The Sommelier’s Palate – Tahiirah Habibi Allen, Sommelier at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, Miami, Florida

(pronounced suh-mal-‘yAy)

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.”

Tahiirah Habibi Allen, Sommelier at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, Miami, Florida

Tahiirah Habibi Allen, Sommelier at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, Miami, Florida

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.

Tahiirah Habibi Allen, United States

Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?

Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Miami Florida


Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?

MC Kitchen. The food was super fresh and flavourful


Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?

Khong River House, has an incredibly eclectic and affordable wine list. Such great diversity and wonderful surprises.


Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?

Bacchanalia in Atlanta, amazing tasting menu and service


Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?

 Yes! Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Midtown


Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?

I try. I’m better at baking, I make an amazing pineapple upside down cake!


Do you have a favourite wine bar?

Toscano Divino, Miami


Do you have a favourite wine merchant?

Terry Theise Collections, most are fantastic!


What wine are you drinking at the moment?

I’m loving still Rose’s from Italy


Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?

2004 Cannubi Barolo. Changed my perspective of big wines


What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?

Macedonian wines. Complex and way undervalued.


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)

Grower Champagnes. Total steals.


Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently. 

 Sherry! The different styles used as a pairing with all courses for dinner.


What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?

Yountville in California. Great food and wine.


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.

Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc

Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 2005

Stanushina Rose, Popova Winery in Macedonia

Scholium Project, The Prince and His Caves, Fairfeild, CA

Vazart-Coquart & Fils Blanc de Blanc Champagne

Trousseau, Jacques Puffeney, Arbois, Jura


You might also like:

The Sommelier’s Palate – Tim Veys, Sommelier Conseil, Belgium
The Sommelier’s Palate – Jacqueline Lewis, Sommelier at Mr Wong, Sydney
The Sommelier’s Palate – Tahiirah Habibi Allen, Sommelier at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, Miami, Florida
The Sommelier’s Palate – Australian Sommelier, David Clarke Emigrates to Cape Town, South Africa
The Sommelier’s Palate – Our Consummate Sommelier, Stacey Gibson, at Olympic Provisions, Portland, Oregon, USA

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