Meet the Winners of Asia’s Best Sommelier in French Wines Competition 2023
· 10 January 2024
How Asia's top sommeliers prepared for the rigorous grand finale competition held in Singapore.
Taste France’s Asia’s Best Sommelier in French Wine Competition 2023 Edition took place on 30 November 2023 at Sofitel Singapore City Center. The annual F&B industry event, revered by sommeliers and wine industry enthusiasts across Asia, was hosted by the French Ministry of Agriculture.
Meet the top 3 winners
Howard Chang was winner of the Best Sommelier in French Wine Asia competition 2023 and winner of the Best Sommelier in French Wine Taiwan 2023. The Taiwanese is currently a sommelier of Paiza Club at Marina Bay Sands. He started his first job as an assistant sommelier in Taiwan back in 2018, and has worked at 67 Pall Mall Singapore for two years prior to this.
Yi Ying Yong who’s a senior sommelier at 67 Pall Mall was the first runner up. And Lesley Liu Jia Min, Odette’s head sommelier was second runner up.
To prepare for the competition, Howard worked on his theoretical knowledge almost every day. “Sometimes I’d study for one to two hours before work or run through some of my flashcards on my way to work, and I’d study for about three to six hours on my days off. I was lucky to have a great team at 67 Pall Mall where we’d quiz each other theory questions constantly during our shifts. My ex-boss Roberto liked to randomly ask [theoretical] questions, and sometimes it could be during peak hours of dinner service when you have to think without stopping what you needed to do,” he shares.
“I’ve always had a blind tasting group since I started learning about wine because I knew blind tasting is often the hardest part of the competition for most of the sommeliers. I’ve been training with previous Asia champion Patrick Chiu, and Lesley Liu, another participant this year. I also had some opportunities to train with some of the top sommeliers in Singapore, so it really took a lot of effort to become a better taster, and I know I still have a lot to work on.”
Howard continues: “For this competition, I spent a lot of time [learning about] French cheeses, spirits, liqueurs, and cuisines. And I was trying my best to manage time and stress on stage, while remaining elegant in my service, which took a lot of practice on and off the stage. I’m thrilled to achieve this title because this is the third year I’ve taken part in this competition, and the feeling of not making to the final last year in Vietnam still motivates me every second because I believe I’d be able to come back one day.”
He adds, “Yi-Ying and Lesley are very close friends of mine, and I know they are strong candidates, so I’m very grateful for this opportunity to compete with them. They made this game extremely fun and exciting, and it is definitely an unforgettable experience for me.”
For Yi Ying, she studied and made notes of each regions and tried to understand the wine styles and unique grapes. “Cheese recognition was also important; so I spent some time at local cheese shops. My colleagues helped me to prepare for the blind tastings. I was very happy and honoured to be in the final. I’m grateful and hope to do better in the future.”
She shares, “I became a sommelier because I wanted to taste more wines! While the job is physically more challenging due to its long hours, it is the fastest way of learning and gaining exposure to fine wines. Apart from that, I enjoy the face-to- face conversation with guests where we can exchange thoughts and opinions.”
“The holidays that I have spent in the vineyards and talking to vignerons helped me in understanding the finer aspects of wine, which are not written in books. Casual tastings with wine connoisseurs and friends also trained me to convey hard facts into small, little interesting conversations,” says the Malaysian sommelier.
Besides theory, Lesley (winner of Best Sommelier in French Wine Singapore 2023) also tried to work with Odette’s kitchen team as much as possible to learn about French classic cooking techniques and cuisine styles. “I also work very close with my wine director (Vincent Tan) for guidance with all the possibilities for French beverages! It was a great pleasure to have such an amazing experience in my sommelier journey,” she shares.
About the competition
The Asia’s Best French Wine Sommelier Contest presents a unique opportunity for wine sommeliers and professionals to display their profound knowledge and admiration for the rich heritage of French wines.
The 2023 local competitions were held in seven markets: Singapore, Mainland China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and South Korea. The top two winners from these markets competed in the semi-final on 29 and 30 November. The three best candidates from the previous round was called upon to showcase their skills on stage in front of the audience.
Throughout the competition, the sommeliers immersed themselves in the diverse array of French wines. They also demonstrated their expertise in recognising and appreciating the finest cheeses from different regions of France. An essential element of the competition was their ability to skilfully pair these exquisite wines with French dishes, to ensure original and harmonious combinations.
Representing Epicure magazine as jury was Nicola Lee. She holds the honorary appointment of Ambassador of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne, the Champagne fraternity of the Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC), and is the Vice Chairman of the International Wine & Food Society of the Asia Pacific Zone. Nicola recalls, “It was an intense two days for the 12 sommeliers who hailed from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. The calibre was high with each sommelier having their own strengths.”
She adds, “It was lovely to see the commanderie between the sommeliers and friendships being formed. This competition, which focuses on French wines, tested the sommelier’s knowledge, senses and ability to adapt to different situations. They were also able to work under immense pressure due to the limited time given at each station.”
Text by: Amy Van