French sommelier for hire


A SOMMELIER by definition is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine-dining restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as food and wine pairing. Sadly, sommelier is also one of the most abused titles in the hospitality business, and for many third-world countries, this title is given rather handily even with the titleholder not having the wealth of experience, the education, and the specialization one must obtained for such a position.

For a country that does not have a wine culture like the Philippines, a wine steward, in my humble opinion, is a more appropriate and less snooty title for a member of the waitstaff who is tasked to sell and serve the wines in an on-premises establishment. I don’t expect my wine steward, for example, to know and memorize the seven Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis Burgundy like I probably would if I were facing a real sommelier. To me this is similar to calling someone a cook rather than a chef relative to a person’s experience managing a kitchen.

A sommelier’s main job description is to let customers discover wines and their amazing sensory pleasure, especially when taken with food. But this role starts at the beginning. With literally thousands and thousands of wine choices available from various wine suppliers, an in-house sommelier chooses which wines are befitting of getting listed in the establishment’s wine list, and which ones, based on a budget, can be a house-pour or by-the-glass wine. The overall restaurant theme should also be a key consideration and the allotted investment for wines of the restaurateur-owner.

So, familiarity with wine regions, wine varietals, and the various wine styles are inherently important.

Wine samples are quite expensive and not a lot of wine suppliers will provide free wines for preview tasting especially if wine volume, outside of house-pour, is quite negligible. Therefore, to be a sommelier, rather than just someone with certificates of wine seminars attended, most relevant would be the wealth of experience acquired from drinking lots of wines from every conceivable wine region in the planet, and, yes, whether good, commercial, expensive, bad, obscure, or cheap ones — all count, so as a wine taster, one can form an opinion. There is really no substitute for this. Our taste buds need to be trained.

Once the wine list is done, the role of sommelier becomes vital to the bottom-line of the establishment. A sommelier should spare a customer from browsing through the wine list and should narrow wine choices to two or three options. Then, the sommelier can describe the characteristics of each wine option from memory, while adding wine tidbits like region, winemaker, and other facts that can only enhance the customer’s anticipation of the wine.

In more sophisticated wine drinking countries in Europe, North America, and Oceania, a sommelier is actually a “must have” in fine-dining restaurants, as the income generated from wine sales is quite substantial. An establishment is willing to invest in such a position, which in these countries can be paid as high as a maître d’ or a sous-chef. Imagine up-selling from a by-the-glass wine to an expensive Bordeaux grand cru bottle?

MEET DAMIEN PLANCHENAULT OF PERFECT CELLARSOne true sommelier I met in the country — and he just so happened to be French too — is Damien Planchenault. From Paris, Lyon, Dubai, to St. Andrews, Scotland, and since 2014, Manila, Damien has been engaged in wine hospitality since finishing his education at a catering school in Dinard (a town in Brittany, France) in the early 2000s. It also helped that Damien was born and raised in the wine region of Loire — home of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

I met Damien for the first time in early 2015 when he was the restaurant manager-cum-sommelier of the Tasting Room at the City of Dreams. A typical Frenchman with high confidence, he is very opinionated and unapologetic on his takes on wines — I liked Damien immediately from the moment I met him. I would collaborate with him soon after when I organized a wine dinner at the Tasting Room for one of my Golden Wines French principals. Damien was extremely professional and super-efficient to work with.

Later, Damien would move to the nearby Okada Casino Hotel and assumed the higher position of Senior Beverage Manager. Again, I sought his assistance when I did a wine dinner at the La Piazza for my Italian principal Pio Cesare. I can truly say he is a sommelier through and through, and his knowledge of wines is as good as it gets.

While his allegiance to French wines is obvious, Damien is at least very appreciative of the other amazing wines from other regions in the world, with Barolo, Brunello di Montepulciano, Ribera del Duero and Priorato being some of his favorite wines outside of French wines.

THE PANDEMIC CHALLENGEIn 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 menace, like several expatriates in the hotel industry, Damien found himself in a bind when his contract was not renewed by Okada. Instead of packing his bags to leave, Damien decided to stay in the country, and, as he confessed to me, it was also because of love.

Damien had found his perfect Filipina partner in May and they decided to create Perfect Cellars, a company born out of Damien’s experience with his other love, wines.

Damien wanted to be an advocate of food and wine pairing and a perfect curator of wines for people who are just learning about wines. Damien is therefore a Sommelier-for-Hire. Since he has already dealt with the biggest wine suppliers in the country, Damien knows where to get his wines, and at budgets his customers are willing to pay for them.

Aside from selling wines from existing wine suppliers that Damien himself drinks and believes in, Perfect Cellars also does wine events, primarily his wine dinner series. In March of 2021, when people were still scared of going out to dine, he made his first wine dinner in collaboration with chef Patrice Freuslon at the Society Lounge in Makati. Back then, Damien had to limit the dinner capacity to 30 pax because of the social distancing restrictions. The first Perfect Cellars event was a resounding success that inspired Damien to continue.

Now, two years later, Damien and Perfect Cellars still do their wine dinners, but he now ties up with several restaurants, each time creating a food and wine pairing that showcases the best the restaurant can offer, with the wines he himself curated to pair with them. The frequency has also increased from once a month to twice a month. Perfect Cellars wine dinners also appear in Facebook ads, which helps to get the word out.

I recently attended one at the Somm’s Table, Makati and got to experience firsthand how Damien did his food and wine pairing magic. At this wine dinner, I got to discover five different wines I had not encountered in the past. Again, because Damien has no loyalty to any wine supplier, he has the free hand in selecting which wines go with which food, and in this wine dinner, the five wines came from multiple suppliers.

The following were my tasting notes on the wines I had at Somm’s Table:

1. Champagne Louis de Sacy, Verzy Grand Cru, France — “relentless effervescence, nose of red roses, juicy, and nice bread dough finish”’; paired with Hokkaido oyster.

2. Wildeberg “Coterie” Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2020, South Africa — “minerally, slate, citrusy, white petals, dry with herbal finish”; paired with seared scallops.

3. Frederic Brouca “Champs Pentus” Faugeres 2020, France — this region in southern France has not been high on my list, but this Faugeres from Frederic Brouca is a pleasant surprise; a blend of grenache, syrah, and carignan (Rhone varietals), the wine exudes “violets, figs, lighter bodied with earthy notes; extremely quaffable and easy to drink”; paired with Somm’s Table version of bacalao — to me, the best pair of the night.

4. Cruz de Alba “Fuentelun” Ribera del Duero Reserva 2019, Spain — from the Tempranillo varietal; “animal notes on the nose, fowl and farm elements, but opens up eventually with prunes and eucalyptus, medium-bodied with nice mocha-like finish”; paired with roasted lamb.

5. Disznoko Tokaji Late Harvest 2017, Hungary — from the Furmint varietal, “sweet and cloying, plastic resin nose, viscous, long length with honey and apricot marmalade finish”; paired with lemon tart.

It is hard not to like wine when you are having it with the right food, and Damien and his Perfect Cellars team know this all too well. He is the consummate sommelier, and he is in fact for hire.

You can contact Damien at or at his mobile number 0917-631-1246.

The author is the first Filipino wine writer member of both Bordeaux based Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux (FIJEV) and the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at, or check his wine training website