Saturday, 22 March 2014

Interview with David Stephan, Sommelier for Wine Talk, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

wine talk
Sommelier David Stephan

The Yum List recently had the pleasure of catching up with sommelier for Wine Talk, David Stephan. He shared his insights on the industry and even some of his favourites wines.



What do you do and how did you get into the industry? 
I manage Wine Talk, which is an online Wine Shop; we arrange wine deliveries for our customers directly to their home or office across West Malaysia; we also manage a great Wine Club, in which our ‘members’ receive every chosen month a brand new selection of wines which I have picked according to their preference. It is a concept very popular in some Western Countries (mostly the UK, Australia and the US), and we are very proud to introduce in Malaysia.  
I originally came from the food and beverage industry; I studied hospitality in France where I worked as a Sommelier/Restaurant Manager but also in the Caribbean and Shanghai, China where I switched into wine import and distribution in 2006, before moving to Malaysia in 2011. So I have basically worked in the wine world for almost 20 years now.

Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes. 
Well, we got a fair number of calls from people asking where is our Wine Shop, as they like to see the bottles and pick them up before purchasing. Since we are an online company only, we have our office in PJ where we have a small daily inventory, but most of our wines available on our website are not stored in our office, but rather at another warehouse. It can be a bit confusing for some people’s habits, but we assure that all the wines leaving our storage are in perfect condition – if it is not, we will replace it anyway with our Brand Promise.


What's the best/ worst part of your job? 

Our customers are our 1st priority, and the best part of the job is to receive e-mails from our members with comments about the Wine Club selection, telling us that they love the concept, and that a wine or a grape varietals which they had never heard of and they would never have purchase by themselves has become one of their favorites. This encourages us a lot to know we are doing a good thing!
On the other part, despite all the effort that we do for our level of service, being kind of a pioneer on our concept always bring some new challenges every day, for our website development or logistic partner, which may not always have the same vision. There are sometimes shortcomings which bring some stress but nothing we cannot handle.  


What's your personal favorite wine to drink on its own?

I always try to not drink the same wine twice in a row, and I encourage everyone to do the same if you want to open a bottle of wines. I don’t have a single grape that I like to enjoy all the time, but I rather always try to ‘challenge’ my palate!  
At the moment, I am enjoying a lot of Italian wines as we received a fresh shipment from this great country (I know that as a French, I am supposed to dislike anything Italian but we both know what is good! Hehe). My favorite comes from Arneis of the Northern Piemonte region for the whites (like our ca’ Bianco Roero Arneis), and Nero d’Avola from the Southern Island of Sicily (like our Tenuta Rapitala ‘Campo reale’).

In your mind what's an outstanding food and wine pairing?
One of the best experiences I had for a food and wine pairing happened when I was living in Shanghai, China; with some friends and colleagues, we had a BBC (Blind Bottle Club). We met every other week in different restaurants and everyone was bringing a bottle ‘blind’ – with hidden label – so we all tried to guess the wine/grape/region/vintage; it was pretty fun.  

One day we went to a Restaurant called ‘Madison’, we were a fair number, ordered a few dishes to share and at one point, we served my wine (white Bandol, from Provence in Southern France), and one of the dishes was a braised pork belly – then we all stopped talking when we accidently tried the two together and said to each other “Have you tried those two together??” That was an awesome match, the richness and slight natural oxidation (not a bad thing sometime) of the wines was cutting straight through the belly fat! Yum – I want that again now!

Do you remember the moment when you first enjoyed a really good wine?
I don’t really remember, but the first time I got drunk, according to my mother, was apparently at 4 years old! My parents were having a small party at my home, and while they were dancing, I snuck into the living room and skulled down a couple of glasses of Champagne!
Meanwhile, my parents had wines every day, simple ones on week days, but on Sunday, my Dad always opened a good bottle, made me smell, described it a little for me, and gave me a little sip – things that I do now with my own daughter.  

Tell us a story about one of the wines from Wine Talk.
We are working mostly with smaller, family-owned estates, where the people who own the wineries are most likely the ones working in the vineyards too. We have received a brand from Australia called ‘Wine Men of Gotham’; it was founded a few years ago by Bruce Clugston and Fiona White, and are based in the outskirts of Adelaide. The fun label and name is based on an old British legend of the people of the village of Gotham (just South of Nottingham) which, not wanting to pay taxes to the king, were acting rather foolishly when messengers where coming to the village – earning them the name of ‘Wise Men of Gotham’. Swapping the word Wise to Wine was just a simple step away!
But as the people, do not take the wines as ‘simple’! Their Shiraz-Grenache for example is a blend from different parcels in South-Australia, which is fairly classic, but a large dominant of it actually comes from the Barossa and Mc Laren vale – two of the best sub-regions! So don’t be fooled. Just enjoy it!

What's one of the most outrageous things you've seen as a sommelier?
I have lived for eight years in China, and for all the stories I heard coming out, I have seen only one time a Chinese person adding some Soda into a premium wine – so not exactly every time as we can hear!  
Meanwhile, the first time I actually witnessed a wine ‘desacralization’, I was working in St Barts, a small Island in the Caribbean in the early 2000s. I was working in ‘L’Esprit Salines’, a very cool and trendy place, and one day was taking care of a table of 10 people; they had ordered Champagne, 1er Cru white Burgundy, and for the red, a €400 bottle of Bordeaux. Then one of the ladies (an actual real Italian Contessa) in the table asked me for some ice cubes, because she liked her wine cold! After trying to dissuade her, I finally gave her ice cubes but I told her “I am not putting them on your glass, you can do it yourself!” 

The perfect day off would be... 
Wake up fresh, walk my dog with the sun rising, have breakfast then go to the pool with my wife and daughter, relax at lunch time, cook for a few hours and receive friends in late afternoon for a BBQ, good time – and good wines, of course!


What do you do for fun?

Other than drinking good wines (all in the name of professional and personal development of course) – which is indeed fun, I love to spend time with my family, either lazy at home or at the pool, or out for some trekking/sightseeing, or spending time with friends for good food and good time. 

What's something you'd like guests to know about Wine Talk?
We want to bring up a brand new level of service to our customers, with a great range of exciting wines at great price. With our brand promise (Guaranteed Satisfaction and Guaranteed Price), there is no risk on your side, and our Wine Club is a great way to discover new wines and be sure that you always have high-quality wines in stock at home for a weekday dinner or for last minute dinner invitation at a friend’s place.


How do you select your wines? 

I am always looking for good wines at great prices; not necessarily the cheapest because those may be very simple and not exactly interesting, but not the most expensive either, as it doesn’t guarantee that you will actually like it – premium wines usually need time for ageing, are stronger and more complex, and can be confusing sometimes. There’s a great range of wines available between RM50 to RM100, but not all the wines on the market are! I go through the flood of brands and select the best for our customers, in order to ensure our brand promise of ‘Guaranteed Satisfaction’!

What's your view on the KL wine scene?
For too long, importers have been focusing on what they think is the easiest to sell – simple, easy to understand wines, mostly from the ‘New World’ (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, or Argentina), staying away from wines which are a bit ‘off-track’, so finding some nice gems of discovery used to be very difficult.  
Lots of people also got used to those types of wines and were happy to go for those, but for some time now, you can find a much better range of wines, from different countries and a much better spread of grape varietals. Meanwhile, when some people are still very attached to their classic Aussie Shiraz (or others NZ Sauvignon Blanc or Argentinean Malbec), many are open to new discovery, and it is my mission to make them try something else, which they actually may like better.

What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months as members of the Wine Club
We have just received a lot of new exciting brands, with some available exclusively for our Wine Club members. We have new wines from Australia and South Africa, but also a great range from Spain or Italy (including some wines from lesser known region, like the Puglia in the Southern part of the Country, with varietals like Primitivo or Aglianico). We have also received the new vintage of our last year’s Wine Club member’s favorites, with our Monte de Peceguina range from the Alentejo region in Southern Portugal.  
Our Wine Club members have also preferential prices on many wines and accessories, preferential access and prices to events that we organize, regular complementary gifts, advantage on their birthday month and we regularly organize events/parties where we invite only our members, for an informal tasting where we present our new arrivals. So lots of great advantages for our members, especially when it is free to join and there is no long term commitment!

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