Singapore’s top female Sommelier, Jacques, shares her experience and tips on picking wine for a dinner party.
Jacques Chua proudly holds the title of top female Sommelier in Singapore. One of the few women in an otherwise male dominated industry, her journey was an unlikely one. Jacques didn’t know much about wine until her mentors at Marina Bay Sands exposed her to the world of wine tasting while working the floor at one of their fine dining establishments.
Ever since then, her wine-fueled adventure has taken off. She has participated in numerous international competitions to hone her craft, tasted amazing wines, and visited vineyards she only ever dreamed of.. Her thirst for travel also landed her in her current role as a Certified Sommelier for a major casino in Macau.
Jacques is also ranked 33rd Best Sommelier of the World 2019 awarded by the prestigious Association de la Sommellerie International (ASI).
We caught up with the affable Jacques at the 10th Singapore National Sommeliers Competition organised by the Sommelier Association of Singapore. One of the top three finalists this year, she shared insights on being a Somm (industry slang for a Sommelier) and offered helpful tips on picking wine when hosting a meal or dinner party:
Qn: As one of the few female sommeliers in an otherwise male dominated industry, have you ever felt the need to work extra hard to prove and make it?
While currently only 16% of the Master Sommeliers in America are women (which is a staggering imbalance), the thought has personally never bothered me. It is my opinion that people are becoming more open to having female sommeliers serve them, particularly in Asia. For myself, working extra hard to prove myself is driven more by a pursuit to do my personal best.
Qn: To you, what does it mean to be a Sommelier?
While the dictionary definition of a Sommelier is a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service, to me a sommelier encompasses much more.
Firstly, people have the misconception that sommeliers only have expertise in choosing and serving wines. Actually, we also have a great knowledge in other beverages such as spirits, cocktails and even water. Sommeliers are also not just about beverage service. We are part of the dining experience, as we work with the Chef to pair food with wine. Beyond the glamour of tasting and choosing wines, we also have other duties including managing the wine list, ensuring proper care and storage of the wines and develop beverage promotions, etc.
Qn: How do you work with the chefs and kitchen to marry wines/drinks and their creations? What are your tips for menu pairing?
It depends on the occasion. If it is a wine dinner, the focus will be on the wines. I start by sharing the technical tasting notes with Chef. Then, we discuss what he/she has in mind. If time permits, we will conduct a food tasting with the wine and tweak the food accordingly. Most importantly, I recommend trying the wines with the sauce used as the sauce is what mostly affects the pairing.
There’s no right and wrong way to go about a menu pairing. Different people have different opinions and preferences. I usually begin by understanding the ingredients and cooking methods before making a recommendation. There is a saying that I love – “what grows together, go together”. If you know you are having a classic dish from a particular region of that country, choose a wine from that region and it will pair beautifully.
Qn: Many of our readers entertain and host guests for meals, what tips could you impart when ordering wine for a group.
If you are entertaining in restaurants with a Sommelier, let the Sommelier know your preference for a particular style, light bodied vs full bodied, or even the brand that you usually drink. This way, they can direct you to an appropriate style or wine that you might like.
If you are on a budget, don’t be shy and let the sommelier know and they can recommend wine that is within your range and to your liking. Sommeliers are there to put you at ease when choosing a wine, not make you feel nervous or inadequate.
If it is for a large group, let the maitre’d know in advance that you would like to speak to a sommelier to pre-order some wines. Have a conversation about your budget and preferences. This way, you also avoid having to give instructions on wine service at a time when you should be attending to your guests.
If you are entertaining for lunch, I would recommend a lighter style of wine as it is usually a simpler and quicker meal. A lighter style of wine will also be much easier on the palate.
Qn: Of the wines you’ve tasted, what are some of the more unusual wine varietals that would be great to order if our readers wanted to impress a client they were taking out for a meal and show-off some wine knowledge?
Koshu from Japan – a white grape variety grown in Japan. It has a refreshing acidity and delicate aromas. It pairs well with Japanese food and seafood dishes.
Nerello Mascalese from Mount Etna of Sicily, Italy – it is a light red wine similar to Pinot Noir. It marries nicely with lighter style seafood and also game meat such as duck and quail.
Marselan – a grape variety that is originally from France but has made its ground in China. It is fruity and has more fine tannins, pairing well with steak and braised meats.
Qn: Last but not least, could you share what is the most memorable wine and wine experience you’ve ever had?
In 2015, I had the honor and pleasure to taste a Madeira that was produced in 1887. The taste was simply amazing. It perfectly stood the passage of time and our group tried guessing the vintage. No one could have imagined how old this bottle was!
At the publication of this article, Jacques placed 2nd runner up at the 10th Singapore National Sommeliers Competition 2019 held on 1 September 2019. She continues to be resolute in her pursuit of becoming a “cork dork”.
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