The world of Chinese sommeliers: Weiley LU

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Basic profile

Name: Weiley Lu
Current Position: Wine Room
Based in: Beijing
How long have you been working as a sommelier: 8 years
Also worked for: Lugar Whisky & Tapas Bar
Qualifications & Awards: WSET Advanced, Le Cordon Bleu Diplome de Cuisine

What is it like to be a sommelier?

How did you get into the business?
I have been very interested in food ever since I was a child and I went on to pursue a career in French cuisine after obtaining the Diplome de Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu at the age of 18. When I realised the importance of pairing the right wine with good food, I started to study and learn about wine. I then decided to focus my career on wine and become a sommelier.

Who was the most interesting customer you’ve ever met?
I have a few customers who fully trust and rely on my wine recommendations and who also share my adventurous attitude towards wine. Being able to recommend wines for customers to taste and to see them enjoy the wine that I have personally chosen for their food is the most rewarding part of my work.

Please describe your typical day
I usually visit the market in the morning to source fresh ingredients for the dinner menu and to look out for some inspiration for new dishes. I will then head back to the kitchen to help my chefs with the preparation and also discuss menus with my head chef. In the afternoon, I will liaise with any customers who have special requests to ensure these are fulfilled and make sure that the wine lists have been prepared satisfactorily. Lastly, our team will wait for our customers to arrive and will welcome them to our restaurant before starting the table service.

How does a wine end up on your wine list?
I will taste the wine beforehand and also confirm its price with the supplier to ensure we are offering good value to our customers. If the wine is to my liking, I will see how well it can fit into my current wine list. As most of the wines are recommended by me, I usually will look for wines that have a sense of uniqueness. I also take into the account the wines availability. Of course, the most important factor is the taste.

Tips for consumers

Apart from your own hotel/restaurant, where do you go to find good wines in your city or elsewhere in China?
I go to a variety of wine shops with professional staff, not only to find the most interesting wines, but also to make friends with other fellow wine lovers.

What is popular right now (region, producer, ect.)?
Sherry from Spain is the next big thing and is already making its mark in the international metropolis, such as New York, London and Hong Kong. I believe it will become more recognized with the help of the increasing number of Spanish restaurants in China.

What has changed in the last year (consumer profiles, consumption habits, price, region, etc)?
People have ceased to blindly go for the most expensive wines; they are willing to try wines from less well-known appellations and different price brackets. Some people have realised that there are regions that produce good quality wines outside of the classic regions of France and Italy. I believe there is potential for Spain and Germany to become more popular among consumers in the future.

What is the role of a sommelier in modern day China?
Customers need to understand that sommeliers are not just waiters who pour wines for them and that they can communicate with us freely when it comes to asking for wine suggestions. We hope customers will respond well to our suggestions and we also look to continually improve our service to ensure it is consistently at the highest possible standard.

Finally, how would you suggest people to approach food and wine pairing?
We should not think of food and wine pairing as something ceremonial, as it is everywhere in our daily lives. It can be as trivial as deciding whether you would like to have a coke or a lemonade to go along with your pizza. As long as you are willing to understand more about the flavours, you are able to pair whichever food and wine you like and however you like.

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