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.
Stephane Soret, France, living in Singapore
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I have been with Raffles Singapore for close to 5 years as the Wine Director. Wine is very subjective and my role is to simplify it as much as possible and it always depends who you talk to and what is their experience with wine. Anyone can build confidence overtime with wine ratings and what their family and friends like, but ultimately they need to know what they like. The more you flex the taste muscle over time, the more chance you will know what you really like. Mentorship, patience, time and wine education are key to make sensible progress and we are very proud to have developed a group of talented Asian Sommeliers at Raffles Singapore. We cannot expect everyone to appreciate wine when they never set foot in vineyards.
In my opinion, the art of Sommellerie is to source and write wine list not according to your own palate preference but rather on maximising the guest’s budget, preference, palate and let them discover only if and when they want to. In other words, as a wine professional I spit during tastings so my guest don’t have to. Anyone can put the usual suspects on a list but finding the right ratio to quality, pleasure and budget is something that you acquire over time, you must first establish, what I would call, the palate profile.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
In Paris I love the “Royal Brunch” at One Michelin Star Restaurant “La Cuisine”
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
You mean a wine-centric place where you order the wine first and the food later? In Valencia “El Cabañal’ district, I discovered an incredible wine bar called Casa Montaña.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I have not decided on this.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Chez Chartier… A legendary restaurant in Paris founded in 1896 serving only classic cuisine in true Parisian style, I wish I could eat there every day.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I like to create sauces, dressing etc.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
In Singapore, I like to visit Caveau Wines & Bar
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
No, I do not have.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Michael Hill-Smith recently introduced to me his new production called Tolpuddle, a spectacular Pinot Noir from cold weather Tasmania.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
1973 DRC Montrachet Grand Cru
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
Koshu is new Gruner…I judged for Decanter last year and we awarded gold to Ayana Misawa for her Gris de Koshu and I am planning a wine dinner with her at Raffles Singapore in November. In the meantime I served it by the glass in Raffles Grill.
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)
Rhone and Languedoc have so much more to give.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
Good producer of Jurancon moelleux is not too cloying…I serve Chateau Jolys and you must try it with fresh strawberries and Roquefort Papillon (it works great with Gorgonzola for a smoother and less sharp approach).
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
I was fortunate to grow up in Provence Southern Rhone vineyards…
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.
I would recommend wine to people individually once the palate profile is established. There are too many wines and not enough people are drinking them, so my best immediate advice would be to start visiting vineyards, meet the people behind the wines and taste with them. Classic vineyards tour will start from Paris to Champagne to Burgundy to Rhone all the way to Provence and Italy.