Head Wine Sommelier of Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park
When did you first become a Sommelier?
My career path as a bartender started ten years ago. I then became a junior sommelier for two restaurants: Zense Gourmet Deck & Lounge Panorama at CentralWorld and Scarlett at Pullman G Silom. At the same time, I advanced my knowledge by studying a “Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2” course. I officially became a sommelier in 2015, when I had a chance to be part of the opening team of a famous French restaurant in Bangkok, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, which marked an important step for the Thai culinary industry and for me.
What inspired you to become a Sommelier?
When I started my career ten years ago, I didn’t have any knowledge about wine. It was hard to get accurate information from senior bartenders at that time. I can say that I fell in love with the taste of wine: it feels alive; its taste is very meticulous and adaptable to change. Once, I tasted the quality of a wine and found that it had already been able to breathe, which changed it for the better. This made me smile and fascinated me.
Since then, I have tried to taste many wines from different places and years, I found that although the wine had been fermented from the same breed of grapes, the taste could be totally different depending on the company, year and country. This is the reason I’m still in love with wine.
What are some of the difficulties you face as a Sommelier in Bangkok?
Of course, there are difficulties being a sommelier in Bangkok. Firstly, the high tax on wine: as you know, wine is classified as a luxury good, the same as a sports car or brand name product. Furthermore, there are not many imported wine guidebooks, which makes education even more difficult. They were the challenges I had. Many people left the career path because of these difficulties.
Secondly, the temperature in Thailand. Many people might ignore this issue, but for a sommelier it is very important and can be a big problem. We need to be attentive not only to the temperature before serving, but also to the wine storage process. Guests do not know how well the wine they order has been stored, so it is our duty to control the quality of the wine throughout the purchasing process, delivery process and storage process.
Last but not least is society’s perceptions of alcohol. People always think that alcohol is a major cause of accidents, such as car crashes. Because of this, the Thai government has launched many measures to control and restrict the alcohol business, such as limiting sales, licensing times, increasing alcohol tax, prohibition on certain days, and even banning the promotion of wine on social media. But from my point of view, we can prevent negative situations by giving people proper information about alcohol and having serious penalties. The fact is that Thailand generates more than one billion baht from the tourism industry, and a large part of the revenue comes from the food and beverage industry.
Are there resources for Bangkok Sommeliers?
Yes, we have a community of sommeliers in Bangkok. We have regular meetings to discuss and exchange experiences. In each meeting, we always create activities by bringing several bottles of wine and covering the labels, and guessing the country, the type of grape, the year and the cost. Or we discuss how the taste will change after we put the wine in a decanter. This activity might look like just a funny game, but we are trying to increase our knowledge and improve our service to our guests. We mostly surprise each other with New World wines that are hard to find in Bangkok, and even some Old World wines.
What does it take to be a successful Sommelier in Bangkok?
Learning is the key. In the past, learning about wine was very difficult as we couldn’t find the right guidebooks, but nowadays we can easily find all the information we need online.
The second factor is opportunity. Thailand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and many famous Michelin-starred chefs and celebrated winemakers now visit the country. This provides good opportunities for us to learn, taste and exchange experiences with experts.
Third is society. The number of wine lovers in Thailand is increasing, and our passion brings us together. We share information about our new favourite wines, new labels, etc. This presents a good opportunity for junior sommeliers to learn and develop their ability. As knowledge increases, the benefit goes back to customers who get better advice, better service and better wine to pair with their food.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career as a Sommelier?
Be an observer! A sommelier should be curious, eager for knowledge and never stop learning. You need to know about wine and grape origins–not only the geography but also the climate of each country, as it directly affects the taste of the wine.
Be a great chef! You should love to cook and have a good sense of matching wine with food, because the food and ingredients are another key factor that affects the taste of wine.
Be a big planner! Each year we have any number of wines due to be produced, and some vintages (production years) can be very rare and expensive. So, we are the ones who increase the value of that meal by choosing the right wine.
Be the best mate! A good sommelier is someone who matches the right wine for guests. Rather than just trying to sell the most expensive wine, we should study and advise. The guest’s happiness is our biggest return.
What’s important to understand about being a sommelier?
As mentioned earlier, the most important thing about being a good sommelier is learning. We have internal activities to exchange information and experiences in the sommelier community, including blind taste tests. This activity is like homework for sommeliers; when the label is revealed we are sometimes shocked because the most expensive wines don’t always taste as expected.
We recently held two blind tasting events at Saneh Jaan and 80/20. We invited our fellow sommelier friends to join as we held wine pairing for guests. Everyone was randomly provided with food and we needed to match it with wine–this was a good challenge for everyone and received very good feedback from guest so please stay tuned for future activities like this.