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Profile: Chef Sommelier Yvonne Cheung on Wines and Clay Modelling

Blog post   •   Nov 03, 2011 06:36 GMT

Tell us more about this clay modeling you do.

It was a pastime for awhile, but I very quickly discovered that I think and create more clearly in 3D rather than 2D.  Using clay and porcelain as mediums for creativity, I got into free-form sculpture – just putting my energy, feelings and creativity into forms with movement and detail.  I don't think I was brilliant at it but it was certainly an important outlet for me.  Pushing and poking around with clay in your hands is therapeutic and fun!  I don’t have access to a studio or kiln any more, but one day, I plan to make time for it again. 

My parents were wonderful, providing rich experiences like ballet, classical music, travel to us children.  I learnt how to the play the piano at age 6 – one of my more serious “hobbies” as a kid. Music, art, and literature are not directly linked to what I do now, but they are integral to who I am – I can’t go through a single day without a little bit of each. 


How did you fall into your profession pursuing a wine career?


That segues into how I got into wine.  Funny, people ask me that often, and I genuinely think about it and have a slightly different answer every time.  To keep it simple, I absolutely love wine and what it represents: history, culture, language, land, geology, geography, biology, chemistry, business, people and interaction.  On top of all that, it is really an incredible beverage that comes from the humble origin of farming.  Amazing when you think about it.  But in terms of getting into it – I think a combination of being a curious-minded person, a foodie (or food geek) and someone fascinated by the contrast of simplicity and complexity, I simply got hooked. I loved food first and so naturally fell in love with wine.  I’ve worked in and around food as a job, as a hobby, as a passion. I was intrinsically engulfed by the world of wine equally because it is meant to be shared.  The social connotations of wine, and what it takes to create it, also apply to how it should be enjoyed.  It’s more than simply a drink – it ties together all the things listed above (history, culture, etc).  It is a way of thinking and living more than a way of doing. 


I don’t want to sound like an overly romantic zealot – there are also many practical and unexciting things about wine, whether in viticulture, vinification, or business.  But it is all part of the package – many of us are fortunate to pick and choose what we like and what we deal with in this business. 


Wine is just really fun, to be a little bit glib.  You feel good, and with enough of it, you also feel goofy.  But it can also be one of the most profound experiences you would remember.  


Tell us a little about your recent trip to recent Italy.


Most recently, I was privileged to be invited on a trip to Italy with Kedington Wines, based here in Hong Kong.  It was a packed itinerary, but that’s really the only way to make these kinds of trips successful!  We drove from the southern tip of Tuscany into Emilia-Romagna, then northeast to the Veneto and Friuli.  We flew out of Milan back to Hong Kong.  It is so important to understand context for wines – meeting winemakers, grape growers, and family members of estates not only allows one to gain a better understanding of the philosophy behind the wines, but also to help remember the details that make it special.  You can’t have those experiences by reading books and magazine articles, no matter how elaborate they may be. 


Among the highlights on the trip – food was spectacular, accompanying wines were extremely memorable.  Grappa was also fun (not everyone remembers, if you get my drift)!  We visited a resurrected vineyard celebrating a unique Italian varietal (dorona) with very unique terroir in Venice.  Tank samples were educational – tank and barrel samples are my favorite way to learn about wines as I find them to be the most honest and naked in their expressions before bottling.  Visiting vineyard sites, smelling the natural air, touching the earth and the old vines, enjoying quality food and wine with friends akin to that region make you feel like you might understand what the concept of “home” is.  I loved it.  Having recently moved away from wine country to live in Hong Kong, I found myself missing these aspects throughout the trip…  but was happy to return to Hong Kong all the same. 


Your favourite wine/grape and New World or Old World?


These are the tough questions! By category, let’s begin with sparkling wine.  I am definitely a blanc de blancs girl – give me a bubbly that has strong, elegant posture, razor sharp focus, and uninterrupted complexity wrapped up in an unassuming, almost simple package…I am in love!  For whites, that’s tough.  In every category, I like purity – I have a weakness for Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, white burgundy. With reds, I am deferential to the great nebbiolos of Piedmont, silky, finessed red burgundies, powerful and aromatic northern Rhône syrahs…  these are the cerebrals and the classics.  I am also loving more southern Italian reds – a reserved Nero d’Avola, an inky aglianico…   with desserts, I am a big Tokaji fan, as well as sweet Chenin Blancs, Rieslings…   it can’t always be serious – I equally enjoy spunky rosés, simple aromatic whites, and fruity young red wines meant to be enjoyed with a good mood.  Generally, I lean towards old world wines, but these are just guidelines.  I would feel lucky if you made me drink Torrontes from Mendoza, pinot noir from Sonoma, and cab blends from Stellenbosch all week.  There are so many amazing wines out there!  And so many yet to discover!

Any tips on pairings with Asian food, eg dim sum?

The wonderful thing about Asian cuisine is that it can’t be categorised!  Country by country, region by region, it’s impossible to really call it one thing.  But I grew up eating a lot of Cantonese and Shanghainese flavours, so I can speak to those aspects of Chinese food.  I admit to being a little bit shy about recommending powerful red wines with these cuisines – I find that the magical nuances that happen in our mouths can turn unpleasant when mixing strong components like salt, spice and oil with tannin, oak, and alcohol.  Sometimes it works very well, but for safety purposes, I often prefer white given the wide range of varieties (consider NZ sauvignon blanc to vin jaune from Jura to delicate viognier to sweet gruner veltliner, etc) or light reds.  Ingredients of South East Asian cuisine are a little bit more predictable, as the climate often points to fresh, acidic, herbaceous and spicy foods.  I feel very comfortable suggesting differing styles of Riesling or Gruner for these kinds of foods, as you can find wines with significantly less alcohol to adjust to salt or spice levels, and varying degrees of sweetness to give flexibility.  For Chef Gray’s Red Snapper Curry (yum) – it is perfect with a slighty off-dry Riesling.

Your Top 3 Countries to Visit for Good Wines and Vineyards

France, Germany, Italy!

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