Cover From left: Dean Winter, Dorothy Oh, Rachel Duffell and Hubert Li (Photo: Affa Chan/Tatler Hong Kong)

On August 17, wine enthusiasts from across Hong Kong gathered at the Sky Lounge at The Upper House for a Tatler House Stories discussion on how the dining experience is elevated through wine and the role of sommeliers in crafting the best experience for diners

When? August 17, 2022

Where? The Sky Lounge at The Upper House

Who? Dean Winter, Dorothy Oh, Hubert Li

Here’s what you missed: With moderation by Rachel Duffell, Tatler Dining’s regional content director, the hot seats included Dean Winter, managing director of Swire Hotels; Hubert Li, managing director and co-founder of Hong Kong Wine Vault; and Dorothy Oh, managing director in Asia for the wine and spirits marketplace Fine+Rare.

“I’ve been drinking wine since I was six years old,” said Winter, kicking off the chat, to laughter from the audience. Winter, who has 30 years of experience across London, Hong Kong and Singapore, joined Swire Hotels in 2006 and has been active in creating dining concepts around wine, the key to which, he said, is hiring a knowledgeable sommelier.

“The work of a good sommelier is to enable you to enjoy a good wine. The sommelier is not the star attraction, though some of them like to think they are. They are there to assist and provide knowledge,” Winter said. “It’s a conversation, not an order-taking process. A sommelier is a vital part of any successful restaurant, not just to drives sales, but to educate the customer without patronising them. A good sommelier is hard to find.”

As a wine retailer, Oh has witnessed the evolution of the industry within the Asian market and champions the experience of ordering wine in restaurants and using the knowledge of sommeliers to enhance the dining experience. “Sommeliers know the food being served and which wines will amplify the meal. A good sommelier will make you feel comfortable and will [offer you bottles] with different price points, so that you don’t feel obliged to order,” she said. She also stressed that a good wine list reflects the theme of the restaurant, allows you to order by the glass and has wines from a balance of different and interesting regions.

Li, whose self-serviced wine storage facility is the largest in Hong Kong, agreed, adding: “Fine wine goes through phases. A sommelier should tell you if the bottle is good to drink right now. Another tip [to get the most out of your experience] is to try a restaurant’s wine pairing menu. 8 1⁄2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana has a very good one.” Other of the three oenophiles’ favourites included the JIA Group’s Neapolitan restaurant, Estro.

All three panellists take wine seriously and each has completed a different level of The Wine & Spirit Education Trust course. Oh, glass of white wine in hand, said that while investing in wine was important, the key was to enjoy it. “Buy the wines you like, and if they appreciate, that’s great. But [that shouldn’t be the only reason to buy]; you should buy bottles to enjoy either with family or friends,” she says.

Other discussion topics included how to select the best spirits for celebratory occasions, the rise of Asian-produced wines and low-calorie substitutes that taste great (the answer was spritzers).

The evening wrapped up with a look into shifting mindsets towards wine, and how wine can be presented in more casual environments while retaining the feel of a rarefied experience. “The way people order wine is changing. Restaurants sometimes get uptight about the presentation of wine lists, which are often in leather books, handcrafted by monks,” said Winter with a laugh. “I’ve been to wine bars where there is a board on the wall with the ‘wines of the day’. The wines are from interesting regions and stocked in small quantities. [Drinking wine should be] unintimidating and should be about having fun,” Winter says.

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