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Sommeliers from Olivia Restaurant & Lounge, Bar Cicheti, Le Bon Funk and others share tips and tricks to appreciating fine wine

Sommeliers from Olivia Restaurant & Lounge, Bar Cicheti, Le Bon Funk and others share tips and tricks to appreciating fine wine

To the rescue

Text: Marielle Solano Janice Sim


If you're looking for a sophisticated way to loosen up, a glass of wine can be a good place to start. The thing about wines, though, is that they come with a certain expectation of knowledge and sophistication from the drinker – because wine snobs can be a thing. But just because red and white are the only wine types you can identify, it doesn't mean that you're not also entitled to a riesling, a merlot, a pinot noir, or any of the other more specific varieties. That's what sommeliers are here for. And instead of making things more intimidating, they're here to make it easier. At least these cool individuals (who are representing some of our city's most revered establishments) below do.

Ronald Kamiyama, sommelier-partner of Bar Cicheti

Having worked alongside key figures in the sommelier scene (like Jeff Porter of Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca) as well as taken on a role in two Michelin-starred L'Effervescence in Japan (among other impressive venues), Ronald Kamiyama has been around the wine block. His arrival in Singapore picking out wine for Bar Cicheti just means now we too get to enjoy his worldly expertise.

Ronald Kamiyama, sommelier-partner of Bar Cicheti

Why do you think the art of appreciating wine is such a scary thing for some people?
The art of appreciating wine may be scary to some because of cultural differences, especially in Asia. In Europe, specifically France and Italy, wine is an everyday beverage. The natives are tasting wines as early as in their childhood. Price sensitivity may also be a factor.

What would you say to someone who's intimidated of the wine list in a restaurant, or sommeliers in Singapore?
A big wine list may be intimidating, but never the sommelier. It is the job of the sommelier to choose the right wine for you according to one's budget, and flavour preference profile. If you find a wine list beyond your depth, always trust and take the advice of a sommelier.

The best picks in your books for someone who's new to the wine scene.
Definitely Gamay from Beaujolais. Great fruit, pleasant, affordable and easy.

Justine Le Merle, F&B operations manager and resident sommelier of Ginett Restaurant & Wine Bar

To say Justine has vast experience with the most authentic of French wine would be an understatement. Embracing her own French roots fully, she has brought her taste buds, seasoned by the best wines from regions like Loire Valley and Burgundy, as well as her hospitality training in Thailand to vitalize the wine affairs of Ginett Singapore – and thank goodness for that too.

Justine Le Merle, F&B Operations Manager and resident sommelier of Ginett Restaurant & Wine Bar

Why do you think the art of appreciating wine is such a scary thing for some people?
I feel people are generally overwhelmed with the technical terms that come with appreciating wines from all the different varieties, whether it be dry, sweet, tannins, fruity, earthy et cetera. Personally, I believe that as long as you know what you like and you don't, appreciating wine can come quite easily once guided. With more years of training and experience, the art of appreciating, understanding, and learning wine will take practice.

What would you say to someone who's intimidated of the wine list in a restaurant, or sommeliers in Singapore?
Have fun! I think we are so caught up with the technicalities that we forget that wine should be enjoyed. If you are ever feeling intimidated by a wine menu, my best advice is to ask the service team for assistance. When we prepare our wine lists, we also spend a great deal of time training our team on how to guide guests to select the best option.

The best picks in your books for someone who's new to the wine scene.
Bubbly, for sure! Champagne is accessible and easy on the palette, so it's always a nice starting point for someone who's completely new. We have just brought in a new Champagne by Rigaud Poret & Fils, which I personally think is a great introduction to the amazing world of wines.

Josée Yeomans, head sommelier and restaurant manager of Le Bon Funk

There's no hard or fast rule with wine in the eyes of Ontario-born Josée Yeomans. Anything can change within a minute, which is why her approach to service revolves around being intuitive and thoughtful. Whether it's the mood of the venue or the climate of the day, expected the unexpected with Yeomans at the helm. Her specialty? Natural wines — a signature of Le Bon Funk — where she pays tribute to winemakers whom she has personally met or trusts to be fully committed to their craft.

Le Bon Funk

Why do you think the art of appreciating wine is such a scary thing for some people?
I think it is because for some reason wine became something only to be enjoyed by the elite.  And many somms portrayed an air of snobbery. Thankfully I believe this is changing and everyone has realised that wines are approachable and can also be affordable once you figure out where your tastes lie. It is our job as somms to help with this whether it is to help find a wine that is familiar or help you discover something new.

What would you say to someone who's intimidated of the wine list in a restaurant, or sommeliers in Singapore?
If you are intimidated by a wine list always ask for help from the somm. I love giving suggestions and guidance on my list. A good somm should be able to guide any guest towards the right wine, with just a few questions. There needs to be a dialogue. My most enjoyable evenings at Le Bon Funk are when almost every table wants my help with the wine list

The best picks in your books for someone who's new to the wine scene.
No one wine will be better for someone who is unfamiliar with wines.  I would suggest ordering by the glass as often as you can simply because tasting more wines will be the best way to figure out your own personal preferences, and once you know what you like you it makes it seamless for us to guide you to a great bottle.

Miquel Sabrià, COO of Olivia Restaurant & Lounge and former-Michelin sommelier

Ensuring operations run smoothly at the restaurant that's currently on everyone's lips (read: Olivia Restaurant & Lounge) is not the only focus of this expert sommelier. Roca Moo, Ismaya Group, and Catalunya Restaurant (both the Hong Kong and Singapore branches, when the latter was still open for business) feature in Sabrià's notable portfolio, and his love for Spanish wines is evident from Olivia's curated wine menu. Of course, he tips his hat to selected international wines too; his picks are inclusive, immersive, and intentional.

Mique Olivia

Why do you think the art of appreciating wine is such a scary thing for some people?
It's easy to understand why non-professionals might be scared of wine as it is such a vast category. As with many professions, the more you know, the more you realise you know nothing. My advice for those who want to start appreciating the world of wine is to always try to understand different wines when given the opportunity, whether it is through travel or study, and occasions with friends and family. Most importantly, every time you drink wine, try to remember what you've tried – whether it's the region, the grape or the name, to help deepen your knowledge and heighten your confidence for the next time you choose.

What would you say to someone who's intimidated of the wine list in a restaurant, or sommeliers in Singapore?
There are thousands of regions, wineries, grapes and styles of wine and even as a sommelier, we are always learning. Sommeliers are here to help, not to hinder – we enjoy assisting new drinkers with their wine choices and appreciate that everyone has different preferences. I would say to those who are intimidated that you should use sommeliers and not be nervous of them, as their choices and advice might show you something new.

The best picks in your books for someone who's new to the wine scene.
Around the age of 25-26, people start building an appreciation of wine. For someone who is new to the wine scene, I would suggest to start with a soft, light bodied wine that is low in alcohol and has a fruitier taste. For example, wines from the region of Burgundy such as a pinot noir.

Mason Ng, head sommelier of Park90

Mason has been blazing the trail in the wine industry with his big talents and even bigger goals – like becoming a Master Sommelier before the age of 30. And a quick look at his track record so far gives us no reason to believe he wouldn't achieve all he's set out to do, having once been the youngest Certified Sommelier in Singapore (at age 19) and thereafter creating ATLAS' wine programme as their Head Sommelier before moving over to Park90.

Mason Ng, sommelier for Park90, former sommelier ATLAS

Why do you think the art of appreciating wine is such a scary thing for some people?
I would think it is especially so in Asia due to numerous reasons, but the main one is exposure. Wine has never been part of Asia's food culture or considered a food staple whereas in European countries, almost every meal is accompanied with a glass of wine. In Asian countries, drinking wine is seen as part of an upper-class culture. People are afraid to use the wrong terms when in company or making themselves sound stupid when talking about the wine.

What would you say to someone who's intimidated of the wine list in a restaurant, or sommeliers in Singapore?
Number one: A sommelier should never be intimidating, just as a chef should never be unaccommodating to guests' dietary restrictions. A sommelier is there to help you out, pairing wines with your meal, to elevate your entire dining experience. He/she would know the dishes better than anyone and might be able to help you explore the world of wines – it is such an interesting journey.

The best picks in your books for someone who's new to the wine scene.
Go to supermarkets and do varietal tastings to find out what type of grape you like before thinking of vintage, regions or brands – those come afterwards. Buy a different bottle every time and make sure to do some research about it before popping open the bottle.

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