Confessions of a Sommelier

Lonely Planet - Paris, Ile-de-FranceLonely Planet - Paris, Ile-de-France
Lonely Planet

Everything you've always wanted to ask a wine expert.

Guillem Kerambrun, beverage director of the New York City bistro Benoit by Alain Ducasse, uncorks wine-ordering tips, secrets of the trade, and advice for nabbing yourself a bargain bottle.

Q: How did you first get interested in wine?

A: Even as a little boy in France, I was paying atten­tion to beverages. There was an orange juice I didn't like and another I did like because it was balanced, not too sweet, and had some pulp. My father, a true epicurean, instilled my love of wine. When I was 15, a profes­sor at hotel management school helped me hone my knowledge and skills.

Q: What are the perfect food and wine pairings?

A: There is no perfect food and wine pairing. Some diners like to accentuate the acidi­ty or bitterness, while others like to balance the two. The role of the sommelier is to find the bottle that will speak to everyone's palate at the table. We have to cap­ture the moment while taking everyone's tastes and moods into account because, just like coffee, we don't always want the same thing.

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Q: What great wines do you drink at home?

A: I don't regularly drink premier grands cru classés, but instead I try to select something new at my local wine shop. It's part of continuing to learn.

Q: What are some unexpected challenges in your line of work?

A: When I'm invit­ed to a private dinner, the hosts are sometimes overly stressed about whether the wines they are pouring will impress me. I always let them know that I'm not always drink­ing wine as a profession­al. I sometimes like to dis­connect and enjoy wine in a leisurely manner.

Q: Some people are very nervous about ordering wine. Any tips?

A: People with lim­ited wine knowl­edge can start by telling me what they like to drink at home, and their price range. Anoth­er factor is whether the context of the meal is to impress, with an unbeat­able Bordeaux like Pessac-Léognan or Pierre Seillan's Vérité Sonoma wines, or in leisure mode with friends looking to discover small "star" wines like a Riesling from the Finger Lakes or a Provençal rosé.

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Q: Do you have a favorite cheap wine?

A: One always compares the quality of the drinking experience to the price. I won't name names for fear that my supplier will increase prices with the next vintage, but there are some affordable and superb côtes du rhône wines that I'm really enjoying, one of which I will offer by the glass at Benoit next month.

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