What, exactly, is in a glass of wine? An easy question, you might think. For most, the answer is clear: grapes and happiness. More might recall the yeast that is used to boost the fermentation process that yields the alcohol, while others might remind you of the sugars that are sometimes added to help the yeast along. Many may think of the passion, patience and prayers that go into creating every single bottle of white, red or rosé. But for one select group of people, the make up of a glass of wine is a far more complex thing. For sommeliers, their livelihood depends on analysing and describing the most complex drink on the planet, and then recommending the right one to a person (even more complex!) whom they may have only just met.
And the role is an important one. “Wine is the intellectual part of the meal”, said celebrated French novelist Alexander Dumas. This is because, like a seasoning, the right wine will improve the food, and the right food will bring out all the flavours in the wine. The relationship is symbiotic, so that a carefully chosen wine can transform a good meal into a great one, and a great meal into heaven; which is why getting it right is so important.
So what are those other things in a glass of wine that were not mentioned above? Most of it is water, from the grapes, and alcohol, from the grapes and the yeast. A tiny proportion though is made up of hundreds of volatile compounds, minerals, phenols, acids, esters, glycols and other organic chemicals, which combine to imbue each wine with its own unique aroma, texture, acidity and taste. This is where all the magic happens.
And these combinations do not express themselves on a single plane. While a standard bottle of good-enough wine really only has one note, which may modulate with exposure to the air, a truly good bottle of wine is a chorus with a much wider repertoire, with layers of tastes that reveal themselves as they linger on the palate, and with each new sip from the glass.
Un Sokmean has been a part of the Topaz team for 10 years, and his job is to help you get the most out of each meal by choosing the perfect wine to go with it. The perfect wine for the meal and the perfect wine for you. He evolved into the role after working behind the bar for a few years, where he first started to learn about wine under the guidance of Hak Seyha, the Cambodia Sommelier Champion in 2014.
It didn’t take Sokmean long to follow in his mentor’s footsteps. After studying hard, he too took away the top prize in 2016. He was thrilled to win the opportunity — thanks to The Warehouse — to spend two weeks in France, visiting vineyards, tasting wines and deepening his knowledge on a journey that took him from Paris to Bordeaux, Languedoc and the Rhône valley.
“It is incredibly important to match the meal with the wine. The wine is there to cut through the richness of the food and prepare the palate for the next mouthful,” he says. “Good food can destroy the taste of the wine or the wine would kill the taste of the food if they are not correctly paired”.
However, it is not simply a question of tucking into a bottle of whatever it is you happen to like while sharing a drink with friends. In general, wines defined by riper fruits, softer tannins, higher alcohol and lower acidity are great drinking wines, but are not as successful with food. On the other hand, cool-climate wines, with more restrained flavours and higher acidity may not be so much fun to drink on their own, but burst into life when enjoyed with food.
Sokmean will work with you to ensure that this compatibility is maximised for each course of your meal if you wish, or to help you choose the best bottle for the table for the whole occasion.
The Topaz wine list has nearly 150 references selected from the great wine-producing countries in the world: Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Chile, Spain, Portugal, the USA and, of course, France. And while it is, of course, possible to splurge, we are proud that our wines are accessibly priced.
Though if you’re feeling too shy to ask, his personal recommendation would be one from St. Emilion, preferably the Patris Querre. “The grape is well balanced, neither too strong nor too weak,” he says. “Chateau Patris Querre is 100% merlot, not too acid and with light fruits. It is Patris Querre easy to pair with most dishes as it is so well balanced and smooth”.
But do keep an eye out for Sokmean on your next visit, and do not hesitate to ask for his advice. He loves his job!