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What Does a Sommelier Drink – At Home

By Guan Tan

Felicia Yap
 
Black Coffee

"Every single day, two at least before leaving home." There are many sommeliers who think they should avoid coffee. Chatte thinks otherwise, "You drink coffee, you drink a bit of water, you wait a bit, you do something. It's fine. After, some people [grow] used to it and can adjust their palates to it."

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Felicia Yap
 
Schweppes Soda Water

"This is really helping me a lot... Some afternoons when I'm thirsty [and] need something to freshen up." Chatte opts for Schweppes only and no other brands because "they have less bubbles. And they go out very, very quickly."

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Wines

Chatte drinks wine only in the evenings when she has company. "Best not to drink by yourself... I think when you drink by yourself it's the start of a problem." As her colleagues giggled at her comment, she grew serious. "My teacher told us – he mentioned this very seriously. 'Don't drink by yourself.' Wine is supposed to be, and I really believe in this, shared."

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Felicia Yap
 
Tiger Beer with Ice

In France, people add syrup to their beers – Grenadine. "Peach syrup is very popular. When you're in England, they pour the beer into milk. And Singapore you've got ice." She drops three cubes of ice into the cup before pouring beer in. "It takes longer because the ice makes more froth... I want to put [ice] first because I think it's rolling and making the beer cooler, quicker."

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Felicia Yap
 
Sake

Chatte loves sake and her current bottle was gifted from a friend. Some may find sake harsher than wine. But to her, it's acceptable for sommeliers to drink sake. "Sake can be 15, 16, 17 percent alcohol but a very intense wine can be 14 and 15 percent. Not much of a difference."

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Felicia Yap
 
Spirits

"A sommelier can try spirits as well and it's just the way that you are trying it [that matters]. When you smell spirits, you smell it a bit [further] away. If you smell it too close, it can kind of burn you." Chatte recommends to start catching whiffs of the spirit from far, later moving in closer. Illustrations by Felicia Yap.

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Céline Chatte is a regular lady. She stands slightly over 1.65 metres tall and has wavy blonde hair. But Chatte has a job few have. She's the head sommelier at local Michelin-starred restaurant, JAAN

The 30-year-old's affinity for wine began at birth. She was born in Rhône Valley, southern France. When she left school, Chatte was trained to become a sommelier. When she moved to England, she quickly realised that her knowledge of French wines was irrelevant. The Brits were drinking Italian wine too. "I was just like, 'I have no idea!'" She studied again, unplugged herself and settled down in Australia to study wines again. 

"Wine is something that is living, it will never die." She adds, "You never know everything about wine. The one who says he knows everything is a liar!" 

Crucial to a sommelier's ever-increasing repertoire of wines is a keen palate. In sommelier school, Chatte was trained in very traditional ways, "I didn't even taste wine for the first month. We were doing this at school – smelling time to time, water sweet, water salty, water neutral. Then, water sweet plus, plus." Now that she's graduated and working as a head sommelier, Chatte has a tasting kit at work. In the tasting 'book' are 50 over distinct scents common in wines – flower varietals, citrus fruit derivatives and different bread scents amongst them. 

Every scent is familiar, yet strikingly different to Chatte. She's able to put a finger to scents that come her way. And that's only because she invests time in keeping her palate pristine. 

An hour prior to lunch or dinner service, Chatte would already have put a brake on any coffee and strong-scented foods. "One hour before is okay. It depends if you want to do a proper tasting or going to work... Maybe you're a bit careful of the timing of your drink, I would say." 

If not, she is free with her diet. Every morning she takes two coffees without milk. But that's not the case for all sommeliers. Some avoid coffee and milk for their overwhelming aromas and density. "Some people will say, 'You cannot drink coffee' and stuff like this. Of course, you don't drink a coffee and taste wine straight after." 

To Chatte, it's all about giving your palate ample time to recover. Likewise, for smoking, mouthwash and brushing teeth. "You don't brush teeth and taste wine. It's the same story. Brushing your teeth really affects your palate." And yet, sommeliers aren't excused from brushing their teeth twice a day.

While at work, she keeps her palate clean with bread and sparkling water. "You drink a bit of water, eat a bit of bread and it is finished. Very often in tastings, there will be bread baskets. It's to give you a break between two wines, or when switching from white to red... For me, this is a resting time. You eat a bit of bread to rest your palate, to think. It's nearly kind of washing it." 

She adds that it all boils down to the palate's ability to adapt and recover rapidly. But this practice isn't merely confined to sommeliers but customers too. 

"I was thinking of doing a masterclass for guests. Bring six or seven [tasting notes] for people to understand. Many people smell the wine but don't know what to say." Chatte is thinking of holding the class soon. She adds, "I want my job to make people love wine more than they [already] like wine."