Photo: InSing Photos
Han Yew Kong, Head sommelier, Osteria Mozza
How did you enter the world of wine?
By accident, actually. It all started when I was a waiter in a hotel restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. The waiters would take turns to be bartenders. One night, when it was my turn at the bar, I found myself unable to answer customers’ queries about wine. I said to myself that from then on “I need to know what I’m selling”, so I bought Wine For Dummies and started to read.
What was the first wine you drank?
It was a simple supermarket wine, the brand of which I cannot even remember. It was shared among friends. At that time we didn’t know if the wine was corked or in bad condition, we just drank it because, well, it was alcohol.
How did you realise then, that you wanted to pursue a career in wine?
We were selling wines by the glass in that hotel restaurant, so I got the opportunity to taste the different wines. The chief wine sommelier at the time was my mentor. There were particular good wines that I remembered he let us try, and when I realised that complex aromas and tastes could be found just in one glass, I got hooked.
What do you have in your wine cellar at Osteria Mozza?
We carry about 90 per cent Italian wines, and the rest are Old World Wines. Because we are an Italian-American restaurant, we do have some American guests who come here and ask for Californian Cabernets and Zinfandels. We also have some French guests, and they are the hardest because we have to sell them Italian wines.
"Yellow wines from Jura have funky, under-ripe stonefruit characters and sometimes I get laksa notes on the nose. I think they pair well with laksa."
Are there any interesting lesser-known Italian wine regions and wines you would recommend?
We do have a lot of little known gems from Campagnia, which also produces very long aging wines like Nebbiolo, with good tannins and acidity. From Umbria we have Sagrantino, which is a lesser-known grape varietal that is similar to a Merlot, just plummier.
Do you have a favourite wine?
Currently I’m obsessed with yellow wines from Jura, France (wines made from the Savagnin grape). They have funky, under-ripe stonefruit characters and sometimes I get laksa notes on the nose. I think they pair well with laksa. They are very rare and rustic wines.
Why did you decide to join the competition? How much preparation you do for it?
I have been competing nationally for the past five years, and I have always aspired to get a medal, to put some pressure myself to maintain a certain standard as a sommelier. Entering the competition five years in a row is sort of training in itself.
Did you expect to win this time?
Yes, because the previous competition winner did not return to compete. So I thought I stood a bigger change of winning [laughter].
What do you drink on your days off?
I try not to drink on my days off. I go to cocktail bars and cafes. I love drinking coffee because I also like to brew coffee, with latte art and all.
Osteria Mozza | Address: #B1-42/46, Across from The Theater, Galleria Level, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue | Tel: 6688513 | Opening hours: Tue-Sat 4-10.30pm, Fri noon-2pm, Closed on Mon & Sun
In between her bowls of bak chor mee and plates of prata, Joyce Huang be found in various corners of the world digging into streetside fare, trawling museums and practising hand signals with locals.