Just like I said before more and more women are entering the sommelier world and we should be very happy about that. Nevertheless like in every branch there are set values, in the world of sommeliers this would be Michèle Chantôme who has dedicated her whole life to wine/sommeliers! More in a back-ground/supporting position, so not actually working in a restaurant or hotel... but those are very important as well I would say!! She is one of the reasons many woman want to start in the sommelier world...
For many years Michèle was working as a freelance PR consultant and was in charge of the Ruinart Challenge in 1988 and has been the motor behind the contest until 2006. She also did the PR for Moët & Chandon, Mercier, Mandarine impériale, Heineken and Hennessy. Today Michèle enjoys of a well deserved rest in Morocco where she lives with her husband.... although 'rest' is a big word as she still works as secretary, PR manager and part of the Marketing committee for the ASI (that are 3 full time jobs for 1person) and travels the world to support young sommeliers.
As she has always worked more in the back ground and as supporter of sommeliers and organizing international contests I must admit that I very curious finding out what she would be responding to the 10 questions that get a sneak-peek in the world of sommeliers
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
All the wine regions are interesting to work with. Of course some are more attractive, famous or organized than others. But it also depends on the period. Right now, apart from Morocco of course, I am very much working with Argentina and I can tell you that Wines of Argentina are doing a great job with the association of sommeliers of Argentina and also with several sommeliers from other countries.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
The main thing for me is not only to be very knowledgeable but to know how to act with his/her clients, with the winemakers, to be the ultimate link between the winery and the client and chose and explain the right wine avoiding giving lessons, but being very diplomatic and making his/her client dream and have a great time. Of course, other qualities are required.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Yes, definitely ! When you see how the chefs are considered… But just think of good gastronomy matched with the wrong wines ! It’s so great to have the right wine with good food. The sommelier is not only advising the best matching of food and wine but he is also the one in charge of the cellar and generally provides the biggest income in a restaurant when the purchases and stock are well managed. Business-wise, the sommelier is an important asset.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
I discovered wine when I was a child. My grandfather used to take me to his cellar and give me a sip of a very dry and citrussy sauvignon blanc. I still reminder the flavor of that wine. But then, it is when I started organizing competitions for sommeliers, in the early eighties, that I definitely fell in love with wine. I did like wine but did not know much about it at that time. I used to chose my wine by instinct but learning more about the world of wine made me enjoy it much more.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
It should be a lady… Unfortunately, there are more men than women in this world of wine and sommellerie. So, I must say that I am very privileged to be friends with the best sommeliers in the world. I would not be fair to name one of them as each of them influenced me in his own way. They are my family and mentors as a whole.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
Sometimes, the choice is obvious. But if I need to think about it, I take into consideration the ingredients of the dish and the way it was cooked or prepared and I try to find opposite or similar characters in the wine, or beer, to match it. It can be fruitiness or sweetness to balance acidity, or a big full bodied wine with red or black fruit flavors to support a big meat dish. It is very subjective. But I know my favorites… And it also depends on the temperature of service, the period of the year and the people sharing the meal with you !
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Every wine region is worth visiting because it is the best way to memorize the places, the vines, the wines. Some are very special like Santorini with the ampelia system, or Jerez with the solera, Georgia with the Qvevris, Champagne with the Crayères, South Africa where they need to protect the grapes from the monkeys, Salta in Argentina where the highest vineyard, Altura Maxima, is at 3110m… So many regions are appealling ! But why not come to Morocco where we have now very good wines with very good terroirs and great winemakers. They are worth discovering !
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
Some impossible wine ! I mean, I am so privileged to taste so great wines, the only unreachable wine would be for me a wine from the ancient times which probably was a kind of nectar or the wine served for the « Noces de Cana » for instance… Just a dream !
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
I never went to a hotel management school. Sorry !
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
For me a great wine experience should be a wine that does not need any food to be enjoyed ! I would go for a great champagne like Dom Ruinart Rosé or a fantastic dessert wine like Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia…