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.
Raul Vega Velasco, México City
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I own a company that provides consulting services to restaurants, importers, distributor’s, sommeliers and professionals
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
Raiz Restaurante, located in the metropolitan zone.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
The Capital Grill in Mexico City
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Probably in Spain, in the region of Jerez. I don´t remember the name of the restaurant but I was amazed of the food pairing with Sherry wines and seafood, also with Jamon Ibérico.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I prefer to go to a restaurant thinking what I want at the time. I love Mexican food, tacos, and of course all the great dishes we have in the different zones of the republic. I also love beef, fish and spicy food. In México City we have a lot of options to go, but if I have to choose, I prefer beef and grill restaurants.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Of course I cook, I love it, I like to prepare on weekends different dishes, grills, pasta, seafood, etc.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Mesa 19, In México City
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Sherry, an Amontillado VORS by Gonzalez Byass
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
As I am a Sherry lover and part of de Consejo Regulador de Jerez, I have had the opportunity to taste a lot of sherries. I remember two in specific wines: Manzanilla en Rama from Barbadillo, it was a pleasure to drink this wine directly from the Bota. The other one is Palo Cortado VOS from Williams & Humbert.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Barolo Bussia Riserva 2006, Nebbiolo
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)
Pagos de Galir Godello Barrica from DO Valdeorras, it is a médium cost wine but incredible quality.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Again, I found Sherry wines perfect in pairing, extraordinary with Mexican food. I recommend a Fino de Manzanilla with shrimps, Olorosos and Amotillados with Mole, Medium and Cream with Chiles en Nogada and PX with chocolate and also with Sweet Moles
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Jerez and California
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.
Palo Cortado VOS “Dos Cortados” – Jerez
Manzanilla La Guita – Jerez
Penfolds Grange -Australia
Viña Tondonia Reserva – Rioja
Casa Grande Chardonnay – Casa Madero México
Termanthia – Toro Spain