We’ve all heard of wine stalwarts – Debra Meiburg MW and Jeannie Cho Lee MW. Joining their hallowed ranks is Sarah Heller MW, the enthusiastic wine master from Hong Kong who was recently in Delhi to promote the luxury crystalware brand – Lucaris. Apart from being a stupendous communicator on wine, a consultant and a designer, Heller runs a company called Heller Beverage Advisory; she also writes for a great many wine publication. We caught up with her during the masterclass at The Leela, Chanakyapuri, and shot some questions her way. Here’s what she said:
1. When and how did you decide to enter the business of wine?
I didn’t really decide to enter the wine business so much; I gradually got sucked into it from the restaurant industry. I wanted to be a chef, but every time I was working in a kitchen (starting 2008) I found myself being taken to a wine fair or sneaking out of the kitchen to taste wine with suppliers. Relatively quickly, I hung up my chef’s whites for good and started working for the suppliers instead.
2. You drink the world's most exciting wines all the time. Which wine excites you the most?
The two regions that consistently blow me away are Barolo for red wine and the Côte de Beaune for white. Wines from these regions, when mature and in form, are so mind-shatteringly complex that you can sit with them all night just enjoying their aroma. You don’t even have to drink them!
3. Is it possible to say that so-and-so wine is the best in the world? If yes, how so?
Not really – we have a cliché in the wine world that there are no great wines, only great bottles. Wine is a living thing, so circumstances will determine whether an individual bottle is spectacular or just ok. There are a few contenders for the best wine in the world, mostly from the famous regions we all know. But sometimes a wine from somewhere less established like a Chardonnay from New Zealand or a South African red blend will come along and blow them all out of the water.
4. What ingredients make for a great wine?
Exceptional vineyards, careful attention to detail from the viticulturalist and a lack of ego from the winemaker.
5. Is there an untouched region in the world you secretly wish starts making wine?
A region that nobody knows about! It would be fun for me if wine production became more common in South Korea where my mother’s family is from. Theyeven used to own vineyards years ago but for any new region it takes decades, sometimes centuries, to figure out which are truly the best sites.
6. Which is your favourite Biblical reference for wine?
I’m not especially religious, but Ecclesiastes 9:7 “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do,” works for me.
7. How important is a wine glass when it comes to wine?
Wine glasses are a tool to ensure you’re getting the best experience a wine has to offer. To truly flatter the wine, it should be made of clear crystal or glass to show off the wine’s colour. It must have a rounded bowl to help the aromas evaporate and collect at your nose and a thin rim so that the wine feels delicate and fine on your tongue. Personally, I prefer it to have a stem so you don’t warm the wine up with your hand, but stemless work too.
8. How is Lucaris glass special and different from Riedel?
Lucaris glasses are made in Asia for Asian lifestyles – our pace of life is so fast and our living quarters so tight that we eat out a lot and tend to have multiple flavours on the table at once, including multiple wines. In this context, ensuring our wine perfectly matches each element in our dish or each glass perfectly matches each wine is too much work. Lucaris’ glassware collections are designed for versatility – Desire, for example, accommodates all of the world’s styles in four glass shapes.
9. If you were to serve a Barolo since it's your favourite in a Lucaris glass, which one would you choose?
The Shanghai Soul Burgundy Grande. First, it has plenty of space for the Barolo to release its perfume. Also, the flared rim drops the wine onto the front of your tongue so you get the maximum fruit flavour before those fierce tannins kick in.
10. Any advice for wine snobs?
There is always so much more to learn – don’t shut yourself off from new experiences or you’ll miss the next Le Pin or Screaming Eagle.