I’m a huge fan of Rhône varietals so I love to find different expressions throughout the world. One of my favourite wines to have guests try in the restaurant is a 2006 Syrah by Abadia Retuerta out of Sardón de Duero. Wes Guild, Sommelier & General Manager, Cut by Wolfgang Puck, Singapore
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.
Wes Guild, Singapore 4 years; from the United States
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
I work at CUT by Wolfgang Puck at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. I am the General Manager and resident Sommelier. Weekly tasting sessions are a part of the regimented training at CUT with our entire front of house staff. We taste twice a week, usually blind. We supplement the education with guest speakers ranging from suppliers to other sommeliers from other restaurants in MBS.
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
I had a wonderful lunch at Gjelina in Venice, California during a recent trip back the United States. We went at 3 in the afternoon because that’s about the only time you can get a seat there! The pizzas are great and the ingredients clean and fresh. I would highly recommend the drive to Venice to anyone.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
I had an opportunity a few month back to dine at Rockpool in Sydney Australia that had an extensive wine list with some nicer old vintages of Aussie wines. We went with a 2001 Clarendon Hills Grenache which was drinking nicely. I was also impressed with the decanting technique because the care and attention to detail can sometimes be missed in such a high volume restaurant.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
The place is called Il Vescovino just half an hour south of Florence, Italy in the little town of Panzano, Italy. I had scheduled a visit to Fontodi Winery where Giovanni Manetti, the winery’s proprietor was nice enough to arrange lunch for us. They drove us up there in one of their 1986 Land Rover Defenders along this tiny road with buildings on both sides. We enter Il Vescovino through this small door and were led out to a patio overlooking the entire valley known as the Conca d’Oro, or Golden Shell named after the way the valley looks when all the vineyard leaves turn gold as the seasons change. Along with a few bottles of Fontodi during lunch we were treated with the true Bistecca Fiorentina, a double thick porterhouse steak that was cooked to a warm rare and sliced. The meat was so tender and was served with a side of salt/spice seasoning for you to season as you ate. The chef explained that they cooked both sides for 5 minutes each before standing the steak upright on the T-bone to heat the bone itself. We hadn’t seen the Anthony Bourdain special at the time, and didn’t realize we were sitting in the town famous for its beef!
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
I eat at Marutama Ramen at the Central regularly. I like it because they use chicken stock as opposed to the typically pork bone soup which can be heavy for lunch. I also like Jade Palace inside the Forum on Orchard for their great wine list and authentic Chinese food.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I make a mean Classic Caesar salad, learned from my days working in old school French Fine Dining and the requirement of preparing various dishes table side. I’m rarely home at night so when I’m off, I prefer to go out.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Osteria Mozza, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore has an expansive selection of Italian wines. Their wine by the glass selection is evolving and usually includes some very cool esoteric wines by the glass. Just the other day I was there and was enjoying a glass of the Foradori Nosiola from Trentino–Alto Adige.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I deal with so many, about 30 currently. Some I work with more than others and those with diversified portfolios are more likely to capture my attention.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I’m a huge fan of Rhône varietals so I love to find different expressions throughout the world. One of my favourite wines to have guests try in the restaurant is a 2006 Syrah by Abadia Retuerta out of Sardón de Duero. I am always in search of 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. If I see them, I buy them up. I’m also a big fan of Chinon reds, but they are rare to find in the Singapore market.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
I had an opportunity to try a 1989 Chateau Margaux that was shipped from the winery that week. The condition of the wine could not have been anymore optimal. There was a sensor placed in the box so when the wine arrived, the device could be checked for any unusual temperature fluctuation. This was a few years back at the now closed restaurant, Santi. They had hosted a Margaux wine dinner and the sommelier was kind enough to let a few sommeliers from the surrounding restaurants give a few vintages a try afterwards. I couldn’t believe how fresh and youthful this wine was. Coming from growing up on California wine my whole career, this wine finally made me understand the hype about Bordeaux…it was simply perfection in a bottle.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I recently tasted with Telmo Rodriguez from Spain and of all his wines, the one that stood out above all the rest was a 2006 100% Grenache from Castilla y Leon called Pegaso. Rustic, yet full bodied, this wine was the package. A few years ago I remember being blown away by a twenty year old Vouvray while eating oysters at Blue Ribbon in New York. I have still been searching for a wine that could live up to that experience again.
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 think that Diamond Creek wines from Napa Valley deliver every time. They are silky, terroir driven wines from a microclimate in Napa Valley that allows these wines to age gracefully for decades. I consider Diamond Creek to be the equivalent premier cru classé of Napa Valley if such a classification system existed. And old vintages can be found relatively inexpensive, some going for the same price as current vintage.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I always believed that wines can be paired with food a few ways. The first is simply matching the body of a wine with the body of the dish: big steak with high alcohol/tannin wine. The next would be countering one another to create a balance: off dry wine with spicy food, or acidic wine with food that’s been sautéed or fried. You can match to a sauce, say when you want to match a red wine with a fish dish, doesn’t always work but certainly an option. The final approach is the adage “what grows together, goes together” as coined in Sally Schneider’s Improvisational cookbook. The justification behind this is to think 100 years ago when some small town in Italy was making wine, it wasn’t for export around the world…they made wine to go with dishes made from agriculture being grown in the same area.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Piedmont has to take the cake on this one. We were visiting there and we opted out of the GPS option when we rented the car in Milan. So needless to say we got lost when looking for our meeting point which was supposed to be in Nieve. We drove through Alba, Monferrato, Asti, parts of Barolo and Barbaresco, before finally reaching our meeting point. We had dinner at a small hotel – had to have 10 rooms in total. There were four of us in the whole place with a husband and wife cooking what was probably a six course meal with Veal being done in various ways. This was after a day of walking vineyards and seeing rows of Nebbiolo planted right next to rows of Moscato and Barbera. It was an epic 24 hours and one I’ll never forget.
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.
1996 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Riserva “Rabaja”
2007 Didier Daguenau Pouilly Fume “Silex”
2005 Raveneau “Montee De Tonnere” Chablis Premier Cru
1999 Harlan Red
2002 Francois Lamarche – La Grande Rue Grand Cru
1996 Billecart-Salmon “Cuvee Elisabeth Salmon” Brut Rose