Tasmania are very impressive. I have just tried 2013 Parish Vineyard Riesling from Coal River Tasmania, it’s a world class wine.
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)
At moment, I have to say MonRedon Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2010. I love the wine’s balanced flavor, texture, and depth. I hope I can see more great wines with everyday drinking price.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
As sommelier, we always talk about and practice food and wine match, but I’d like to talk about wine can be enjoyed with music. Food and wine stimulate palate, aroma, and sight, texture, but we need hearing here, otherwise we can’t experience all senses of human body. When all senses of human body are in chords of harmony, that’s a perfect combination. I always drink my Vin Rouge de Bourgogne with reggae dub music on, that’s harmony for me.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Champagne for me. I have visited the caves of Champagne Ruinart, and Champagne Pommery lately, two houses that are next each other, but the caves are very different. The ‘natural ‘ chalk pits of Ruinart, in contrast the art installation in chalk pits network of Pommery. Of course Champagne as whole is impressive but the caves in these two houses are most memorable.
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.
Canard-Duchêne Charles VII, Blanc de Blancs, NV Champagne, France.
Tateyama Junmai Ginjo, Toyama Japan. (sake rice wine not a grape wine)
Weingut Bründlmayer Heiligenstein Lyra, Riesling, 2007, Kamptal, Austria.
Weingut von Hövel Scharzhofberger, Riesling Spätlese, 1995, Mosel, Germany
Domaine Robert Groffier P & F Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers, 1996, Côte d’Or, Fr
Château Doisy Daëne Sauternes 2002, Sauternes, France.
I think that is a great degustation of six wines. Then journey starts from here as there are too many great addresses to mention. Wine is endless discovery from new world to old world. Especially, I’d like to mention sake (rice wine), if you find the right direction you can’t stop. I also have to mention drinking Chinese Pu’er Tea after the degustation, it helps to clean and sooth system.