Saturday, 29 June 2013

Dispelling myths and opening up the dark doors to a Sommelier's life.

This post has been a long time coming, I realise; and rather than posting up pictures of all the lovely wines I've been selling (this has, I think become rather monotonous) I thought I would instead write about what I actually DO.

A Sommelier in a restaurant plays a role that is equal parts host, problem solver, salesman, and odd-jobs man. A good Sommelier is not a Rockstar who flies in, talks about wine, drinks a little bit and then leaves. The best are the people who realise how a restaurant runs at a nuts and bolts level, and fit themselves into the equation. This means clearing plates, at times running food, re-setting tables and all the otherwise slightly boring things that no one particularly enjoys doing. You may be based in your section to sell wine, but you have a restaurant-wide focus, and if a job needs doing, you do it.

Behind the scenes, outside of service, the job entails extensive cellar management (this is the fancy term for lifting boxes, and organising things in straight lines) and spell-checking and error-checking documents enough to make your eyes blurry. Throw in a little budgeting and stock-taking and you have yourself a week of 55 plus hours in the easiest places to work in, 50 of which are on your feet, running.

The negatives of the job are obvious, so why do we do it? People who love Hospitality are addicts. There's definately an adrenaline component. Every service done right is like a night at the theatre and you're a performer. You work with your team and when you pull of the finale, it's a feeling like no other. As a Sommelier there are of course liquid incentives. The range of wine you get to try is huge, from the old and famous to the wacky, new and different.

So next time you hear the legend of the mysterious Rockstar Sommelier, dispell it immediately! Or, if you meet this rare creature yourself, tell him to find a new job, he's giving the rest of us a bad name!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Been a busy couple of weeks!

Been a very busy couple of weeks. Here are some of the wines I've sold recently! The last picture was a run I made last night, culminating in a fantastic 1999 Chateau d'Yquem. My favourites in the run were an outstanding 2005 Roux Corton-Charlamagne, a delicious 1996 Chateau Certan Pomerol, and of course the d'Yquem.

Just thought I should add a very quick side note that I went to visit the family a couple of weeks ago and dad was kind enough to pull out these delicious wines! The highlight for me was the Rioja (which I have a soft spot for). It was drinking at it's peak, with developed strawberry, cherry, leather, spice, vanilla notes. It was awesome. Apparently dad's also got big plans for the next visit. I thought I'd chuck in two of my own:

A 2000 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, which was a birthday present, and a 1996 Femme de Champagne from Duval Leroy. I'm thinking maybe if it's going to be just us drinking all these wines, maybe we should pace ourselves.......

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Chardonnay and excitement?

It is very rare that I find myself truly excited by an Australian Chardonnay. I try not to generalise about wines too much, and it may well be that I don't have enough experience with the Australian expressions across the board, but that big ripe style that fills the mouth, with a hit of oak etc. is not for me. Which is why I get so excited about wines by Gary and Nick Farr. By Farr and Farr Rising are labels by this father/son duo, and boy are their products good. Even the more powerful offerings are closer to Burgundy than Aus in style, with finesse, acidity, and structure taking the key role over big ole fruit and oakey vanilla. There's also some serious minerality that plays a large part in most of their wines. Their Pinot Noir is pretty spectacular too. So, at a recent visit to Brother Dan's House of Reflection (to choose a couple of wines to introduce my dad and stepmum to on their visit up in a couple of weeks), I decided to pick up a bottle of Chardonnay By Farr 2008, and Sangreal By Farr 2009, which is one of their Pinot Noirs. Hopefully they'll prove as good as the impressive Farr Rising 2009 Chardonnay which I'm drinking now (Halliday described this as grapefruit, white peach and melon are all fused together, oak a silken web around the fruit and gave it a 96). Watch below for an interview with Nick Farr (the son of the duo), who I had the chance to meet a month or so ago.

Monday, 6 August 2012

You don't sell it, you only smell it!

Jam packed week (seems to be becoming the norm). The two most exciting news titbits are as follows;

A 1985 Château Petrus (Pomerol) got sold at work; probably the most spectacularly famous bottle on the menu. Unfortunately, one of the other Sommeliers got to the table first, and "if you don't sell it, you only smell it". It did, however, smell very good. Ignore the Evil Johnny Walker. It wasn't part of the sale. That's just someone trying to be funny.

Secondly, in my running around to a million and one trade tastings, (one with Andrew Pirie, where I was able to taste base wines that go into his Tasmanian sparkling, a Sicilian masterclass, which was absolutely fantastic, and a Champagne masterclass held by Bibendum) I was lucky enough to taste some excellent wines, the highlights of which being some outstanding grower produced Champagnes. The key to understanding the movement of grower-producers that are introducing wines that, rather than reflecting a house style; which is produced consistently, year in, year out through winemaking techniques, and sometimes very green fruit (such as the Grand Marque Champagnes), reflect the key characteristics of the Terroir involved, and are produced with minimal intervention, and often little or no Dosage. These techniques seem to produce a very different style of wine. Most of the wines I tasted seemed to have an added level of complexity, and purity all at the same time. The mouth-feel seemed to be cleaner and less broad on the palate, and as the best of these wines warmed and lost their fizz, they only developed different layers of complexity, and did not seem to become flabby or disjointed. Perhaps Dosage is part of the reason Champagne is supposed to be served so cold? Also interestingly Robert Walters argued that when tasting Champagne, all preconceptions should go out the window and we should judge Champagne by the criteria we would apply to any fine wine. And apparently the fineness of the bead is not really an indicator of quality, but simply an indicator of gas pressure. The younger the wine, the larger the bead. This emphasis on Terroir-expressive wines relies on extremely high quality fruit and low yields, and because of this they are expensive wines to make.

My overall favourite wine was the Larmandier Bernier Champagne Rose de Saignee Brut 1er Cru - A rose Champagne made with the unorthodox (at lease in Champagne) method of skin contact for several days before being drawn off (Saignee means "to bleed" in French). This creates a wine which, while being extremely luxurious with it's expression of red fruit and spice, has the structure to drive it through the palate, and is acidic enough to be very fresh. The length is also quite profound, and it is fantastically perfumed. I'm told critics have likened it to a young, but extremely high quality Grand Cru Burgundy, only with bubbles, and I can see why, it's absolutely enchanting.

Other wines to look out for are anything from Egly Ouriet, and also the Larmandier Bernier Champagne Terre de Vertus 1er Cru Non Dose NV, and the Champagne Agrapart Mineral Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Grand Cru 2004, both of which we tasted against a blind wine which turned out to be Cristal 2004, and they held their own if not surpassed that wine.

 As usual I'll finish off my week with some liquid research. If anyone's had a crack at this one, let me know how it is.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Wine whirlwind!

I have had a hectic few weeks as I've been getting to grips with the real nitty gritty of working as a sommelier. Although this may have been hard work, it's also been great fun. It's also given me a chance to get to grips a bit with my customer base. While there are definitely people out there who will want the wines they are accustomed to (which is fine, a sale's a sale), there are also people who want to have a little bit more of a chat, and find something out of the ordinary, or people who want to go for something Old World (which I'm discovering is a bit more rare). Anyhow, I'm getting the chance to sell a few fantastic wines, and here is a look at some of them:

Most of these wines quite happily speak for themselves, and while there were all spectacular, my favourites may not quite be the ones you expect. The Pedro Ximenez is absolutely awesome, and I'm also a really big fan of Ruinart (France's oldest champagne house), the Dr Loosen Beerenauslese blew me away (probably unsurprisingly), but the top two on the list are the Dead Arm by D'arenberg and the Shiraz by Farr. Gary Farr is a winemaker in Geelong (started off at Bannockburn in 1978), he's done 12 vintages in Burgundy (I think) and various others around the world, and in 2003 he was voted equal 4th best living winemaker in the world by his peers. This Shiraz is just cracking. The Dead Arm was a highlight for sentimental reasons. I've mentioned before that the 2002 was the vintage that sparked my interest in wine, and I've been trying to sell this 2001for a while, I sold out our stock of 6 bottles in one week. It's still drinking flawlessly, and it was a very nostalgic experience for me to open it.

I decided to finish off my week with a little liquid research at home, which was also highly enjoyable. Notes to come. Watch this space.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The best job in the world?

If I could pick one unbelievable perk about being a working Sommelier, it would be this; the opportunity to taste wines that I would never ordinarily be able to afford. On my second night of work we sold an adaptation of the tasting menu with customised matching wines:

While all the wines were ever so slightly spectacular, the highlight of my evening was the Tyrells Vat 1 1999 Hunter Valley Semillon. Fandabidosey.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Great demonstration of good palate

A visit to the parents the other day, and a conversation about one of my favourite restaurants in Brisbane; Ortiga, reminded me about a fantastic little feature that they included on their drinks menu, The Gin and Tonic Menu. The basic principle being the use of various garnishes and accompaniments designed to bring out characteristics in the gins used. Take a look:

50 ml Shot with Fever tree tonic water

Martin miller’s, mint tea leaves, Fresh mint leaves

Hendrick’s, cucumber, kaffir lime leaves

Tanqueray 10, manzanilla sherry, green apple, lime twist

Tanqueray, basil leaves, morello cherry

Lark Pepperberry Gin, star anise, strawberries, grapefruit twist

Xoriguer, olive Brine, olive, maple syrup, lemon twist

Bombay sapphire, ginger, cinnamon, orange twist

NO. 3 GT
London nº3, mint leaves, cucumber, lemon twist

Pretty awesome idea I think. Also take a look at a couple of the dishes we had when my partner took me there for my birthday:

We both shared a couple of tapas style entrées, this pork dish was the stand out for me. 

My partner Laura had the Churro (of course she would go for the chocolate).

And I was completely gobsmacked by this dessert, a pumpkin mousse in a mille-feuille style pastry that was so out of this world that even the chocoholic sitting opposite me agreed she preferred it to her own desert. I destroyed it in short order with the spoon in my right hand, while using the fork to defend it from other attackers....