In a wine-savvy town, Adelaide sommelier James Erskine stands tall for his dedicated yet humble approach to guiding restaurant diners’ wine choices. The 29-year-old sommelier at Auge restaurant has combined a winning mix of easy charm with infectious enthusiasm to recommend superb wines that suit Auge’s modern take on Italian food, based on knowledge gleaned from direct activity in winemaking, hospitality and international travel since his late teens.
Having previously worked in Berlin, Austria and South Africa, and as sommelier at Penfolds’ Magill Estate Restaurant and as guest sommelier at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Erskine says he’s pleased that he has remained in Adelaide to further his profession. “I could have gone to Melbourne, but I would have been an understudy. In Adelaide, I’ve had the opportunity to take a leading role – and there were a few ideas that I wanted to push. I wanted to see less black, inky wines and more diversity,” he adds, pointing to Auge’s list built around Italian imports and Australian wines made from Italian varietals. “We need to promote a greater sense of identity in restaurants. I’ve pushed the Italian focus of our food through to the wines, and to get more top quality wines poured by the glass. It has been successful because customers have come to trust our judgement.”
Erskine’s deep wine knowledge has been built through diverse means, from working three vintages in three countries to serious academic pursuits. He spent a total of five years studying agricultural science at the University of Adelaide, which included a year at UC Davis, in California, to explore soil chemistry. After commencing work at Auge, James simultaneously completed an honours thesis in soil chemistry. “I wasn’t going to travel the path of an academic, but the studies were designed to get me thinking and learning.”
His ultimate goal is to improve links between wineries and restaurants, which has led to a unique joint venture between Auge and three South Australian wineries. James is currently making three wines for the restaurant under the Vino By Auge label, having sourced montepulciano from Damien Tscharke’s 10-year-old Barossa vines, pinot grigio from The Lane’s Hahndorf vineyards and sangiovese from Domaine Lucy Margaux in the Adelaide Hills.
He is also forming a collaborative group to encourage Adelaide sommeliers to network with wine retailers and wholesale representatives. “I want to see greater dialogue between everyone about wine. Everyone knows quite a bit, there’s a general lack of grooming in that knowledge. It should be developed further; you can never have enough knowledge.”
Auge, 22 Grote St, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8410 9332, auge.com.au
WORDS DAVID SLY PHOTOGRAPHY BEN SEARCY
This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.