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‘Sommeliers are no longer just about serving good wine’

Though sommeliers are evaluated on their expertise on wine and service skills, for hotel sommeliers, there are other qualities to consider, too.

Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas’ sommelier Yoo Seung-min, 43, was recognized for his competence in May, being honored as the Asia Winner of Sommelier of Stelliers. The Stelliers is formally known as the Hotelier Awards.

Hoteliers from more than 100 hotels from 19 countries participated in the event, competing in 19 different categories related to hotel management. The award ceremony was held at Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore.

“It was more than thrilling to be appreciated for what I have done,” Yoo told The Korea Herald in an interview Wednesday.

“Rather than just evaluating the knowledge of wines, the award focuses on how I have contributed, as a sommelier, to the hotel’s growth. It also goes into details, evaluating my hospitality philosophy, for example.”

Sommelier Yoo Seung-min (Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas)
Sommelier Yoo Seung-min (Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas)

Yoo has been with the hotel for nearly 20 years. As the head sommelier, he works out the wine list for 10 food and beverage outlets within the hotel property and oversees the inventory management.

Unlike most sommeliers today, Yoo did not study wine abroad. He began his career as a bartender but turned to wine in the early 2000s, when the wine business in South Korea starting booming.

“With wine, it is fascinating that the learning never stops. Once you think that you have learned enough, there is a whole other set of information,” Yoo said.

“I studied wine by attending courses at academic institutions. For hands-on experience, I traveled, visiting restaurants and wineries abroad.”

Yoo thinks the Korean wine scene has grown not only in terms of size, but also quality. “In recent years, consumers have become more mature. They are more aware about their tastes in wine, the qualities they are looking for.”

To satisfy the seasoned customers, sommeliers should strive for better expertise and service, Yoo said. Such a perspective derives from the highly competitive local hotel scene.

“Sommeliers are no longer about just serving good wine. Hospitality is important, too,” he said. “The quality of service has become exceptional these days. You really have to take it to another level to satisfy customers.”

Competition with machines is no exception here. In June 2018, the hotel presented an artificial intelligence sommelier service as a promotional event, with a machine blending wine according to guests’ requests. Yoo thinks, however, machines cannot beat humans -- not yet.

“Machines cannot catch the slightest hints. They cannot understand how the guests are feeling. But in the future, if they can understand guests’ feelings by analyzing the blood pressure, body temperature and tone of the voice, they would make great sommeliers,” he said.

By Im Eun-byel (
Korea Herald Youtube