Sommelier talk: Della Tang
We talk to Della Tang, Asia’s 50 Best Sommelier award winner who also took home the Best Sparkling Wine List 2023 prize at the Star Wine List of the Year Asia awards.
Della Tang was never meant to be a sommelier. A psychology graduate from Occidental University Los Angeles, she contemplated a career as a counselling psychologist before the wine bug bit.
While on a break from her studies, she signed up for a 10-month wine and management diploma course from the Le Cordon Blue, which steered her on a new path: a career in wine.
Tang is a native of Shenzen, China, where until recently, she worked as a group sommelier at Ensue, the first fine dining restaurant in the city. Within four years, the 29-year-old has bagged two coveted awards: Best Sommelier at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 and Best Sparkling Wine list at Star Wine List of the Year Asia 2023.
We caught up with her recently to talk about her rise to fame and discovered a vivacious persona marked with equal parts confidence and humility.
Congratulations Della. Talk to us about the career shift from psychology to wine. How did it happen?
I am a big fan of food travel. In college, I booked solo trips to foodie cities like New York, Chicago, and New Orleans, and I would plan my days according to the restaurants, not sightseeing. After I finished my education, I felt I needed a break from psychology and wanted to understand how a restaurant worked. And so, I ended up in Paris.
Did you have support from your family to pursue your wine education?
Not really. I am an outlier of a very traditional family. My parents were shocked when I applied to study psychology. So, when I signed up for Le Cordon Bleu, I didn’t tell my dad. He was so mad when he found out that he didn’t talk to me for almost a month.
How did you design the wine list at Ensue?
In the beginning, Ensue’s wine list was about 200 to 300 labels. I built it over the years to include some depth and breadth. We featured some producers with multiple vintages and, from others, multiple cuvées. The focus is Champagne. We have 100 Champagne labels, some Napa wines, and, of course, Burgundy.
Can you give us a standout pairing at Ensue?
One of our signature dishes is the 120-day-old Qingyuan chicken baked in sourdough. I like pairing it with Jacques Selosse Rosé, an incredible wine. Of course, it’s becoming impossible to do this because you can’t find the wine. It’s so expensive now.
What does Shenzen’s wine consumer look like?
I have to say that the market in mainland China is definitely not as advanced as Hong Kong. In the early days, a lot of people brought their own wines, but that doesn’t happen as often now.
Burgundies are quite popular. They are trendy and in demand and also work with our delicate cuisine. But yes, most of our guests need recommendations.
What’s the first wine that won you over?
During my studies in Paris, I had the opportunity to drink some excellent wines. I distinctly remember Egon Meuller TBA 2011 – it felt like fireworks in my mouth.
What do you drink on off days?
I don’t drink at home as my family doesn’t drink. With wine lovers and friends, I mostly drink Champagne and Burgundy.
As the Best Sommelier for Asia’s 50 Best, and with the Star Wine List awards, you’ve put Shenzen on the map. What do these awards mean to you?
I think I am a very lucky person and extremely honoured to get the award. Shenzhen was known as “a desert of fine-dining scene” in China four years ago. Most visitors came for business or were passing by from/to Hong Kong, but never for restaurants. Ensue has now become the reason for some guests to visit the city. I am very proud I was a part of Ensue and helped put Shenzhen on the map.
You’ve recently left Ensue. Give us a peak into your future plans.
Right now, I am taking a small break and planning for some vineyard trips first.