While it’s no secret that DBers love their wine, you may be surprised to know that there’s a world-class palate amongst us. Alexander Grasic sits down with Tim Clark, who has just received one of the most prestigious wine-tasting awards in the world
So Tim, what exactly have you won?
Well, over the past six years I have sat several exams with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). They teach you how wine (and spirits) are made, about different varieties across the globe, and how to taste them consistently and effectively. I sat my Level 4 Diploma (the highest level WSET offers) in September of last year and, in November, I was told I had won the Vintners’ Cup, meaning that I received the highest aggregate score in my exams out of anyone in 2019.
You must be following in some pretty big footsteps?
Many of the most respected names in the business have won this award over the years. Jancis Robinson, a doyenne of the industry, who wrote the Oxford Companion to Wine, a reference book I used in my studies, won in 1978. Sarah Heller, a fellow HongKonger, won in 2013. You can take WSET courses in over 70 countries and there are over 50,000 qualifiers (Level 1 and up) a year. The Vintners’ Cup is sponsored by London’s Worshipful Company of Vintners, one of the oldest guilds in the city.
So, you had your work cut out for you?
Absolutely. It was harder than university – a two-year slog. The Level 4 Diploma course consists of six units, so that’s six written exams and four assessed tastings, plus one research paper (citations and all). I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without the support of my wife Bethan and our daughter Stanley.
Tell us more about the wine tasting, the best bit surely?
I had hundreds of bottles of wine and spirits to taste, many of which are still sitting on my kitchen counter and floor. That in itself was a challenge. Many of the more recherché bottles had to be ordered in the UK and individually brought back. I bought tiny 3-millilitre commercial samples of the fine spirits so as to avoid financial ruin, and I invested in this contraption called a Coravin that allows you to siphon the wine out of the bottle through the cork via a needle. Bottles closed with natural cork reseal after accessing. Of course, the Coravin only works on still wine, not on sparkling. There’s nothing you can do to keep an opened bottle of sparkling wine fizzy beyond a day or so.
How did you refine your palate?
Well, practice, as they say, makes perfect… and I got some unexpected help from Dr Jackie Ng at Herbal Healthcares in DB Plaza. I found that his Chinese medicine detox, which I was on purely for health reasons, really helped heighten my sense of taste and smell.
The classic job after getting this diploma is a wine buyer but that’s not for me. I’m looking into wine education. I plan to hold formal classes as well as one-to-one sessions. But, for now, I’m hosting people at my house for informal tastings; I have to get through all those bottles somehow! Writing is another passion of mine and I plan to start a website to demystify wine. I want to write about the industry and wines in Hong Kong, and I’d like to share my experience of WSET to help others on their courses. I’m also talking to your editor about writing a series of articles for Around DB. So, wine lovers stay tuned!