It is said that a sommelier is an individual with the knowledge of a winemaker, the palate of a three-star Michelin chef, the insight of a diplomat, the authority of a general, the wit of a comedian, and the patience of a saint. Having known Maître (Master) Sommelier Rene Chazottes personally for more than 25 years, I can attest that he fits the description perfectly.
I first met Rene after reading an article in the May 1991 issue of Orange Coast, describing his background and role as the Director of Wine for the exclusive Pacific Club in Newport Beach, the oldest private club of its kind west of the Mississippi. I found that we had a common love for pinot noir, and over the years I’ve shared many memorable wine dinners with him, which he orchestrated at the Pacific Club. I even visited the Holy Grail of pinot noir, Burgundy, France, with him on a Pacific Club-sponsored tour.
Born in French Madagascar, Rene came to the United States in 1967 where he became the owner and chef of a successful French restaurant in Sherman Oaks, California. By 1988, he had passed the difficult exam to become a Master Sommelier of the French Sommelier Society, the only Frenchman outside of Europe at the time to hold the title Maitre Sommelier. He also held the title of Best Sommelier in America. He soon was in demand for judging wine events and sommelier contests all over the U.S. and Mexico. He recently celebrated his 25th anniversary at the Pacific Club.
Like most sommeliers, Rene knows a lot more about food than most chefs know about wine. He taught me a number of pearls about food and wine that I want to share with you.
Above all other beverages, wine is part of food, and neither wine nor food exist in even half their glory without the other. He told me, “Wine is made for drinking with food and when you have the perfect match, that is it, the experience will bring you to your knees!”
One should pay attention to the season of the year in choosing a style of wine. Hardier red wines in winter, lighter wines in summer. “Match the wine selection with the foods that are in season.”
Never drink ice water with dinner. Ice in water kills the taste of wine.
Pinot noir is the best food wine. It has higher acidity, and its acidity cleanses the palate increasing the desire for more food. Unfortunately, some pinot noirs are high in alcohol and have a rich, bold character. These pinot noirs are well made technically, but are too grandly proportioned for pinot noir. He offers this analogy. “Suppose you go to a good tailor and ask him to sew you a suit, but he measures you improperly and makes the suit too large. When he is finished, he has masterfully crafted a handsome suit for you, but it is too large and out of proportion to your size.” The moral of this story is find a pinot noir that is tailored to food.