What is the best way to ask a Sommelier on recommending a wine that suits your preference? Join Stephanie Rigourd, Sommelier, and Elspeth Shek, Field Marketing & Events Manager APAC to discover the joy and challenges of being a Sommelier, and the taste and preferences of world leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Tony Blair and Boris Johnson.
Happy hour and thank you for joining us on our fifth episode of Zoomelier hosted by Cloudflare, a leading security performance and reliability company on a mission to help build a better Internet.
Today we welcome Stéphanie Rigourd and we're going to chat about all things Zoomelier.
So welcome Stéphanie, thanks for taking time and can you share a little bit more about yourself please?
Good afternoon everyone, so I'm Stéphanie and as you can hear I'm sure I'm French.
I have a terrible French accent that I can't hide and yes as you said I'm a Zoomelier.
Bonjour and could you share with us like how do you find out about your passion for wine and how do you end up in the industry and some of the famous restaurants and hotels that you work with?
I guess being French it's in our culture to enjoy wine but it doesn't mean that we necessarily know wine.
This is often a mistake that people make. They think because you are French you know wine.
That's not true. Most of the French people I know they don't know wine but they pretend they do but it's part of our culture.
So I grew up in an environment where wine was a very important part of all our dining experience, of all our parties and stuff so it was really important for us and I decided to become a Zoomelier because since I was very small I was like fascinated by all these adults tasting the wine and all these people talking about the wine and I was really really bad at school.
I was a gymnast for 15 years and my dream was more like an Olympic dream that never happened and so I decided to go to the hospitality industry first as a reconversion and from there I took on wine courses and I ended up in a wine school where I studied for two years before graduating as a Zoomelier.
I worked for many restaurants and hotels in France first so sorry about the noise behind.
It was quiet until then and then it started behind me.
I hope you can hear me because my voice is very small. I've been trying to train it with coffee and whiskey but it doesn't work.
I still have a baby voice, sorry.
So I worked for a Michelin star restaurant in Burgundy called Le Charlemagne.
I worked for Palace Hotel in Bordeaux, famous in Bordeaux where I served many stars there.
It was very fancy and atas like they say here. I worked also for a Relais Chateau in Luberon in Provence and then I moved in Singapore in 2009 so it has been 11 years.
At the time it was my first flight ever. I couldn't speak a word of English.
I was a complete, totally rushed angmoh like they say, like they call me here and I worked for Hilton Singapore where my mentor was, the gentleman who actually met me in France and brought me in Singapore.
So for six years I started to work just for restaurants called Harbour Grill at the Hilton Singapore that closed down now but it was very famous by then.
One of the few western restaurants that opened first in Singapore and then I became the sommelier for the hotel and then I started to make wine programs with wine classes and events and then I worked for a few hotels of Hilton groups and then Hilton is owned by Mr Ong Ben Seng and Christina Ong.
So I started to work for them as well, for their private hotels, for their private parties and then in 2014 I joined Raffles Hotel where I became the wine director for a few years and since last year I changed my career path and I moved on the other side of the market.
I'm still a sommelier but now I work for an importer and distributor called the Vintage Club.
Awesome and your first leg is to Singapore and here you are and I was doing a bit of like research on your background and I noticed that you have worked with one of the very famous Singapore icons Lee Kuan Yew, our founding fathers of the country and what a journey it has been and other than that you have also worked with leaders of the world like Boris Johnson, Tony Blair.
Could you share with us like how is it like to be serving wine to famous people of the world?
Are they like difficult or are they like just another normal person like you and me on the streets?
So for me they are just like you and me on the streets literally and if you start to think too much you will freak out and you won't be capable to serve them properly.
I think the key is to stay natural and to do your job as always so you keep professional, you keep efficient and that's it.
You need to be discreet but this is what you learn when you work in the hospitality industry anyway.
So yeah I didn't work for them but I worked for Mr Ong who was having a lot of parties with all these politicians so I'm glad and pretty proud actually to have been serving Mr Lin Kuan Yew for many years and no I won't say they are difficult.
In fact I met people with no money and no fame that were far more difficult than them and as I said if you remain a professional discreet and natural there's nothing to be worried about.
Awesome and do they share like a similar preference for wine due to the amount of work and stress that they handle or do they have very different tastes and preferences?
You will be surprised but some of them don't really care about wine they will rather ask for beer.
In fact Tony Blair when I brought a very nice bottle of famous Chateau in Margaux to him he asked me for a beer so you know again you are not there to show off with your knowledge or whatsoever you are there to please them and to make sure you are enjoying a good time and you make sure you don't stay on their way you are just there when they need you so if he wants to drink a beer that's perfectly fine with me and usually I choose the wine in advance based on the dinner they will have so to do the food and wine pairing and I know that Lin Kuan Yew love is Gevrey Chambertin so it's a bourguigny red wine and he also love is Riesling from Assas which is another French region so I will always make sure that I have some of his favorite wines ready and yes I will remain creative and make sure I have many other options if he wants to but it's important to yes know what they like and you learn that through the different times you will serve them.
Interesting one day I must contact you and then try what Lin Kuan Yew likes to drink so that I can feel like you know connected with him I haven't even met him in my life before so lucky so could you share with the audience like the joy and challenges of being a sommelier because a lot of us will think that hey this is a really glamorous job you get to meet famous politicians businessmen and then you get to interact with them and you serve wine but could you share with us like the maybe things that we do not know about being a sommelier so sorry to break down all the dreams but before anything else you are a waiter you are a waiter pouring wine and you need to never forget that sommelier tend to be superstars nowadays I don't like superstars and I don't care about superstar we are here to please our customer to transmit knowledge if they want to if they're not ready to hear it if they don't care about it you shouldn't pose yourself so being a sommelier it's 20 percent of your time on wine knowledge and talking about wine and 80 percent of your time on doing many other things including washing polishing the glassware and doing the argentry doing the mise en place clean up so many things it's also very long hours so don't you forget but in restaurant in hospitality you work on weekends you work on ph you work on your birthday you work on new year you work on christmas you can even work in chinese new year which didn't impact me but of course impact on my local friends chinese friend so it's a lot of sacrifice I didn't mind all of that I always like to be on a different schedule than normal people so being off on the weekdays and working on saturday sunday didn't bother me for a very long time long hours didn't bother me neither in fact it brought me strong now that I moved to another industry my day seems so short 9 to 6 p.m is it a joke is so and so I don't regret any of that and I enjoy it at some points actually it's a beautiful job but it's also very hard physically so you need to have the passion for it with no passion for it it's impossible and if you have just a passion for wine don't be a sommelier in a restaurant show something else because being it's before anything else being a waiter in a restaurant or hotel and people tend to forget that that's really interesting I never thought of it like that I always have like high respect for sommeliers because of their knowledge of the wine and they seem to have like a really strong nose to smell like all the berries and your strawberries and chocolate in the wine that I can never seem to smell so really interesting story and you know our very first female guest on our sommelier series and I definitely look forward to many more and I wanted to ask you know for like a spiral aspiring female sommeliers like has it ever been a challenge to be a female in a male -dominated industry I think if you start to focus on that as a challenge it will become a challenge because until I realized it could be one I never realized it was actually one I think my biggest issue was my age more than my than my gender I started this job I was 19 years old and I always had this baby face if I may say people were just wondering if I was allowed to drink wine so the age was definitely an issue for me and arriving in Singapore being a nangu was another issue for me because I was coming after years of some foreigners being a bit snob in the wine industry looking at people a bit down and it's true that when you arrive to a table of local people some of them would be like oh one more angmo is going to tell me what is life about and I could always feel this wow she's arriving oh my god I don't want to talk to her so it was a really important for me to understand that to adapt myself to look and to be and I am I think very friendly and to open the communication but it was not always easy and I think I've been facing more challenges by my age and my nationality even though being French with the French accent don't make me don't get it wrong it's a very very positive but yes I always felt that that was harder than being a woman and to ended up on that topic in France being a woman is a problem but in Singapore I never felt any Singaporean looking at me down because I'm a lady speaking about wine if I get this kind of reaction they are definitely coming from Frenchmen not from French Singapore not from Singapore for sure not interesting and so how do you overcome the challenges that you face like with regards to age because I'm sure like a lot of people then and maybe now when they drink expensive wine they're usually of a certain profile or certain age group and how do you what are the steps that you took to to overcome those tragedies it's just like when you want to prove that you're good similarly don't talk just do just act so show that you are professional rather than saying it so yes it's frustrating because it will take you maybe twice longer than any other elder to have the trust from some people but you will eventually get there or you will get there if you remain professional and good at what you do so provide the right service remain friendly and yeah just be professional and at some points it will just come it will take longer but it will come hmm awesome I'm learning so much from you as we speak even though this is just the second time that we have spoke I'm so glad I managed to connect with you could you could you I have a personal question for you so every time when I go to a restaurant and I meet a sommelier actually I'm a little shy or rather I don't know how to communicate with someone with so much expertise like I my vocabulary is only limited to I like a granache and I like this type of wine from these countries and I couldn't like say like oh I would like like berry tasting those chocolate tasting those do you have any tips for our audience on the line uh what is the best way or some tips to to to communicate to a sommelier on the type of wines that we like so communicate to sommelier it's one thing but the other thing you told me it's um how to not be intimidated or how to um go through that never ever forget without you this sommelier wouldn't have his job is no one to make you feel that way and if he does he's not doing his job well he's just a waiter pouring wine I'm not putting my own job and passion down but at the end of the day some of the sommelier you are meeting they can't even afford the restaurants you are dining in so why would you feel intimidated if they make you feel this way it's not correct so remain yourself be natural and why would you care if you look stupid or not not everyone should know about wine and if the sommelier is a good sommelier he should be helping you so that is the first part for communication be honest anyway people were trying to look like they know wine the sommelier in front of them if he is really a sommelier it will put them on right away so it's no point to play like oh I know my wine if you don't know usually people who don't know their wine they will show up a lot and people who know their wine they will keep quiet so just say I am not comfortable with the wine selection I don't know wine enough this is my budget to not have bad surprises and if you don't want to say heart love because you're inviting people you show on the wine is the price range you are referring to if this is my budget we are more into white or red I like red a bit big I like red a bit light and even if I'm not using the proper verbiage or the right vocabulary is the sommelier in front of you to be capable of understanding what you say they are used to that they mean everyday people who don't know their wine very well so there's nothing to be ashamed and it's their job to understand you on it that's it awesome that's really helpful and what happens if like the sommelier recommends me a bottle of wine and I open it and I try and don't like it what options do I have the thing is in Europe I never encountered this kind of issue in Europe the culture is it's much older on wine and when a customer open a bottle of wine he doesn't like it he knows he has to pay for it you don't pay a bottle of wine if the wine is 40 but you can't say I don't pay this bottle of wine because I don't like it it's just like if you order dish beef with I don't know what sauces whatsoever you eat half and you say I don't like it you can't the waiter to refund you right so it's the same thing if you don't like it then you take a picture of the label and you make sure you don't reorder something make something like that make sure you inform the sommelier if he's commercially a good service person he will know I mean he will do something for you will maybe offer you a glass of wine if the bottle of wine is not too expensive maybe you will replace it there's always a way to make sure as a sommelier you make it right with your customer but you can't expect your sommelier to refund you every bottle of wine you will open and you don't like otherwise you can open the whole wine is like that I mean but if it's the one is 40 like it's corked so cork 10 or it's oxidized yes you can definitely be refund and change the bottle what are the key traits of a 40 wine because sometimes like for people who may not drink too much wine like we are not sure whether it's something that we don't like or whether it's 40 are there some key traits that we can look out for to know that it's a 40 wine so uh the sommelier should know so if he's honest he will tell you if he's not honest then sorry there are there are non -honest people everywhere in this world um but I hope he is more honest sommelier than none of the sommelier and he will know if you don't know he will know and he has to change the bottle uh now I cannot give you tips just like that it's experience so if you are hanging out with friends who are drinking wine and one night you heard them saying oh this one is corked make sure you have a glass to understand what is it about and to remember it for next time but unfortunately there is no secret uh tip that I can give you it's all about experience and yes even more experience than knowledge yes all right yes I guess I have to drink more wine to gain that experience then and um one more one more personal question so I I have like wine glasses at home and when I watch it um I still find like there are those like um fingerprints on it do you have any tips on how uh one person can look impressive when they host a dinner party at home to make sure like their wine glasses look sparkly and shiny like what you get in the restaurant yes you leave you use a hot steam so usually at home I um so my glasses are washed by hand they are uh dry up so to dry them up don't use um nasty uh cloth or stuff like that you need to use a a nice napkin firm tissues firm material that doesn't give any residual on the glass you know I don't know how to call it in English but sometimes yes and so if your glasses are so fragile or very very um thin it's even better to um wash it and to let them down dry it up and then to remove the stain you use this nice table cloth usually table um napkin that looks like tablecloth the very hard ones are the best is the one we use in a hotel and restaurants and you put like a hot water like you use a pan on your fire and you steam some water and with the steam you just use that um to um to polish the glasses so it's what we do in the restaurants we wash them first and then before to put them on the table we polish them with a steam hot steam if we say it like that in English yes I'll give it a try thank you and um so on on the topic of glasses um there are people who say like you know if you invest in like crystal glasses it will change the taste of wine is that true absolutely true and this is a quick one most people don't know that and they will be like oh I don't understand this wine doesn't taste the same than when I tested there or whatsoever and and often is due to the glassware so there are uh two fundamental mistakes that people make first it's uh they use a very thick ones um very heavy um ones and that will change definitely the perception of the wine it will make the wine feels bigger feels uh rougher and it definitely has an impact on the taste for sure and the second thing is that often people don't wash properly their glasses they wash them and they they leave them in the closed cabinets your glass take the smell of the cabinet and when you pour the wine inside you will have a very nasty nose very nasty smell that come from the cabinet rather than the wine so that are the two major mistakes that people make uh when they are using glassware for their wine wow that's interesting uh I have learned a few things that I can improve on so I'm so glad I get to meet you so let's talk about um something fun even though like the topic and the conversation has been really fun uh but I'm sure like you know everyone wants to hear from your experience some of the recommendations of wines that you can uh offer us during this uh COVID-19 period so um let's talk about like let's say if I'm in a conference call and um my my boss my manager's on the line but you know I'm having a hard day and I want to drink some wine but I don't want to make it seem like I'm I'm flouting the office rules do you have any recommendations of what kind of wine we can drink what kind of snacks will you open if you are in this kind of situation because you will choose your snacks most probably the same way you will choose your wine and since I don't know you I don't know what you will choose so for sure it's a simple moment um with your boss over zoom so you're not going to open the best bottle in your fridge but there are some people who like heavy bold big red wine even though they are not eating and enjoy it so it's what you like go for it some people like fried skin fish chips as a snack some people prefer olives some people prefer just egg yolk chips I don't know so you choose the snack the same way you would choose the bottle in your fridge most probably something simple easy and light because you are not eating any proper meal to go with and most of the time wine is going with milk um so yes most probably something light but if you like something heavy then go for it it's very personal choice personal test okay I guess in this case because I can't eat and drink at the same time that's too much for what call uh I will probably choose like a white wine to start and so if um let's say about for yourself if you need to focus really hard on um maybe coming up with a wine program or wine list um what kind of wines do you usually drink to to to focus and stay in the zone because you drink alcohol for focus I don't know how you do that but me if I drink I can't focus sorry but I don't drink and work I know people think so many drink at work but we don't drink we test wine and we spit wine very important if you start to drink at work in the beginning of the end you finish alcohol you can if you are calling you lose your job so no no no for focusing like most people I guess I can't drink otherwise my powerpoint would be really poor okay and what if like you had a really stressful day um many many things happen you met a very very difficult customer and you would like to drink something to to relax what would you recommend if I'm alone at home maybe I will open a rosé wine something light fresh crispy that I have in my fridge like Cote de Provence but if I'm alone um I mean if I'm with people I will open one with him alone if my husband is not back from work yet sorry I will disappoint you but I will just open a tiger beer that works too you know tiger beer is so refreshing that's so interesting and I know for beer lovers it's a it's maybe not the best beer ever um but yes I don't drink wine alone and I don't I don't feel guilty the same way to open a can of beer whatsoever and when you have tasted wine all day long talk about wine all day long trust me a beer is the best now if I go to the bar or just join my husband in his restaurants maybe I would ask him a good quality beer from the draft but yes often somebody drinks beer after work they had enough wine during the day interesting I didn't think about that but it's like for people who usually drink beer and try wine you will recommend a rosé from Cote de Provence yes awesome and so um in your um career in your lifetime you have met a lot of politicians wealthy businessmen and they have like a huge budget I also sell some superstar Johnny Depp oh really wow yeah Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis before they broke up I mean it wasn't the reason why they broke up yes in Bordeaux I was working at a fancy hotel and we had a lot of superstars coming and for me the most memorable ones was a rock a group music group called it's a French group very very famous in France and I was a big fan I saw them like 20 times in concert I had their poster all over my bedroom and I was literally a crazy fan so serving them was a was a lot of emotion was really big for me and it's by far my biggest memory do you like take a picture with them and get your autograph no you never do that you never do that you stay discreet they shouldn't know that you are a fan and yes you simply do that don't do that by respect they can enjoy a meal like everyone else without having anyone to disturb them we're simply not working because for them somehow it's part of their job to take pictures and sign autographs I would be very pissed off if somebody interrupt me during my meal to ask me one advice wine advice so yes I you simply don't do that it is often the policy in hotels in Singapore is not that tough I've seen people asking for picture like that but in France for sure you don't and when Johnny Depp came in the hotel we had a very strict strict rules to follow because he actually is known to to beat them or or fight with some people before asking for autograph or picture we were all very scared of him yeah there are a lot of interesting news on Johnny on the Internet for sure thanks for for letting me know so that if I ever want to become a sommelier I'll take you know so could you share with the audience so let's say one day I decide to spend all my money on wine or one day I make so much money in the world and money is not an issue for me anymore I want to try out the most expensive wine in the world what would you recommend um wine quality is not necessary relative to money believe me or not but there are fantastic wine from hidden gem wineries or wine region in the world are far better than some of the big labels expensive and known from all over the world I think said that if I was gaining a lot of money tomorrow I will start to invest in wine so I will buy what we call wine that have just been put into um bottles or they are about to be put in bottles so I will simply invest in wine when they are the cheapest to make sure in 10 years 15 20 years time I have exceptional bottles ready to drink because the problem is that if you buy wine today because you want to you know you have a promotion or bonus and you have 500 bucks to spend in one bottle and it will be very hard to find a bottle that is already aged aged properly and ready to drink thank you so much for sharing today I learned a lot not just like how to clean my wine uh how to talk sommeliers at the restaurant even now I have some investment tips from you I really appreciate you taking time today come to the end of our segment it was really nice knowing you and I wish you a lovely evening thank you very much nice talking to you have a good day