The world of Chinese sommeliers: Tansy Zhao

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Basic profile

Name: Tansy Zhao
Current Position: The Chief Sommelier of Noble Spirits
Based in: Shanghai
How long have you been working as a sommelier: 6 years
Also worked for: Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai as The Chief Sommelier (2014.08-2017.03)

Qualifications & Awards:

- Certified Sommelier, Court of Master Sommeliers

- WSET Level 3

- Champion of China national sommelier competition 2014.

- “The Yearly Best Sommelier 2015” awarded by Wine Australia

- Champion of Gaggenau China Sommelier Competition 2016

- Silver grade of Gaggenau World Sommelier Competition 2016

What is it like to be a sommelier?

How did you get into the business?
I was recommended to work in a restaurant as a bartender by a friend in 2007, where I tried Grange by accident and fell in love with wine. That’s when I decided to learn all about wine myself. After gaining more knowledge on wine and more experience in working at restaurants, I landed a job at the Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai in 2011 as Junior Sommelier. That was the starting point of my career as a sommelier.

Who was the most interesting customer you’ve ever met?
It would be Mr. He – he is a lawyer but has tremendous knowledge and experience in food and fine wine, which sometimes gives me a lot of pressure. However, I am constantly moved by him due to his understanding, recognition for and encouragement to sommeliers.

Please describe your typical day
I start my mornings with checking my emails followed by having morning briefings and preparation for the day. I would usually stay at the restaurant to prepare for the week in between the lunch and dinner service: checking stock, updating wine list, meeting with suppliers, clients etc. After dinner service, I will have to prepare for the next day before I leave.

How does a wine end up on your wine list?
I usually search for the suppler once I’ve confirmed the market needs, and then start trials with the wine at the restaurant and make sure we have a good price for customers. The most complicated step follows, which is opening an account for the supplier and at the same time adding the wine into the hotel’s purchasing system. This will then be followed-up by the Purchasing Department. Afterwards, I have to fill in some paperwork with the wine information and pricing so the wine can be added into our wine list. Before we start to promote it at the restaurant, the last step is to train the restaurant staff on the wine.

Tips for consumers

Apart from your own hotel/restaurant, where do you go to find good wines in your city or elsewhere in China?
Sarment and Enoteca.

What is popular right now (region, producer, ect.)?
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Bourgogne red and white, Barossa Valley Shiraz, Super Toscana, Barolo, Napa Valley Cabernet Merlot, Mosel Riesling.

What has changed in the last year (consumer profiles, consumption habits, price, region, etc)?
Main consumers are now younger and from China – they now look to high quality wines at reasonable prices.

What is the role of a sommelier in modern day China?
With the industry becoming more and more competitive, sommeliers are now seen as a value-added service to customers. Sommeliers to a huge extent are helping to drive the industry forward, and at the same time, they are encouraging customers to increase their standards when coming to wine enjoyment.

Finally, how would you suggest people to approach food and wine pairing?
For Jiangnan cuisine, you can pair with German Riesling, New World Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis. For Sichuan and Hunan cuisines, you can pair with sweet German Riesling, Alsace Gewürztraminer or Chinese white wine. If you are at a restaurant, it would be best to ask for recommendations from the sommelier.

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