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.
Jasper Kok, The Netherlands/Holland
Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?
The Sanchaya Estate, Bintan, Indonesia – Pre opening. At the Sanchaya we are pioneering a unique wine program in Indonesia; part of our extensive F&B offer we are setting up a library/salon including wine room where we feature over 400 references. The aim is to have unique artisanal wines in every price category. In this wine room we will host interactive wine tasting session including where guest can choose from themed options but also bespoke tasting are offered in line with guest individual preference. These fun, learning and inspiring tastings can bind guest resulting in friendship and communal passion for wine is what I have experienced in the past. I think we are doing something very unique at the Sanchaya just 40 minutes by ferry out of Singapore, wine, premium Sake, boutique spirits, bespoke cocktails and other beverages will enhance our contemporary south-east Asian influenced bistronomic cuisine. Daily changing wine and food parings, selection of 10 wines by the glass and the unique selection creating a fantastic wine experiences for our Estate guests.
One tough place to be a Sommelier!
Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?
The Tippling Club in Singapore was fun, they have a good mixologist for aperitifs and the chef prepares some great contemporary dished from a “no menu” concept. You are asked about possible dietary requirement and the set menu is served, very nice and great dishes are showcased. Wine list needs a little lift though.
Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?
Ciel Bleu, Okura Hotel, Amsterdam, superb degustation menu with wine pairing, I was intrigued tasting blind (from a black glass) an oaked white Merlot from Ticino Switzerland. The service is a well-oiled machine with passionate people. Two years back in Maldives I attended a master class form Andoni Aduritz and his team of Mugaritz, San Sebastian*** (No. 4 best restaurant of the world) where chef Andoni told me that perfection only can be achieved if the kitchen, service, stewarding team and suppliers act as one, a great learning moment that I will support wherever I can. I also had the honour doing the wine pairing for chef Andoni’s tasting menu that night.
Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?
Many places but to pick one; Old school and classic, La Tour d’Argent in Paris, dining table viewing the rear of the Notre Dame and the Sacré-Coeur at the back drop, it was here that I had the classic pressed duck “a la orange” with delicate red Bourgogne, a paring that no longer stands today with its sweetness of the sauce but still a true French classic from the days of old and not to forget the restaurant amazing wine cellars. It was an amazing experience as the French agricultural chamber of commerce selected sommeliers for a scholarship; I was selected as top three performer of that year’s graduation from the Academy of Gastronomy in Holland (Academie voor Gastronomie, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands).
Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?
More I like to explore local home style cooked food, a street corner restaurant in Bangkok “Suta’s Place” or a lively trattoria in Piedmont where “Carne Cruda all’Albese” is served with Barbera d’Alba or homemade terrine de foie gras in the Dordogne part of the “menu du jour” preferably as the Sunday lunch with a demi Monbazillac. Also I was recently introduced by my Singaporean friend to the “Imperial treasure super Peking duck” at Paragon where table served crispy Peking duck with XO sauce is a real treat, a great dish that pairs with Pinot Noir from slightly warmer areas such as Pinot Noir By Farr “Sangreal” or Fromm Winery Pinot Noir, Marlborough.
Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?
Yes, one of my passions, currently into pasta’s and risotto’s but also love to explore South East Asian cuisine, in particular Isaan food (North-East Thai) with its rich zesty spicy salads, not that wine friendly you would say but if the chilli component is moderate amazing pairings can be done, vinous Riesling “Grafenreben” 2009 from Marc Tempé, Alsace or the amazing vibrant field blend “La Grand Blanc” 2010 from Henri Milan, Beau-en-Provence, and not to forget the gems from Nicolas Joly in Savannières, the structure and flavour intensity plus a positive well balanced lift of alcohol works if richer vintages such as ’05 and ’09 are paired. But I can’t skip the joy I had recently with my brother (who is a big gourmand by the way) over Christmas with both of preparing a brown hare we managed to get from a local hunter (distend relative), different parts we braised in to a delicious hare stew and the delicate loin fillets we larded and pan sired while sipping away a 2007 Puligny-Montrachet, Domaine Louis Carillion, a cooler vintage but what a fine structure with mineral notes and citrus such as sour grapefruit and lemon. Our home cooked game stew & tender hare fillets were paired with a 2001 Barolo Percristina from Domenico Clerico decanted one our prior.
Do you have a favourite wine bar?
Recently visited “Napoleon” wine bar in Singapore, very nice place with affordable wines by the glass, they have some delicious, mainly French wines to discover from a selection preserved under nitrogen.
Do you have a favourite wine merchant?
Dynamic Vines in the UK, solely listing “natural” wines where unique finds can be found and my good friend Stefano Barbieri who pioneered importing fine wines into the Maldives resort scene. He always supported and invested in wine training programs for the F&B teams and took me on two week wine tours twice traveling from Avelino in Campagnia across the Italian (wine) boot to Barbarecso in Piedmont.
What wine are you drinking at the moment?
Good German wines, Wittmann Riesling from Rheinhessen, Von Bassermann-Jordan from Pfalz and on special occasions the 2010 Spätburgunder (Pinot Madeleine) Walporzheimer “Kräuterberg” GG from Mayer-Näkel in the Ahr, have tasted this wine 10 years old and what an amazing Pinot this is at the boundary where quality wines can be produced but because of its steep bleu-slate soils Germans greatest red wines can be achieved here. I have a few in my wine cellar home, patience required…
Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?
Els Jelipins, Vi de Taula from Penedès Superior. A wine mainly made of a very old indigenous red grape variety called Sumoll, which almost totally disappeared from Spain, but also some Garnacha is the second part of the blend. Els Jelipins cultivates small patches of old vine Sumoll individually and crafts this into an almost spiritual wine, must be carefully decanted but so vibrant and lively, ever evolving with no over extraction but sheer refined aromas reminiscent of red sour cherries, earthy minerality and sweet spice.
Secondly the 2012 barrel samples of Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Amoureuses” Domaine de la Pousse d’Or I tasted last year, together with 2011 and 2013 a difficult vintage in terms of volume but in quality absolutely mesmerising, unfortunately only 5 barrels made and none for sale ex-Domaine.
What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?
I am intrigued by wines from marginal climates such as Valtellina, beautiful wines from Ar.Pe.Pe for example, their Sassella Valtellina Superiore and the Inferno Valtellina are amazing, both from Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo adapted to the diurnal mountainous climate). Also tasted recently some very interesting Nerello Mascalese from Mount Etna on Sicily, “Magma Rosso” from Frank Cornelissen and “Passopisciaro” from Andrea Franchetti are two of my favourites.
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)
My friend Andert Josef in Burgenland makes a delicious range of noble sweet wines on the shores of the Neusiedler See. His half bottle Eiswein Cuvée 2010 (field blend) tastes of zesty pomelo rind marmalade while showing a very crisp acidity, delicious and unbelievable well priced. His BA, Ausbruch and TBA are also bargains even still having some available from the mid ’80. I have imported his wines into Maldives and am planning to do the same for Singapore and Bintan.
Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.
I learned wine and food paring at the Acadamy of Garstronomie back home in my native Holland, it is considered the institute for the top-end gastronomy and tought me many things, a great academic approach but I do love the classics to, Bifstecca a la Fiorentina, rare and roasted on oak-charcoal with a superb Chianti Classico “Vigneto Bellavista” Castello di Ama 1997, or Brunello from Il Paradiso di Manfreddi 2004. Also recently I experienced a great treat; Tuna Tataki with a ginger soy lime vinaigrette paired with Champagne Billecart-Salmon “Le Clos Saint-Hilaire” Blanc de Noirs 1996, 100% Pinot Noir from a single vineyard Mareuil-sur-Ay. Red berry fruit combined with structure and vinosity, I have experienced great pairing with lighter Pinot Noir and fresh tuna dishes.
What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?
Can’t help it but Bourgogne, possibly the fact that one will never fully understand the complexity of the region and that once it’s good it’s really good but once bad, it is a great disappointment, possibly also because I worked as a harvester three consecutive years in Régnié, Mercurey and Volnay when I started studding wine. Country style daily menu’s with only Burgundies on the wine list. Dramatic scenery is possibly what I have seen in New Zealand’s south island and Pemberton Western Australia.
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.
Champagne Fleury Blanc de Noirs NV, Côte de Bar, France
100% Pinot Noir with a very pale salmon pink hue; raspberries, vinous champagne with a creamy soft texture.
Clos de la Bergerie 2005, Nicolas Joly, Savannières, Loire Valley, France
Quince paste, marmalade and ripe pear including apple cider notes, very expressive. Bit of air through decanting opens up this unique luscious wine.
Vin Jaune, Domaine de la Tournelle 2003, Jura, France
Paired with Comté or 2 years old Beemster cheese. Needs introduction to guests, not everybody’s cup of tea, but definitely a gastronomic experience, I serve this after main as one cheese course or on a quiet moment in the evening, rustic sour dough, aged Beemster cheese and a glass of this very special wine matured 7 years under a veil of “flor” (yeast).
Volnay 1er Cru “Clos des 60 Ouvrees, Domaine de la Pousse d’Or 2008, Burgundy, France
Already quite open compared to the ’07 elegance and refinement combined showing violet en red cherry notes.
Sagrantino di Montefalco, Moretti Omero 2005, Umbria, Italy
Black plums, clove spice and vanilla notes followed by a firm structure, wine you can chew on, robust and a bit rustic, for roasts and game dishes.
Grand Cuvée Beerenauslese, Josef Andert 2010 Neusiedlersee, Austria
Passion fruit, grape fruit rind, rich and creamy with a zesty acidity keeping this wine so attractive of its primary fruit aromas.