At any event where wine can be found, Ying can be spotted scribbling tasting notes his little black book. One could say that wine has always vied for Ying’s attention: when studying law in the UK, he hung out at wine shops; he spent most of his student allowance on wine; he started a small collection of wines under his bed; and as a teenager, he would help his older sister select the wines she served at dinner by perusing wine reviews.
After qualifying as a lawyer, Ying worked in banking law and financial services regulations for 22 years. When he finally gave in to his love of wine, he stayed true to his academic nature and pursued it earnestly. In his journey to attain the Master of Wine (MW) title, he won numerous scholarships including the IMW Champagne Trinity Scholarship 2010, a French Wine Society scholarship for the Sud de France Master-Level Program in 2013, and the 2013 AXA Millésime Scholarship for MW students.
Yet, despite his extensive knowledge, Ying failed his tasting exam three times. He compares it to his bar exam and running 28 marathons in seven years, which he has also achieved. Having persevered in this journey of discovery, he wants to share his experiences. Today, Ying owns Taberna Wine Academy where he not only conducts tastings and classes but also prepares specific modules for those wishing to enrol in the MW program. He hopes that this little taste will give them a smoother ride during their exams than the one he had.
*This interview has been edited for clarity
Whilst working in the field of what you love, can you share some of the challenges that have come along, and joy that it has brought you?
Getting my MW was one of the hardest challenges I set myself. It was harder than my bar exam. I underestimated the time it would take but fortunately, I am persistent. The theory examination was relatively straightforward. It is about thinking logically, making sense, structuring answers — all that I practised regularly in the legal profession. What stumped me was the blind tasting. The more knowledge I accrued, the harder it got for me. I was hung up on getting the wine right. I would write so much I would run out of time. I had to learn the hard way that getting it right is not the most important thing. It was tough for me to dispel preconceptions and prejudices of the wines I knew. So many wines can taste alike. There is a joy of discovery and learning.
I travelled extensively. I would visit vineyards, judge wine competitions, and do consultancy work. It became overwhelming. I remember in early 2019, I spent only eight days at home in Singapore and that’s when I realized that I had to be more selective in my travels and what I committed to. I imposed an enforced break for myself over Christmas and New Year and spent it with my three siblings. Something I had not done for many years.
However, I do all this because I enjoy it! I love interacting and connecting with people who share the same interests. I have developed more personal relationships with those in the industry. I have met people whom I look up to, who inspire me. It also brought me more recognition. It feels like I have earned a place at the table.
Which wine or type of wine has made you happiest? Can you tell us about this experience?
I have a soft spot for Champagne. The general quality has improved enormously so there is a good consistency. It also comes in many styles, fitting all types of moods and occasions. You rarely get a bad bottle of champagne. For me, it’s a great bargain as I know I will always enjoy it.
What really gives me a buzz is the harmony and completeness of Champagne. There is a tingling in the texture: it feels electric and this accentuates the flavours. You find cohesion in the aroma, colour, and flavour that transmit throughout the palate.
I also have an intellectual appreciation in the complexity of its winemaking process. For example, how the winemakers make the still wine blend in order to produce the final product. The second fermentation adds another layer of complexity. A change in any of the many steps can alter the style of the Champagne. I like to understand why each Champagne is the way it is.
If you were to drink this wine again, which 5 people would you share it with?
Dom Perignon, because of the influence he had on the winemaking.
Richard Geoffrey, Dom Perignon’s cellar master from 1990 to 2019. He has shaped and styled Dom Perignon as we know it today.
Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, cellar master of Louis Roederer. Another master with incredible tasting abilities.
Liz Berry, an MW at the wine shop I hung out at while at university. She not only shaped the foundation of my knowledge in wine and inspired me to get serious about wine, she was also extremely kind to me.
Finally, Winston Churchill, because he loved champagne, and it would make for great conversation.