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COS Chronicle

“The style of Cos, a harmony of subtlety, elegance and power.”

INTERVIEW -

Tristan Pommier is a busy man. Chief Executive Sommelier at The St. Regis Hong Kong, he handles an international and Chinese clientele and oversees the wine lists of the hotel’s three restaurants, including a pair of Michelin-starred restaurants—L’Envol (of which he is also the director) an experience in fine French dining by Chef Olivier Elzer, and Rùn, where Chef Hung Chi-Kwong concocts refined, exotic Cantonese delights—as well as its bar. He takes a moment between an appointment and a wine tasting to share his vision of his trade, China and of course, Cos d’Estournel.

How did wine come to play a role in your life?

My family had a fruit and vegetable wholesale business in Brittany. They worked closely with the restaurant industry, and I was fortunate enough to discover the region’s best restaurants at a very young age. But it really all began when I pursued a professional baccalauréat in hospitality. That is when I found myself first seduced by the magic of wine. I am a naturally curious person, and wine has the capacity to constantly feed your curiosity. Even if you dedicate your life to wine, you cannot know everything. There are always new winegrowers, new vintages and newly emerging winegrowing regions. The world of wine never stops changing.

St.RegisHK L'Envol Dining Room1
As a young amateur, what were the wines you dreamt of tasting?

When you first begin, you dream about the big names, the legendary wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. I had the opportunity to begin tasting these wines as an assistant sommelier at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at The Dorchester in London. Every week we opened one of these wines, and they were incredible. But quickly enough, I also started looking to new winegrowers to see how they would evolve over time. This remains a passion of mine, but I also continue to treasure the emotions I feel upon tasting the wines of the world’s greatest estates.

What does Cos d’Estournel mean to you?

My first encounter with Cos d’Estournel occurred in London. We were serving the 1990 vintage by the glass. The wines of Saint-Estèphe are known for their power, and I have always been drawn to Cos d’Estournel for its ability to offer the characteristic density and depth of Saint-Estèphe alongside a singular elegance and a magnificent feeling of terroir. The wines of the estate are balanced, pure and fresh.
This is the style of Cos: a harmony of subtle tannins, elegant aromas and a powerful terroir. Cos greatly appeals to our clients, for its quality as well as the powerful imaginary that it inspires. There is the wine in the glass before you, and the history of the estate that produced it. With Cos d’Estournel, the history of the estate and the imaginary journeys that it inspires add a magical dimension to the wine itself. As someone who lives abroad, I feel especially touched by this aspect of Cos.

Gros Grain Oscietre Kaviari (Brittany razor clams “à la marinière”, Caviar Gros Grains Oscietre Kaviari) - 3
What is your most precious memory of tasting a Cos d’Estournel?

That would be the Cos d’Estournel 1962, which is on the wine lists at L’Envol and Rùn. We opened a bottle recently, and it was so impressive to see a vintage that old continue to express so much freshness and intensity. The 1962 still has great potential. We shared it with a client who is a very knowledgeable wine connoisseur, and it was marvelous.

Cos d’Estournel has built its identity around exoticism, but for the Chinese, isn’t it actually the Médoc that feels exotic?

For the Chinese, the Médoc is the stuff of dreams; they are drawn to its exceptional wines, its chateaux and the imaginary of the Médoc, which brings together the history of France and its unique approach to luxury. That said, wine connoisseurs in China are generally very curious, and they travel a great deal. Many of them are familiar with the Médoc and have been to Cos d’Estournel.

St.RegisHK Run PDR 16 seats1

“The history of the estate and the imaginary journeys that it inspires add a magical dimension to the wine itself.”

There are two Michelin-starred restaurants at The St. Regis: L’Envol serves French cuisine and Rùn, Cantonese cuisine. Does this imply two different wine lists?

Each wine list has its own identity. At L’Envol, 75% of the wines are French. 40% of the wines at Rùn are sourced outside of France and include New-World and Chinese wines, but we also offer the great classics and an exceptional list of French wines. For instance, we offer the same page of wines from Cos d’Estournel at both establishments. Whether it is for a business meal or simply to enjoy a moment, ordering a bottle of French wine always makes the occasion feel more special for our Chinese clients.

Are there any food and wine pairings that you would particularly recommend when it comes to Cos?

We have four vintages of Cos d’Estournel and magnums of Pagodes de Cos 2010 on our wine lists. We wanted to offer vintages that appeal to wine connoisseurs from years in which the wines of Cos d’Estournel were exceptional but are not necessarily the vintages of Bordeaux that everyone raves about. Each vintage has its own identity.

The youngest, Pagodes 2010, for example, delivers more freshness and firmer tannins and is delicious served with the wok-fried pigeon fillet with morel mushrooms and asparagus concocted by Chef Hung Chi-Kwong at Rùn.

Cos d’Estournel 2003 was produced in a very hot year and is marvelous with the intense flavors of the fried lamb with cashew sauce also served at Rùn.

At L’Envol, Chef Olivier Elzer serves a confit of lamb from Lozère whose subtlety is a perfect match for Cos d’Estournel 1986, an exquisite, elegant vintage, a consummate expression of the estate’s terroir.

Another highly refined vintage, Cos d’Estournel 1971, has magnificent texture and very pure aromas of fruit that complement the rich, sweet flavors of the Peking duck we serve at Rùn.

Finally, to accompany the Cos d’Estournel 1962 that I mentioned earlier, Chef Olivier Elzer concocted an entire tasting menu around caviar, including a beef dish with caviar. The slightly earthy flavor of the caviar, which is highlighted when it is paired with beef, was perfect with the Cos d’Estournel 1962, which continues to deliver freshness as well as notes of truffle that are characteristic of its evolution. It was a wonderful surprise.

The Chinese have for many years sought out the great wines of Bordeaux. Why do you think this is?

There are pragmatic reasons: the major estates of Bordeaux made their wines available more quickly on the Chinese market. They were very determined, more so than their counterparts in Burgundy, to seek out Chinese consumers and the Chinese market. And Bordeaux wines are actually very adapted to the Chinese palate. Chinese consumers are also drawn to the imaginary of Bordeaux and its chateaux, its wines and the classification system. The magic of Bordeaux is more accessible to them. But things are changing, and the great wine producers of Burgundy are increasingly present on the Chinese market.

L’Oursin D’Hokkaido (Hokkaido sea urchin, gamberoni prawn & crunchy fennel) - 1
Do the Chinese taste wine differently? To be a sommelier in China, do you have to reinvent your vocabulary of food and wine pairings?

We sometimes tend to caricaturize the Chinese consumer. In the restaurant industry, our clients in Hong Kong are as knowledgeable about wines as our clients in Paris or London. Of course, they have certain taste preferences and are often drawn to more powerful wines with greater extraction with a hint of the aging process. But this is also true of American and Australian wine consumers. So I think it would be a mistake to change one’s vision of food and wine pairings.
When we work with our Chef, we of course try to imagine what our clients would like, but we also want to deliver our vision of what a French chef and sommelier can offer. This is what they are looking for when they come to L’Envol. They want to try new things, and we want to nourish their curiosity, so we go to great lengths to explain why we have chosen a particular pairing and detail the history of the estate in question. We try to explain how to best taste the wines we serve; our clients are very interested and eager to make new discoveries.

Tristan Pommier, Chief Sommelier -1
A final word?

I have always been drawn to Cos d’Estournel, and that it why I wanted to feature it on our wine lists. It is important not to forget that these are wines that are meant to be served and enjoyed, rather than to be put on display.


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