For more than two decades, Sebastien Allano has honed his skills—and his nose—as an expert sommelier at fabled fine dining institutions from Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in the UK, to Le Daniel and Le Bernardin in New York. Prior to joining Gourmet Dining Group in 2017, which counts Arbor, Épure and, most recently, Ami and Wood Ear, a French restaurant and whisky-centric bar duo among its offering, he spent 10 years at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, overseeing the wine programmes and leading the team of sommeliers at all of the hotel’s outlets including Caprice and Lung King Heen. Here, he shares some of his top pours from a life of wine that began at the age of just 14 when he enrolled at hotel school.
An early (in your career) wine that made you go ‘Wow! (I want to be a somm)’
It was a Coteaux du Layon (a sweet wine made from chenin blanc). I was young at the time and was not familiar with all types of alcohol—and it was a revelation. It was a sweet wine that kids can easily get used to, but I could also tell there was much more going on in terms of aromas and layers on the palate. After getting the answers to my questions, I realised that it was not just a “beverage”, but truly a culture.
Most memorable pour
Mouton Rothschild 1945. When opening this magnum at Épure, it was not only something rare but a part of history. For a week, it made me think of my grandfather’s stories, not to mention that the wine was naturally showing a perfect condition and balance.
Sun, sea and …
Riesling, a great dry German riesling will deliver instant olfactory pleasure with constant evolution (even if it is a bit windy) and a crispy taste will quench your thirst. (I always avoid red wines with dry tannins when it is sunny.)
What you wish a customer would order (so you can taste it—for taint, of course)
I have to admit that I have been a spoiled sommelier over the last few years (as many Hong Kong sommeliers know, the wine scene is amazing here). I still have to learn so much on what I am opening every day that I couldn’t ask for more, and I wish young sommeliers could have this opportunity too.
What you love to recommend to guests
I always hope to choose something they will enjoy. When they share a glass with me, I always enjoy exchanging insights about the wine as it also gives me the opportunity to learn about the wine itself (you will be surprised to see how many guests know specific wines in detail) or to understand the perception of it from a different point view.
Best from your ‘by-the-glass' list
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St-Jacques Domaine Sylvie Esmonin. A down to earth winemaker and true person who speaks without filter. All adjectives can be transposed onto her wines, and the specific plot of “Clos Saint Jacques” is almost literally her garden that is next to the winery. It delivers such a special character in between density and elegance that matches our Pigeon dish at Arbor perfectly.
A special something
The thing which is special about wine is the “diversity”. You can taste, analyse, enjoy all life long, and you can still be amazed every single day. It is also a great opportunity to meet people from different cultures with a common denominator of sharing in every aspect.
Bottle to bring to a dinner party
Sometimes people will expect something special from a sommelier. I either play it safe by picking a renowned winemaker or take the opportunity to try and discover something new with the other guests.
What’s in your cellar?
Bottles for every occasion—from the everyday wine to more sophisticated bottles. Many countries and grape varieties are represented in our cellar.
A Madeira Terrantez 1795 from Barbeito, which will ensure I still feel young.
If not wine, then what?
Whisky. Tasting so many whiskies for the opening of Ami / Wood Ear made me get into it and I am quite surprised to admit that I started reading books on a subject other than wine.