He’s well-travelled, well-seasoned, well-informed, well-mannered, well-groomed and writes really well—the perfect Sommelier and the hot favourite for Sweden’s “Sommelier of the Year” award… Correction, has just been awarded Sommelier of the year, Bravo!
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.
Sören Polonius, Sweden
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
As a wine director at the F12 Group, Lecturing for sommeliers at “Restaurangakademien” in Stockholm and running the consulting company “Dryck enligt Polonius”, (Beverages according to Polonius).
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Narisawa in Tokyo. I have to admit, I´m not too impressed, nor a big fan of the use of “liquid nitrogen” in gastronomy. They seems to use it a lot here. But the flavours were so subtle. Textures came in a wide width of variations. The cuisine was very precise and exact. Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa gave me a great lunch experience the last time I was in Tokyo.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Leijontornet 12 X 8. “One Year, twelve dinners and eight seats”. One large set menu, one hedonistic wine pairing program. They do have a great wine list as well, but if you ever manage to get a seat, go for the pairings. Quite a few of “Grand Vins” lined up one after another. They spoil you like a little child. Only sommeliers on the floor to assure the high level of service.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
It was a few years ago, I had a mesmerising experience at Arzak in San Sebastian. The dinner were the closest thing to a “perfect” experience, I´ve ever had. Total symmetry in the gastronomy. Stunning cuisine!
Chefs Table at Brooklyn Fare is a close runner up for that position. Gentle flavours seducing you while the brain cells have to work full throttle at all the time during the whole dining experience, in order to capture every flavour nuances, Chef Cesar Ramirez throws at you in the bar.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I try to spread the graces and visit different restaurants in order to take the pulse on the restaurant scene. But the closest thing I have as regular restaurant would be Restaurant AG. A few blocks down the road from my home, with one of the best meat list in Stockholm. Usually just dropping by briefly for some Pimientos de Padron or some Patanegra ham, accompanied by a decent Manzanilla, before heading home. Excellence lies in the simplicity.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Brisket, shank or chuck of beef, slowly braised in red wine. Quite rustic food that needs some time to be prepared in a proper way. I guess that it is a way for me to relax and enjoy the company of friends with some wine in the kitchen.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
A visit without a few good bottles at Wein & Co at Stephansplatz, is an incomplete visit in Vienna. Bargain prices by Swedish measures. It´s been many wonderful late night sessions at this address.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Winefinder is a very reliable source of great wines. Paulsson Rare wines is also a great provider of rare drops.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Lately I´ve been enjoying the Cuvée Prestige Blanc de Blancs NV by Diebolt Vallois. I’m a big fan of this high-performance grower from Cramant, in the heart of Côte de Blancs in Champagne. We have it as our house Champagne back home.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Everybody talks about Bordeaux 1982. I had them all, great wines, don’t get me wrong. But 1985 Château Haut Brion does something to me every time I have it in my glass. It took me to that special place the first time I had it. The following bottles, well it was like meeting an old very dear friend again, every time it was being poured. It shows perfect at the moment.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
The reds from Burgenland in Austria is something that hasn´t seen the limelight enough. A source of some really good red wines based on native grapes, such as Blaufränkish, Zweigelt and St Laurent. Sometimes mixed with international grapes as well. However I think the indigenous grape varieties are performing well on their own. Prices are still quite reasonable.
Tell us what is your ultimate wine bargain discovery in terms of price/quality rapport?
Mature wines from Austria. The Austrians prefer their wines from the latest vintage, so the producers seems to have some difficulties to sell their older vintages. You can find some great Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners at ridiculous cheap prices if you are traveling in Kremstal, Kamptal and Wachau. Older stuff for no money at all.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I had a steamed Turbot with braised pig feet, truffle cream and a beurre blanc sauce. A lot of people would have a white wine as their first chose,but I wanted to try something slightly different. We served a red Chambolle Musigny on commune level from a difficult vintage such as 2001. The wine was so silky and perfumed. Soft tannins and acidity rounded of even more by the rich textures in the dish. A truly sensual combination.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
The Douro Valley would tick all the boxes for the dramatic scenery and inspiring vineyards. Breath-taking views while swimming and cooling of in the Douro River.
But when it comes to food in close proximity to vineyards? Napa Valley has an unrivalled array of great eats. You have everything from “Oysters and Pearls” with a glass of chilled Shramsberg Blanc de Blancs, to the “Double cheeseburger” with sweet potato fries at Gott´s Roadside while quaffing a half bottle of Shafer Napa Cab.
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.
Dunn Vineyards, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1984
Weingut Prager, Achleiten Riesling Smaragd 2007
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1996
Château Haut Brion 1985
Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon Cuvée Œnotheque 1975
Domaine Dujac, Clos de la Roche 1990