Today, energetic members of the species may be young and female, and some of the most accomplished hail from America, Australia and even Britain. Jason McAuliffe's "diamond geezer" personality was a factor in helping Chez Bruce in Wandsworth become London's favourite restaurant in a recent poll. The modern sommelier is not just a cork-sniffer but will offer an eclectic individual list, expand the selection of wines by the glass and, above all, encourage diners to turn off the cabernet and chardonnay highway and explore the road less travelled of unoaked and lesser-known grape varieties.
Proof that the sommelier can change its spots comes in the form of two new books out this month by young turks of the trade, one Australian, the other French. Matt Skinner (pictured, above right) from Melbourne, who was invited by Jamie Oliver to head up the wine at Fifteen, is truly a chip off Jamie's chopping block. Jamie himself describes Skinner as "young, vibrant and as in love with food and wine as he is with life, skateboards and surfing".
Skinner is the archetypal Aussie bloke, and Thirsty Work (£17.99, Mitchell Beazley), published this week, reflects his happy-go-lucky laddish stance as a wine book for the "new generation of young, hip wine drinkers". So grapes "rock" and "love to get high", but we're "talking altitude, man". But he's also down to earth and can make serious points without sounding too serious. Language and tone are important tools in weening young drinkers off the Bacardi Breezers and Smirnoff Ices of this world, and if someone is going to get my 19-year-old son and his ilk across Jacob's Creek and beyond, Skinner has the knack.
As he points out, a little knowledge and willingness to move outside the comfort zone can arm you with confidence to realise that "there's more to life than house wine, chardonnay is not evil, scores aren't important, screwcaps don't mean cheap, and drinking organic wine won't necessarily save you from a hangover". Thanks to the immediacy of Chris Terry's vivid images, you can't help but be drawn to this refreshing book.
Where Matt Skinner relates, Vincent Gasnier, in Drinks (£30, Dorling Kindersley), informs. Where Skinner is selective, Gasnier, at 511 pages, is compendious. The Frenchman describes his book as "friendly and accessible", then explains you're in for "descriptions of hundreds of wines, beers, spirits, cocktails and liqueurs from all over the world".
To be fair, the master sommelier displays the breadth of knowledge of a walking, talking, drinking encyclopedia. If I want to know the finer points of mou tai chiew and chicoutai, of delirium tremens and "saison de silly", I can fill in the gaping black holes in my knowledge of spirits and beers here. But his undoubted passion and knowledge are deflated by a déjà vu image fest of labels, bottles, swirling glasses, small print, pieces of fruit and could-be-anywhere vineyards. Drinks (which would more aptly be titled the Sommelier and Bartender's Handbook) is one for delving into.Reuse content