Uncorked: Derek Li

Hong Kong-born Derek Li is the sommelier at the newly opened Swire Group restaurant Mr & Mrs Fox in Quarry Bay. Li previously worked at Michelin-starred L’Altro where his team was awarded Best Listing of Italian Wines by China’s Wine List of The Year Awards 2015 and was recently named The Best Sommelier in Greater China 2015 by Sopexa Hong Kong. He speaks to dbHK about his cherished bottle of 1972 La Tache and his two biggest vices (apart from wine).

MMF_Sommelier Derek Li PortraitWhat vintage are you? 

1983, but I’ve been told I barely look a day over 25. Hopefully what they mean to say is that I’ve aged well!

What bottle sparked your love of wine?

A 2003 Chapoutier Ermitage le Pavillon and it was a long time ago. I first tasted it at an event before becoming a sommelier. It was stunning, so intense and this label is still one of my favourites.

What would you be as a wine?

A nice Burgundy rouge.

Where are you happiest?

Anywhere, as long as I’m sharing a glass of wine with good friends!

What’s your greatest vice?

Music and fashion. Maybe not a vice, but besides wine, they’re my two greatest passions.

Best advice you ever received?

Be humble and willing to learn every day, and embrace the opportunity to share whatever you learn.

Most overused word?

Describing a wine as “beautiful.” I’m usually on the receiving end of this when dealing with sales reps trying to promote their own wines. The problem is when they can’t go into detail. If you really like something – or at least want my customers to like it – you should be able to explain why exactly.

Your cellar’s underwater; which bottle would you dive in and save?

My very cherished bottle of 1972 La Tache. It’s a gift from an extremely dear friend of mine.

What’s the best and worst thing about the wine business?

The best thing? When the customer is open to your recommendation, enjoys your selection, shares your thoughts and builds a relationship of trust with you.

The worst thing is when the customer brings their own wine (and is surprised to be charged a corkage fee!) or asks for nothing but warm water for their entire meal… I really look forward to recommending wines to our guests, so these scenarios mean I have no say in their enjoyment of the drinks – which to me is such an important aspect of the dining experience.

What’s on your wine bucket list?

Lots of Burgundy, please!

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Henri Jayer, Nicolas Joly, Lalou Bize Leroy… all the legendary wine makers. Can you imagine the drinks list?!

Personal satisfaction (Parker points – out of 100)

85 points. There’s still a lot of room to improve.

Which wine would you like served at your funeral?

1947 Cheval Blanc. Actually, scratch that, I’d like to enjoy it myself before I go!

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