Meet Your Somm: Pierre Vila Palleja

During The Meilleur Ouvrir de France, Final Competition.

It’s a pleasure to kickstart the Meet Your Somm section by introducing one of France’s great talents. A wine writer for Revue du Vin de France, Pierre Vila Palleja is a journalist, owner and also restaurant manager of The Petit Sommelier in Paris‘ 14th arrondissement. 

His restaurant has received amazing awards such as:  Best Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator, since 2013 – Guide Lebey, Best Wine List of France 2016 and 2018 by Terres de Vins magazine.

Pierre was awarded Best Young Sommelier of France in 2008, ranked in second place in Best Sommelier of France competition in 2016 and 2018 and was a finalist in Meilleure Ouvrier de France in 2015 and 2018. In 2019 he was invited to become a judge for the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA). The Petit Sommelier houses a beautiful wine cellar, and has a collection that will allow you to travel across France as well as other important regions in the world. Together with chef Nicolas Bouillier, they organise monthly wine-growers’ dinners.

There’s a French expression that I really like: “I want a wine with the face of the place it’s from!”

How would you define your current wine list?

In terms of origin, we have mainly French vintages because, for me, a good wine list needs to be built on discussions you’ve had with producers, understanding their philosophy and being a true ambassador of their work. As I’m French, I’ve mostly visited producers in my country. Understanding a specific vintage, visiting a new plantation and trying samples make for a unique experience that can then be passed on to the consumer. 

Because we are in France, I mainly stock French wine, which represent 80 percent of the list. First, because tourists visit France for our culture and our wines, but also because French people drink almost exclusively French wines. But for curious people and connoisseurs, I also have a good selection of bottles from other countries so that my guests discover other expressions and grapes.  

Stylistically, I have no opinion on natural or organic wines. I simply like clean wines, with the lightest perception possible of oak. But there are two things that I really like: old vintages, because some terroirs only express themselves with time. And wines that show a pure expression of their origin.

There’s a French expression that I really like: “I want a wine with the face of the place it’s from!”

Which wines give you the most pleasure?

Every grape, region and style excites me. One day, I might prefer a light Chenin from Loire Valley with my fish, and another day, I might prefer a nice Argentine Malbec with my pork belly. It’s definitely a matter of mood, because every region of the world makes great wines.

Excitement is the next discovery.

What do you love most about your job?

The sparkle in my guest’s eyes! That excites me the most. And then, if the person says “Wow” and asks me questions about the bottle, where it’s from and about the producer, I know I did my job well. That’s pure satisfaction.

What’s your favourite wine resource and author?

One of France’s legendary tasters is Michel Bettane. He’s a real-life computer, so I read him a lot. Then, one of the rare French masters of wine, Jeremy Cukierman, wrote a great book, Vignerons Essentiels, and there’s also Jancis Robinson’s classic Oxford Companion to Wine.

What is your philosophy on wine and food? Do you believe in wine pairing?

It’s a very complicated question. But there is one key point: pleasure. Liking one course is one thing. Liking a wine is another. So it’s even more complex to pair them together. 

I used to underestimate one thing: who is having the pairing? Sometimes it’s appropriate, sometimes it isn’t. So I always pay lots of attention to the person who is about to have the experience, and then I adapt the wine to the course.

But when it really works, it is just magical! And I have to admit that geographical pairings often work!

If you could work with any chef, who would it be?  

I’m really happy with my chef. We understand each other. We follow the seasons, and we don’t use ingredients that would really kill a wine, for example vinegar. But, I would love to work with Massimo Botura for one shift.

How do you define your style? 

I don’t define it. I feel things more than I think them. It’s more based on instinct according to my curiosity. I don’t like things to always be the same – they need to move forward. I need to learn, discover, and be surprised, so my perception and taste is always changing.

Moving forward, what do you hope to accomplish?

For my personal perspective, I’m studying for the Best Sommelier of France competition. The next step is in September… so let’s see how that goes.

For my team, I try to give them as much knowledge as I can. Thanks to that idea, the whole industry will raise its level.

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