Name: Ju Wan Kim
Nationality: South Korean
At the moment: China-Hong Kong
Currently: Head Wine & Sake Sommelier
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
My first encounter with wine was at a restaurant where I was working as a part-timer. Then I started working as a sommelier at a small wine bar in Seoul. The then-manager of the wine bar taught me—by example as well as by instruction—not just about wines but how to deal with people. I learned the basics of what the food and beverage business is all about: being patient, working hard, and recognizing and respecting people that you work with.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
Language proficiency, curiosity, hard work, and strong confidence in his/her own opinion. During my participation in the ASI Contest of the 2012 Best Sommelier of Asia & Oceania as a Korean representative, I was lucky enough to meet and talk with several previous World Contest winners. I could clearly see how winners like Serge Dubs, Andreas Larsson, Gerard Basset, and Giuseppe Vaccarini had all these traits. It is essential for a professional sommelier to be able to distinguish good wines from bad wines, and wines that go together well with food and those that do not. Once you have an opinion, you should be confident enough to stand up for it.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
Whether you are at home or abroad, I believe the process of seeking a job is the same. First of all, you should be ready for the position, so you need to study for and gain internationally recognized certifications. You should experience all positions that you need to cover as a sommelier—such as bussing, bar back, commis waiter, waiter, and bartender—so you can be fully confident about working on the floor as a sommelier. As language proficiency is crucial if you wish to work abroad these skills need to be polished and you need to make sure you have the appropriate visa! There are some places where sommeliers are always in demand and can get visas in a relatively easy manner; looking into Working Holiday schemes is a good alternative.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what in your opinion would be the best approach?
First you need to understand when the guest is asking for advice, and for what occasion. You should take into account whether the guest ordered any food, and if he/she did, which wine will work the best with it. Another key factor to consider when determining which wine to recommend is what course it will accompany, whether you have a guest sitting alone, two guests sitting at a regular table, or a group of guests ordering a set menu, you may might want to recommend by-the-glass wines or big bottles. You also need to check if the guest left any special message upon reservation or if he/she brought flowers or got all dressed up. One exception here is your regulars, for whom you should prepare both the wines that they usually go for and those that they may like.
What's your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
At Zuma Hong Kong, we use wine glasses from Schott Zwiesel. We do not have a particular preference for certain brands, but we try to stay consistent by using glasses from a single brand. As premium sakes are popular at the restaurant, we brought in Usuhari Daiginjo sake glasses last year. We are also planning to use the Lehmann Glass Référence Jamesse series this year as our premium champagne glasses. As explained earlier, we choose glasses that can ensure a better experience for our guests. In making these choices, the wine team had several tasting sessions.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
From a sommelier’s perspective, the best pairing is to match the food that the guest wants and the drink that he/she wants. As a service professional, respecting the guest’s taste is the very basic. However, you should not pass over an obvious problem. You need to give a clear advice on the basis of your understanding of the food.
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest's wine?
Of course. Your job as a sommelier is to serve wines in the best condition to your guests in the best way possible. All wines have different conditions, and there always are possibilities for problems. Therefore, tasting the wines you serve is essential in order to identify potential problems.
Where would you suggest a young Sommelier start searching for Sommelier positions on the internet in your country?
I am a Korean sommelier working in Hong Kong. Back in Korea, we find a lot of job postings on the websites of online job search services (saramin, jobkorea), wine professionals, and wine education program providers. We may also be reached by headhunters after submitting our CVs, although this still is a rare practice for wine professionals in Korea. In Hong Kong, job postings for sommelier positions are often found on LinkedIn, Indeed and other job search sites.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?
Hong Kong as a wine market is highly sensitive to the latest trends, but at the same time, wine consumption in general remains fairly conservative. Bordeaux, Burgundy (white/ red), Californian Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc are always popular, so we try to set up an attractive list for these wines. We also introduce new wines through our collection of Coravined, premium by-the-glass wines, the Sommelier Selection that changes each month, and the By-the-glass Section that is renewed every six months. Plus, we are planning to add to our list some more grower champagnes and Italian wines, which I believe will likely be the next big thing.
I believe the pricing of a restaurant’s wine list matches the level of services it has to offer. In other words, the markup reflects the price of its services. How can this be easily labeled as a “ridiculous” pricing? Another important determinant in pricing is the negotiation with importers. If your services are worth the price, you should be able to adjust the cost, not the margin.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I always try to stay up to date on the latest trends. Websites like Drinks Business, Wine List Confidential, Liv-ex, Decanter and Wine Spectator are great tools that show you the past, present and future of the industry.
How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what's the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
Sommeliers do not necessarily know everything about all categories of wine. To get a chance to have lesser-known wines placed on the list, wine producers and importers need to consider how their wines will be positioned in the market and share their visions with the sommeliers. 20 years ago in the States, was there anyone who appreciated dry white wines from Germany? The import of these unknown wines started picking up when sommeliers introduced them at local restaurants, but after all, it was the wine producers in the Rheingau region who spared no effort to make their wines known to these sommeliers. Selecting great quality and serving the best options available to our guests is crucial when listing wines.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Riesling. It is grown everywhere around the world but clearly shows the singularities of respective regions while maintaining its unique fragrance and flavors. I believe the variety best expresses my confidence to show my colors in various situations and operations.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what's your desert island wine?
Blanc de Blancs champagne (especially those from Jacques Selosse), Burgundy Pinot Noir (any wines from Comte George de Vogüé and Sylvain Cathiard, in particular), and Vin de Constance 2008 (I love the old style from the previous winemaker). Among these three, Blanc de Blancs champagne will be my desert island wine, although the question would be how many bottles I am able to carry, since these bottles are pretty heavy.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
TONG Magazine is an accurate an in-depth wine magazine. Wine List Confidential is great when you have too much work to check the wine lists of other restaurants. Liv-ex is perfect for those who need to check the current price of wines that they have now as well as those that they hope to invest in going forward. The Guild of Sommeliers is the best community site for sommeliers!
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers - www.sommeliers.at