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.
Yann Hangouet, Switzerland since October 2013
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, Geneva
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
L’auberge du Frankenbourg, a Michelin Star restaurant in Alsace, France. With a great family atmosphere, delicate and inventive food and a really interesting wine list, it’s with no doubt one of the hidden gastronomic jewels of the region.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Still need to find one in Geneva.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I don’t cook that much because I’m often away but really enjoy when doing it. I would say that I’m fond off transforming fresh fruits, especially preparing fruit pies and fruit jams for the smell it leaves in the house.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
I just tried Lavinia in Geneva recently and was really pleased by the selection and the friendliness of the staff.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
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 tried a Chateau d’Yquem 1981 at the end of 2009 with some of my sommelier friends. It was for all of us the first time we tried a wine from the estate and it’s still a magical moment in my head, it kind of bound me with the wine’s world.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
As I just arrived in Switzerland I really discovered the diversity of Chasselas here. So many variations of intensity and style on the different soils around Lake Geneva, great food wines!
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 would say the wines from the Foucault family, Clos Rougeard in Saumur-Champigny. They’re not cheap by regional standards but really deliver everything we’re looking for in a great wine: intensity, depth, length and style, and all that for a fraction of the price of the big names.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I recently experienced a pairing of López de Heredia Rioja Reserva Vina Tondonia 1991 White paired with an old pecorino cheese. The saltiness, nuttiness and hue-milk notes of the cheese paired with the slightly oxidative notes and richness of the wine is a really interesting matching.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
The scenery of the Lavaux vineyards with its terraces and really steep slopes along the shores of the lake is really breath-taking. Another great region I’ve been to was the Pyrenees region in Victoria, Australia, long slopes surrounded by higher mountains and vineyards planted in the middle of the bush, surprising views!
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.
Riesling Clos Ste Hune, Trimbach, Alsace
Clos Rougeard Le Bourg, Saumur-Champigny
Grain Noble Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Valais Switzerland
Roc de Cambes, Francois Mitjavile, Côtes de Bourg, Bordeaux
Roussanne Aeolia, Giaconda, Victoria, Australia
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, Central Otago New Zealand