“Lagler 1000 Eimerberg Smaragd Riesling from the Wachau, Austria – I am obsessed with this wine! I have worked with several vintages of it and I can’t get enough” Sommlelier Stacey Gibson
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.
Stacey Gibson, United States
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
At a restaurant, Olympic Provisions, in the SE Portland, OR.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I recently ate a Clyde Common, a popular restaurant in the Ace Hotel in downtown Portland. I had a friend in town for Portland Cocktail Week and he knew the chef from when they were kids. We had an amazing meal and found two wines that were beautiful and an incredible value: Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo 2010 and Lapierre Morgon 2012. The list was very balanced overall. It was carefully curated while allowing something for everyone.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
For our first wedding anniversary earlier this year, we dined at the Nomad in NYC. We were prepared to spend some money because it was a special occasion, but didn’t want to go too crazy. We started with a 2006 Domaine Clos Naudin Vouvray and then the sommelier suggested a hidden gem on their list, a Bandol with some bottle age that was only about $60. It is a really nice restaurant with quite expensive wines on the list and I was happy to find a bottle like that amidst the Chave, Raveneau, and Rayas. At the end of the meal with the check, they included a card that said “It must be love. Happy Anniversary!” It was a little touch that made the meal extra special.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
My husband and I went to Spain for our honeymoon in 2012. We knew we wanted to have at least one really nice meal while in Catalonia so we went to Restaurant Sant Pau in Sant Pol del Mar, just north of Barcelona. It is a lovely, intimate dining room at a hotel right by the sea. We decided to do an all Catalonian wine pairing because it was a perfect time to discover the wines of the region, especially ones I may not see in the American market. The food was whimsical and adventurous without being too precious. The petit fours came out on a toy train! The whole experience was perfect.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I don’t tend to go to the same restaurant over and over again. We mix it up as much as possible when we go out to dinner. When we were living in Brooklyn, we had a neighbourhood place called Barboncino that was open late and had great pizza, not to mention delicious cocktails.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I am not much of a cook! My husband is a chef and he makes wonderful meals at home. I have been trying to get better at making desserts, however, and I love making ice cream.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
As with restaurants, I don’t tend to go to the same wine bar over and over, as I want to get a variety and discover different people’s selections. I also tend to drink most of my wine either at home, at dinner, or after work at my own restaurant. I am lucky enough to live right around the corner from Pix in Portland, which has an outstanding wine list and great desserts (I have quite the sweet tooth). They are also open pretty late, so I am often able to have at least one drink after I am done with service at my restaurant.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Since moving here, I have been able to discover a few wonderful small wine shops around town. One that has a great selection of Oregon wines is Cork Wine Shop in NE Portland. When I lived in New York, I loved Astor Wines, where I worked for about a year around 2010. It has a wonderful selection of wines all across the board. You can find a range of wines, from natural Loire wines to polished Napa Cabernet.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I moved to Oregon to be closer to the Willamette Valley. While I love Oregon Pinot Noir, a lot of producers are making wonderful wines from Riesling, Gamay, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Meunier, and others. I love Bow and Arrow’s Gamay Noir and Teutonic Wine Company’s Pinot Meunier from the Borgo Pass Vineyard.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Absolutely. Several years ago, in early 2011, I had a 1995 J.J. Prum Auslese Riesling from their Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard. There was so much flavour and intensity with laser-focused acidity. I had it with beef, which was a food and wine revelation in of itself. I have a 2002 of the same wine in my fridge that I can’t wait to open in a few more years.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I have recently discovered Rossese from Liguria in Italy. My wine director has three on the list and I had never tried it before. It is light-bodied with lots of acidity and plum and violet notes. It’s what I think of as a coastal red – it has some tannin but it is so fresh you can imagine being in a small fishing village enjoying the catch of the day and a glass of this.
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.
The Nebbiolos of Valtellina, Valle d’Aosta and Carema. I am a huge fan of Barolo and Barbaresco, but it is often hard to always have something with some age on it or that I can afford to open on any given Tuesday. Some of these bottles can still be around $50, like those of Ar. Pe. Pe. and Luigi Ferrando, but they are amazing experiences. There are also some great cooperatives in these areas, including Cave Cooperatives de Donnas in the Valle d’Aosta. Produttori di Barbaresco is also phenomenal and very affordable.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Before I started my new job at Olympic Provisions, I dined at the restaurant to check it out. We specialize in charcuterie and make excellent salamis and terrines. One dish I had was our Lardo shaved very thin with walnuts, rosemary, and honey. My then-prospective boss sent out some Amontillado sherry to pair with it. It was perfect.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
The first major wine region I ever visited was Burgundy and it definitely set a very high bar for every other trip to come. My friend and I stayed at Domain de L’Arlot, which is an impressive chateau right along RN74. The drives were always so lovely, especially when we went west to the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. We had several amazing meals at Caves Madeleines in Beaune and lots of cheese! Everyone that we tasted with was so absolutely passionate and welcoming. There is so much history in Burgundy it was enthralling to see it right before our eyes.
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.
Stéphane Coquillette Carte d’Or 1er Cru NV Brut Champagne – When I first started in wine, I didn’t appreciate Champagne. As I discovered smaller producers and not just the big houses, I really came to appreciate how amazing it can be. It doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive. This wine may retail for around $40.
Massican Annia 2012 – A Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Chardonnay blend made by Dan Petroski in the Napa Valley. If you are wary of California wine, this make you check back in.
Lagler 1000 Eimerberg Smaragd Riesling from the Wachau, Austria – I am obsessed with this wine! I have worked with several vintages of it and I can’t get enough. It is dry, but with so much richness and intensity. The high acid keeps it all in check.
Clos Cibonne Tibouren Rosé 2011 – I could drink this all summer and winter. This will make you reconsider the potential of rosé.
Teutonic Wine Company Willamette Valley Pinot Meunier 2012 – Good wine making with a grape you may be quite surprised to see as a varietal wine in Oregon. Light-bodied with notes of plum, roses, and rosemary.
Prieure-Lichine 1989 Margaux – Bordeaux may not seem incredibly fashionable, but tasting this wine or anything with some age on it from a classed vineyard will enliven your palate. It is akin to studying the old masters of painting. It will give you context for other things you come across.