10 Chinese sommeliers to watch
China now plays host to an ever-growing crop of young sommeliers, and we have picked out the ones to watch.
As China’s wine market continues to mature, consumers are looking for a broader range of styles away from Bordeaux.
However, due to the government’s crackdown on gifting among government officials, China has suffered recently on sales of premium wine and research now points to an increasing eagerness in mid-priced bottles from Spain, Chile and Australia.
Simultaneously, the rapidly changing market conditions has also seen a new crop of young sommelier talent emerging and we have rounded up some of China’s most promising figures in the industry.
Click through to see our list of the top 10 sommeliers in China…
Arneis Wu – L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Shanghai
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon has only been open since last month and is the first in the portfolio to land in Mainland China in the upscale drinking area, The Bund in Shanghai.
Arneis Wu spearheads the vast wine list and owes his expertise to his previous training at fellow French eatery, Maison Boulud in Beijing.
“After I majored in wine and winemaking,” he said, “I wanted to try all kinds of different wines from all around the world and as many as possible. Being a sommelier has allowed me to do that and has provided so many memorable experiences.”
Wu placed in the top 10 in the 2014 Best French Wine Sommelier in China competition and came third in the China National Sommelier Competition last year.
“The best part of my job is serving guests in the restaurant and help them pick the most appropriate wine. I look forward to the surprise it brings to my guests when I open a bottle of wine that I know they will like.”
“In addition, I derive huge enjoyment from cellar management – organising wines every day, putting them in the right places then watching them sleeping in the cellar like babies.”
Christian Zhang – Noah’s Yacht Club on The Bund, Shanghai
“Shanghai is the business centre of China,” said Zhang, “and it’s developing every moment. Truly it is one of the best places for wine on earth as the wine community is growing bigger and bigger.”
Zhang is one of China’s most well-known sommeliers and is a regular on the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Competition judging panel.
“I have worked now for three and a half years at Noah’s Yacht Club. Every day you will encounter something special and new and that makes me quite excited. It also opens a door for me to discover the world in another aspect, to see the world in a ‘wine’ way.”
David Shoemaker – Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai
David Shoemaker was – unexpectedly – a professional slalom water skier in Orlando before breaking into the sommelier world. He worked in a restaurant in the evenings and heard about the Court of Master Sommeliers and segued neatly onto the introductory course.
“I met Doug Frost MS/MW and thought this guy was really incredible. His knowledge is profound and he can share the wine world in such a fun and dynamic way. As a child I always thought the wine world was mysterious and very intriguing.
“The history of alcohol production, trade and consumption has influenced civilizations all over the world for thousands of years and that inspired me to want to learn and understand as much as possible.”
Shoemaker has worked at the five-star Pudong Shangri-La Hotel for four and a half years and says the educational aspect of being a sommelier is his favourite part of the business.
“The bit of being a sommelier is acting as mentor and coach. I really enjoy it when someone discovers something special for them about the wine and beverage world.
“Shanghai has an endless amount of opportunities to meet wine trade professionals, owners, directors and wine makers. There is a core group of very focused and knowledgeable wine professionals in this city and perhaps one of the best parts about being in Shanghai and China is that the wine industry and wine consumer market is growing so incredibly fast.”
Edward KS Lee – NAPA Wine Bar and Kitchen, Shanghai
Lee is optimistic about the wine market in Shanghai, attributing consumers’ diversifying tastes which helps keep the restaurant scene buoyant.
“There are 23 million people in Shanghai and many of our guests are eager to explore and try different suggestions. Being part of an independent restaurant also means that my job is constantly evolving. Sommeliers in Shanghai are blessed with an enormous amount of wine selections available in the market.
“I gathered from talking to sommeliers in Europe that New World wine selections are not readily accessible as they are in Asia. Both Old World and New World wines are available in abundance, making it a great location for oenophiles like us.
Lee has worked in swanky NAPA Wine Bar and Kitchen for five years, having previously managed the restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Kuala Lumpur. 2014 was for him “a defining year” as he went on to win a slew of awards.
“Our wine list at NAPA won Best Wine List of Eastern China and Mainland China in China’s Best Wine List of the Year Awards and I was also graced with winning the title of China’s Outstanding Sommelier.
“We cannot be seen to be too grand however because we Shanghai sommeliers are a very tight knit community. We have regular gatherings to share our wines and chat forums to exchange information. The profession is constantly evolving and there is endless amount of knowledge and experiences to be acquired.”
Guo Ying – Four Seasons Hotel China, Shanghai
“I will have to have tasted the wine before it can be on my wine list,” declared Ying. “Wine is not just a liquid but a liquid with passion and building a good wine list is a sommelier’s baby.
“There are so many positives to being a sommelier but surely the best moments are sharing a delicious wine with guests or friends. Wine is an international language like music or art and it is how amazing that people from different corners of the world can sit and talk about wine for half an hour – even if this is the first time they have met each other.”
Ying has been at the Four Seasons since 2012 and has her advanced CMS certificate. She placed fourth in the World’s Best Youth Sommelier Competition in 2013 and also won the China National Youth Sommelier Team Service Competition last year.
“Being based in Shanghai has made my job both challenging and enjoyable. The consumers are such an interesting market – modern and open minded.
“Sommeliers bring new things to the market and I thrive in bringing boutique, quality-driven wines. Also, pairing Chinese cuisine with wines is always a challenge but means we can be creative at the same time.”
James Teng – Hakkasan, Shanghai
James Teng cut his teeth at London’s Hakkasan in 2007 but relocated to Hakkasan in Shanghai nearly two years ago to head up the wine list.
“I could have been a urban landscaper!” he said, “but working as a sommelier makes good use of my wine passion and it’s important to create a niche for yourself in whatever you do. I also love Shanghai, it’s at the forefront of the wine scene in China.”
Hakkasan scooped The Best New Wine List at China’s Wine List of the Year in 2015 and also scored second best at Best Wine Restaurants of Beijing and Shanghai by the Chinese edition of La Revue du Vin de France – due to Teng’s exuberance in selecting a creative array of wines, rarely seen in Shanghai.
“It’s easy to think sommeliers live an enviable lifestyle – sampling great wines, dining at fabulous restaurants, visiting picturesque wine countries, but then you have working odd hours and a lifetime of learning ahead of you.
“Shanghai is also the the door to a wine market of 1.3 billion people. That to me, is simply irresistible.”
Kobe Hou – Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai
“Shanghai has the biggest number of professional sommeliers in China so it makes everyone competitive in a friendly way,” said Hou.
“There are some excellent masterclasses, wine tastings and wine dinners where we can meet and also speak to the winemakers in person about their wines. It’s the best way to get fresh information and keeps you on course in creating interesting wine lists.”
Hou has worked at the Kerry Hotel Pudong which is owned by the Shangri-La Group for three years and looks after its extensive wine selection.
“Yes, the hours are long and it’s not all about dressing up nicely and looking good. There is a lot of responsbility in being a sommelier. There is a responsibility in making sure people have a good time and that you recommend a wine they’ll like, even if they don’t know themselves what they are looking for.
“Along with proposing to my girlfriend, passing my CMS certificate was one of the best moments of my life. I count myself as very lucky – I’ve gained recognition from my superiors and praise from guests but I will always remain humble. Humility and passion keeps me continuing to be a sommelier and I am always learning from others.”
Lu Yang – Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, across China
Based in Hong Kong, Lu Yang has been the corporate wine director for China’s Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts since 2012, a demanding job which also sees him taking charge of the entire wine program and the sommelier team.
“I like eating and love drinking!” he said. “So I thought being a sommelier would be the perfect job to fulfil a personal indulgence. I couldn’t be more wrong… but the longer I worked the more I understood the real meaning and value of being in the industry and the more I continue to love the profession.”
Yang graduated in Viticulture and Winemaking from Niagara College in Canada where previously he was a sommelier for the Peninsula in Shanghai for three years.
He holds WSET Level 4 and is a judge for Decanter Wine and Spirits Awards and in 2014 won the Best Sommelier in Greater China award.
“But the most defining moment for me came during 2013 China Sommelier Competition, when Shangri-La as a group had seven sommeliers finishing in the top 10, before eventually winning the Champion and Runner-up. As the so-called ‘boss’, there is nothing more proud and satisfying for me to see my colleagues achieving success.”
Meiyu Li – Park Hyatt, Beijing
“Being a sommelier is a kind of lifestyle,” said Li. “You need to know not only wine itself but how to drink, how to eat and how to enjoy wine with different people, in different occasions. For me, it’s not just a job but a platform from which you learn the most in the wine industry. You get the knowledge but also the experience that a lot of people won’t get to have.
“Beijing is the cultural centre of China where you find the best artists, writers and musicians…with whom I learn a lot and got inspiration for my events, they all have something in common.”
Li has worked at the five star Park Hyatt for four years and gained her CMS Advanced certificate in 2014.
“I visited Burgundy and fell in love with the wine after tasting about 20 different kinds. One of the best parts of being a sommelier must be the opportunity to travel all over the world and discovering so many styles.”
Tansy Zhao – Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai
Zhao’s defining wine moment came when he tasted Penfold’s Grange in 2007 and knew then that he wanted to have his career in wine.
“Under the guidance of my mentor at the time I started as junior sommelier at the Waldorf Astoria on The Bund and have worked my way up from there.
“A wine list should reflect the sommelier like a mirror. Once a guest went through my wine list extremely thoroughly, noting all of the labels we carry and gave me such positive feedback that I was really touched. It encouraged me to continutally making the wine list better without too much commercial influence.”
“Working also on The Bund and near the financial district means that we have to remain in people’s minds because so many top hotels and restaurants are located here. Being a sommelier means there is always pressure to improve your performance.”