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.
Jesus M. Evangelista III, CS, California, United States
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
A few months ago, I went to a restaurant called Pelican Grill in Newport Beach. The food is not the most avant-garde, but the flavours were very clean and incredibly focused. The character of the restaurant shined through every bite. As a floor sommelier and food service professional, I like to watch the restaurant machinery at work, how well the team gels and gets the job done. Every restaurant has its flaws and its strengths, very seldom are restaurants flawless…but I believe every one of those details are what gives a restaurant its character.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
I’ll have to go back to Pelican Grill, where the service was absolutely superb. Everyone from the valet to the sommelier, server and bussers were all friendly and efficient. During each visit, they were all invisible when they needed to be and had perfect table presence when required. Their wine list is good, adequate selections and fairly priced. Whenever I dine out, I take into account the character of the restaurant and its surroundings to judge their selections on what is reasonable for them to carry. Pelican Grill has an excellent price/quality ratio and many options for its various dishes.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
I do my best to remember every meal I have, it helps with the job. I don’t make my living as a food/wine critic, so I just try to relax, enjoy the meal and learn anything I can from every visit. I do remember that I am kind of the new-kid-on-the-block, so there’s always something to be picked up.
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
Not really, I try to visit a variety of places on those rare occasions that I get an evening off…so I don’t really visit any one place with enough regularity.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
I do cook at home quite often. There is no single dish or style that I have really ‘mastered’, but I do experiment a lot. I actually dubbed my house the “Cogswell Test Kitchen”, named after the street my house is on. I try a variety of ingredients and techniques to achieve new and interesting flavours and textures to match the wine or cocktail I feel like having. Sometimes it works, other times it misses completely.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Is it bad form to name my own? I frequent other wine bars in the area to keep an eye on what others are doing, but I wouldn’t really consider any my ‘favourite’.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
I have many wine merchants and vendors because of the way that I have structured my purchasing. I very seldom buy the same wine twice, so my vendors are always on their toes to keep me interested with that next new thing.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
I recently passed my Court of Masters Sommeliers CS Exam and bought a bottle of 1995 Palmes d’Or to celebrate. After the first sip, I just fell back in love with aged Champagne- Full bodied and toasty with luscious butterscotch, toffee and brioche, with only a whiff of tiny bubbles. Beautiful, and all I want to drink now.
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
I remember the first wine that really moved me was an older Rioja, I don’t remember the exact vintage or specifics…as it was well before my career in wine began. I do, however, remember the rich flavour and depth that it had. It was unlike any other beverage I had ever tried. It was meaty and waxy overall, yet slightly fruity but bold. Flavours lingered on the palate and were likely more than I could comprehend at the time…but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I enjoyed it immensely.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I’m learning new things every day. As I prepare for my exam, and as my wine vendors bring me new wines from various regions, I’m always finding something fun and interesting. I am a huge fan of Loire and Rhone whites, so it’s always fun for me to explore the lesser regions to find something that’s both affordable and interesting.
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)
One of my favourite styles of wine is sparkling and I have the uncanny ability to drink Champagne any time of the day…for any occasion. We all know that Champagne can weigh a little heavy on the wallet after a while, so it’s fun for me to experiment in other sparkling wine producing regions, especially within France. I’m a huge fan of Cremant d’ Alsace, Cremant d’ Bourgogne and Blanquette De Limoux. Matter of fact, I buy a certain Cremant De Limoux from my local vendor by the case for my personal use.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I recently enjoyed the 2004 Bollinger La Grand Annee with a grilled Chilean sea bass that was served on a bed of broken forbidden rice floating atop a coconut milk sauce.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Being still very new to this world, I have only visited a few AVAs in California, therefore I would have to predictably admit that Napa Valley has been one of my favourite regions to taste and eat.
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 select a series of wines that are diverse enough to showcase the sheer variety of styles available from wines around the world. Wines that are just interesting enough to be different but not off-putting to novice wine drinkers. I would also choose varietals, regions and/or styles that are a little off the beaten path.
Dry Riesling from Mosel, Germany (Dry)
Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (Zippy minerality)
Vouvray (Demi Sec), France (Lush, sweet)
Gigondas, Rhone, France (Juicy, aromatic)
Pinotage, Capetown, South Africa (Meaty)
Carmenere, Las Altas, Chile (Herbaceous and earthy)