Judging from a brief snapshot of her career history, it’s safe to say Céline Chatte is one of the world’s leading sommeliers. Since beginning her career in France, she’s worked at a number of the top fine dining restaurants across the globe, including the three-star Michelin restaurant Maison Lameloise in Chagny; the UK’s highest-ranking restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, the Ledbury; Sydney’s premier restaurant, Quay by Chef Peter Gilmore; and her current venue, JAAN, Singapore, which is currently ranked no. 44 of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Drinks World spoke to Céline recently to find out about her working process, her deep love of wine and what she thinks is next in Asian wine drinking habits. She also shared with us her tips for venues looking to expand into wine that might not be blessed with a sommelier of their own.
DRINKS WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into wine and become a sommelier?
CÉLINE CHATTE: Despite growing up in Rhône Valley, I didn’t feel forced into the wine industry as none of my family members are in it. At fifteen, I attended a catering school where I learnt the ins and outs of the hospitality industry. From my experience in the kitchen, the bar and the sommellerie, I have always been intrigued by the intricacies of wine pairings, which is why I decided to pursue my passion by enrolling in Sommellerie of Tain-L’Hermitage. Since then, I’ve worked in many fine dining restaurants around the world from France, England, Australia and now Singapore.
DW: What do you think makes a great sommelier?
CC: A great sommelier, in my eyes, should be humble, passionate, and eager to share their knowledge and engage in genuine interaction with their guests. They should also be able to understand the needs of the guest in order to select a wine that compliments the meal, be it a mood or an occasion. My professor once shared a quote that still resonates with me today, “A sommelier should prescribe pleasure.” After all, wines should elevate the entire dining experience.
DW: What’s your favorite wine region in the world and why?
CC: I have to say the Rhône-Valley, of course, as it is where I come from! This region has some of the most prestigious French wines, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. The other reason why the Rhône Valley is my favourite region is because of the wide variety of prestigious wines, including white, rosé, red, sweet and sparkling wine.
DW: What do you love most about your job?
CC: It’s the process of exploring wine pairings with gourmet dishes that excites me the most. At JAAN, when Chef Kirk introduces a new dish, we often test up to 20 different wine pairings to complement the ingredients. During this exercise, I always try to take in feedback the entire team, including the chefs, restaurant manager, and assistant sommelier, to make sure that we’re choosing the best possible option that will satisfy our guests.
DW: You’ve worked your way up to working at some of the best restaurants in the world, from Ledbury’s UK to your current restaurant, JAAN, where you are Head Sommelier. What do you believe separates a good venue from a world-class venue?
CC: It’s the attention to every single detail, excellent service and the passion for the craft that transforms a restaurant to a world-class dining destination. From Chef Kirk Westaway’s meticulous approach to personally selecting all the products and crockery at JAAN, to the personal touches catered to each guest. We believe in offering a memorable experience on every visit.
DW: What’s the best way to learn about wine without buying copious amounts of bottles or travelling to all of the regions?
CC: I always like to say, “There are no other secrets to gaining knowledge than learning!” For those who aren’t able to travel to the wine regions or take part in wine tastings, the best way to learn about wine is to interact with the sommeliers whenever you dine in a restaurant. Wines are in constant evolution, and we’re fortunate enough to have access to a number of informative platforms, such as magazines that specialise in wines. There’s also a variety of short courses available to learn the complexities of the wine industry.
DW: How many wines are on your wine list?
CC: JAAN ‘s wine list contains 500 varieties from over 16 different countries – 30 of which are available by the glass. Apart from JAAN, I also manage and support all 15 dining outlets at the Fairmont, Singapore and Swissôtel, The Stamford, which gives me access to over 800 wines.
DW: What approach do you take to curating your wine list?
CC: Curating JAAN’s wine list is an extremely intricate yet rewarding task. Some ingredients, such as Chef Kirk’s favorite asparagus for example, are incredibly tricky to pair wine with. It takes a lot of trial and error, and, of course, a lot of wine tasting to find the perfect fit. It’s also never solely based on my tastes – I always incorporate the opinion of Chef Kirk and other team members to ensure that the pairing is as perfect as possible.
DW: What is JAAN’s wine speciality?
CC: JAAN offers an extensive wine selection, representing most styles of wines depending on the menu. However, my specialty is to offer guests a wine that they’ve never tried or heard of before.
DW: What do you think will be the next big trend in Asian wine drinking habits?
CC: One of my discoveries has been the Japanese sake, which goes perfectly with the Pertuis asparagus dish. I see a trend towards accepting sake as an enjoyable and versatile accompaniment to food, and not just for Asian dishes but European as well. I also strongly believe that Chinese wines will be the next big trend and will soon start appearing on more wine lists.
DW: There’s a wealth of new varietals on the market nowadays. Any tips for venues looking to diversify their wine list who may not have an in-house sommelier?
CC: At the moment, I am into grüner veltliner and savagnin (non-oxidative style) for the whites and nerello mascalese and pinotage for the reds. My recommendation would be to contact the suppliers and speak to them about the different varieties of wine they carry. Most of them will be more than happy to host a wine tasting session to experience the latest arrivals.
DW: If you went to a desert island and could only take one bottle of wine, which would it be?
CC: It’s so hard to choose! I think I would end up drowning while trying to bring all my favourite bottles to the island!