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Sunday August 25, 2013 MYT 6:00:00 AM
Monday August 26, 2013 MYT 10:29:19 AM
by dinesh kumar maganathan
'I am constantly reading about wines and tasting wines, says Han Yew Kong about his preparation for the 4th South East Asia Best Sommelier Competition,' says Han Yew Kong.
Two local sommeliers to battle it out with their regional counterparts.
AT the end of an already tough day filled with various tests, Han Yew Kong and Britt Ng were blindfolded and given the task of tasting and identifying six glasses of different liquids laid out before them.
This was one of the final tests the two young men had to go through at this year’s Malaysia Best Sommelier Championship held at the Doubletree Hilton, Kuala Lumpur.
Both performed admirably and when results were tabulated, Han emerged champion and Ng came in second, making them eligible to represent the country in the 4th South East Asia Best Sommelier Competition in Singapore on Aug 25 and 26.
However, the duo have a tough act to follow as for the past three years, a Malaysian has always emerged as victor in the annual regional competition. This year, five countries from the region will be participating: Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Both Han and Ng, currently working at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, said that the pressure is building and they have spent their time studying for the competition.
“I am constantly reading about wines and tasting wines. Currently, I am preparing for the Advanced Sommelier level 3 examination CMS (Courts of Master Sommeliers), and the preparation in these few months will help me for the upcoming competition,” said Han in an e-mail.
Not only that, the head sommelier of Osteria Mozza revealed that he had requested assistance from local sommeliers for blind tastings “and timed myself during serving and decanting wines at the restaurant with my colleagues. I also look back at videos from previous competitions on my performance and practise my presentation skills in front of the mirror.”
Interestingly, Han’s path to the world of wines and beverages came about after a challenge he received at a local bar. It was, one might say, purely accidental.
“I was a bartender at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur six years ago. A guest challenged me on my knowledge of wines. After that incident, I decided to learn more about wines through books, self-study and eventually enrolled in a wine programme conducted by the hotel. I was offered the opportunity to become a wine agent and that was how my journey began,” shared the 28-year-old Seremban boy.
Ng, 26, has been working just as hard and said that he has been reading up as much as he could and organising meetings with fellow sommeliers to practice the blind tasting of wines.
“Even at work, while at the bar, I would pick up random liqueurs and smell them to hone my sniffing skills,” said the assistant sommelier of db Bistro Moderne.
Unlike Han, Ng had always had an interest in restaurants and food – that was his main motivation to join the industry almost three years ago. What interests him about wines is their ability to possess different aromas and flavours “when it is just essentially fermented grape juice. But with proper care and treatment, it can be something that is worth so much more.”
Ng, whose favourite wine is Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine from France’s Loire Valley, recalled the nerve-wrecking championship both he and Han won in June and it became apparent to him why sommeliers must constantly educate themselves and help their palates evolve.
“We started in the morning with a written exam on the blind tasting of wines and spirits. We were then asked to enter two different rooms for two different practical assessments. The first tested our abilities in serving a bottle of white wine to a table of four in a professional manner. The other assessment was a question-and-answer session on food and wine pairing,” Ng said.
Upon reaching the finals, the top three finalists, in front of a discerning crowd of 100, were required to serve wines in a lounge environment, serve and decant red wine in a fine-dine setting, correct mistakes on a wine list, blind-taste three red wines and three spirits (Gin, Ouzo and Cognac VSOP) and finally, correctly identify the wine-growing regions and countries from incomplete wine labels that remained on screen for less than 10 seconds.
That was certainly some challenge!
But how common are sommeliers in this part of the world?
“The word ‘sommelier’ still draws a blank look from many of my peers. I don’t think the profession is common in our country because most of us are not exposed to wines much, if at all. We don’t have vineyards behind our houses, unlike in Italy or France, nor do we have a well-structured wine education programmes here.
“Moreover, many restaurants here are not very ambitious in promoting wines, and hence tend not to have a wine cellar or a sommelier on board. However, with that said, the sommelier profession has definitely been gaining more and more exposure in the last few years,” reasoned Ng.
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Lifestyle, sommeliers, wine, Malaysia Best Sommelier Championship, 4th South East Asia Best Sommelier Competition, Britt Ng, Han Yew Kong
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