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.
George Mitincu, from Romania, but usually found working at sea
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Disney Cruise Line, fine dining Italian Restaurant onboard the ship. The Cruise Line is part of the Walt Disney Company and they have for ships: Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. The Dream and The Fantasy are the two new ships and I was part of opening team for both; a great experience. I started my career with Disney in 2003 and have done many different jobs, ending up as wine keeper in 2008. Today I’m one of the Head Wine Sommeliers and I’m responsible for a small team of for sommeliers on board the ship.
To be a Sommelier on board the ship it is not the same as a restaurant on land; actually a huge difference. Restaurants on shore have a limited spaces available, maybe 50 to 75 seats, and most of the time the same customers. Sometimes they have full house, sometimes only few people. Most of the time the customers are driving the car back to home and only one or two from the party drinking wine, mostly by the glass. On the ship, it’s a different story; people are coming to have fun, they are in holyday mode, no need to drive cars back to the room and they usually come on big groups. At each restaurant we can sit up 1350 guests, 3 formal restaurants and two fine dining–one Italian and one French–where we have more than 300 different wine labels on the wine list. This is the real Battle Field when you talk about sommeliers jobs; trainings for bar and restaurant crew, wine and champagne seminars for the guest and much more activities; we never get time to be bored.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I recently just finish a trip “The Wine Road” in Romania (www.drumulvinului.ro). This is a new touristic project what starts this year and is promoting Romanian vineyards and wine makers; it is not quite ready yet, work in progress, but it was a lot of fun and I had a good time. This includes all the wine roads from Romanian wine regions and you can visit wineries and vineyards what are part of this project. I have try food from different places and I have enjoyed all, very diverse choices-local, national and international cuisine.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
There are many. Working on Cruise Line I have the opportunity to travel a lot and to dine on many different places and countries; I very much like the “Belvedere” in Brasov city, Romania.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Restaurant Olympia, a wonderful Greek restaurant I went to in Papenburg, Germany during the opening of the Disney Fantasy ship.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
No. I like to go on different restaurants every time when I dine out with my family and friends.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
My wife she is the best cook. She loves cooking and we try different dishes most of the time. Recently we start to cook a lot of Asian food, but traditional food is always on the first place.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
It is hard to decide. I have purchased many wine bottles during my last trip with my family. I like to experience the new ones. The ones what I have no idea or never heard about.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
There are couple of wines to mention. First is Ornellai from Tenuta Dell’Ornellai-Bolgheri, Tuscany. This is an Italian wine made with French grapes variety and reflects the truly Italian terroir, than is Z.D. Abacus California; amazing wine and very interesting the way they do the blend.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Well , I have been out of the country for a very long time and now I start to enjoy wines from Romania and Moldova, but I do like Portugal, Italian, California and Chilean wines-specially Carménère grapes Colchagua Valley.
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)
Not easy to decide. “All wines are good” but I’m a fan of Italian and Californian wines.
Lacerta winery impress me very much. “Must-Try” wines.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently
Wine and Chocolate. I have tried different wines and chocolates together with one of the Chef Chocolatiers from Godiva-David Funaro. Nice experience and very interesting at same time.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating.
“The Wine Road” from Romania
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.
- Tignannello-Antinori Tuscany Italy
- William Selyem Pinot Noir-Russian River Valley, California
- Ininskilin ice wine Niagara Canada
- Purple Angel-Chile
- Amarone –Veneto Italy (any one, all are good)
- Lacerta Chardonnay Reserva-Romania