Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Roderick Wong

This time I’m taking you to Asia to meet our Malaysian top sommelier Roderick Wong. If I have to compare him to another sommelier I would say he’s the Malaysian Arunas Starkus as just like him Roderick creates and has created many opportunities for many people and opened many doors in Malaysia.

Roderick has been active in the world of wine for many years now (since 1993 to be more precise). During these years he’s done it all wine importer, distributor, retailer, consultant, wine judge, wine educator & obviously also sommelier :-). He founded and started Hilton Wine Academy where he has trained over 800 people and to get even more recognition he founded the Sommelier Association of Malaysia (SOMLAY) in 2009 that is part of the ASI.

All these efforts didn’t pass unnoticed as he got many national and international recognitions like Wine Personality of the Year 2007 / 2008, Honorary Ambassador of Wines from Spain and Honorary Sommelier Diploma and Membership with Associazione della Sommellerie Professionale Italiana (ASPI) and Court of Master Sommelier (UK) to name just a few of the many…

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Today (next to judging and travelling the world for wine) Roderick works as Group Cellar Master of the Galaxy Entertainment Group in Macau and an inspiration for many Asian sommeliers

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

There are many but I would perhaps say Jerez de la Frontera & Loire Valley. These two regions which produce very interesting & good value wines, are very under rated regions at least in this part of the world.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Without doubt, first of all is that one need to have is passion. a good Sommelier should have humility, listening / communication skills, wine knowledge, good cellar management & business skills. It's not about just having a good wine list but our job is mainly about selling them.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Coming from Asia, indeed a Sommelier is underestimated & valued. There are instances where someone with some knowledge on wine & already are called a Sommelier although they do not have sufficient experience or skills as a Sommelier. The remuneration paid by Hotels or Restaurant in other part of Asia very often does not justify for all the knowledge & skills these Sommelier work hard for & thus many have started moving abroad to work where they are better paid.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Started in 1993 & it has to be my first employer Teng Wee Jeh. Coming from a none wine producing country it was very challenging but I was fortunate to have a good mentor who was living London for many years & he came back to Malaysia to open a wine business. He was unselfish & willing to train & teach me about wine. Beside the knowledge part, he also develop the passion in me for wines.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

I've been very privileged over the years and had the opportunity of meeting almost all the Best Sommelier of The World and there are so many big examples in the world. I would have to say Shinya Tasaki, Gerard Bassett MW, Giuseppe Vaccarini & Andreas Larsson. An example of determination, commitment, willingness to share / train & humbleness.

What is your approach for pairing wines (or other beverages) with dishes?

Understand the Protein, the method of cooking, the sauce & condiment on the dish. However, the structure of the wine should not over power the food & visa versa. Also I enjoy being a little adventurous & not to always go with the safe textbook pairing wines. I like pairing with different wine style, lesser known wine regions & etc....

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

Jerez de la Frontera - a region with a very different wine making & a product very often forgotten.

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

Romanee Conti & 1961 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

Unfortunately I've never been to Hotel Management School

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, etc…?

My experience would be Domaine Puig-Parahy Cuvée Joseph Noëll 1910 at the 100 Years Tasting of Les Vins Doux Naturels du Roussillon in Perpignan. Another experience in which the host was celebrating his 60th Birthday & I tasted in one day 1955 of Chateau Latour, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau La Mission Haut Brion & Chateau d'Yquem.

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