“Sherry is always a favourite at home, current pick is Valdespino Tio Diego Amontillado. The perfect complement for most of my late night takeout from the local hawker centre.” Sommelier Rajeshwaran Gopal
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.
Rajeshwaran Gopal, Singapore
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I’m currently with Samadhi Retreats www.samadhiretreats.com as Group Sommelier, for both its Malaysia & Singapore operations.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Definitely L’Ami Jean http://www.lamijean.fr in Paris, bistro dining at its best. The dining room buzzed with a lot of energy, there was a great level of synergy between the service team and kitchen. Food was sublime, every plate was given lots of love and flavours were just exhilarating. Despite the typical hustle and bustle, the service was never once compromised. Look out for the famous rice pudding dessert.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Le Cinq in Four Seasons Hotel, Paris Great cuisine, friendly and elegant wine service and the tour to the underground cellar was equally memorable.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Caprice at the Four Seasons Hong Kong, right before they were awarded 3 stars. Kudos to Maitre’d Jeremy and Sommelier Sebastien. All the recent accolades are in my view, very well deserved.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Nowadays, it’s more of my toddler son’s preference than mine. The Banana Leaf Apolo in Singapore every other week (not complaining though). Occasional Sunday breakfast in Spruce at Tanglin is another favourite.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I cook randomly, nothing special in particular.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Vagabond near the Fulham Broadway tube station in London. 100 over quality wines on preservation system. Friendly and very knowledgeable team.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Kot Selection in Singapore, excellent depth of the selections from Loire and little known regions of France and the pricings are very decent, at least for Singapore’s standard.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Sherry is always a favourite at home, current pick is Valdespino Tio Diego Amontillado. The perfect complement for most of my late night takeout from the local hawker centre.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
A half bottle of Krug NV back in 1997, it was shared among 10 waiters after achieving our monthly revenue target. The Sommelier justified the lack of celebration budget by insisting that we were extremely lucky to have a tiny bit of Krug in our glass that day. The curiosity after that sip triggered my wine journey. I shared the story with Remi Krug a few years later over lunch in the Domaine.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Re-discovery of German wine regions for sure, but leaning towards dry whites and Pinots.
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)
There is new energy in the Beaujolais region, with more producers striving towards quality rather than quantity. Selective producer’s Gamay could be inspirational, a number of them have moved on to more organic methods with new techniques. The end result in the glass is amazing.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
An aged Cattin Riesling Grand Cru Hatschbourg with red wine marinated herring, root vegetables and light curry sauce. Every element of the dish and wine complimented each other. The humble fish dish was just divine, but only because it was paired with an appropriate glass of wine.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Alsace and Priorat were special, but I still dream of southwest of France. I was lucky enough to spend a week in Saint Mont and Madiran. The landscape, scenery, small villages and warm characters somehow remind me of my childhood back in Malaysia, and its inspiring to see how small growers struggle but persistently continue to grow and sell grapes every year and the importance of cooperatives for the local communities. Chateau de Sabazan is a must try and of course the wines of Alain Brumont. Food wise, I would never say no to foie gras (on anything) or duck, so it worked out just fine.
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.
Champagne Henri Billiot, Cuvee Laetitia
Ostertag, Riesling, Grand Cru Muenchberg
Clos Cibonne, Tibouren, Cuvee Prestige Caroline, Cotes de Provence
Ostler, Pinot Noir, Caroline, Waitaki River, Otago
Bernard Baudry, Chinon, Les Grezeaux, Loire
Rene Barbier, Clos Mogador, Priorat