Alumni Linkage — OU People

Alumni Communication & Support Alumni Linkage Past Issues July 2020 Issue Alumni Linkage — OU People

Renowned wine critic Sammy Leung has been appreciating an extensive variety of fine wines with perceptiveness, sense and sensibility for 30 years. Sammy reckoned, ‘If fine wine represents the triumphant integration of heaven, earth and humans, then wine appreciation would be a celebration of the beauty of nature. We admire the splendour of wine, and we uncover the aspects of its making.’ The seasoned sommelier compared himself to a bridge: he connects his clients with fine wines, walks them through food and wine pairings, and delights them with extraordinary experiences.

A champion at first attempt

After reading a book about the stories of wines casually picked at an adult library, the 13-year-old teen became intoxicated by the world of wine before he had ever got a taste for it. Upon completion of Secondary 7, Sammy started to work as a waiter in a famous hotel café. He was advised by experienced colleagues that wine knowledge is essential for making a mark in the industry. Although serving wine at the dinner table was yet to be popular during that time, his vision encouraged him to move ahead. ‘Wine is something that I can study systematically. I aspired to equip myself with this specialist knowledge, which could help make a difference in my career.’

Recalling the interesting stories from his learning days, Sammy said with a grin, ‘Learning aids were rare back then, so I frequently visited skin care products shops to smell their soaps in order to train and develop my olfactory senses!’ In 1994, he for the first time participated in a sommelier competition which was organized by SOPEXA of France in Hong Kong. With his natural talent and hard work, Sammy clinched the championship and made history. He humbly said, ‘It was a less competitive time!’ Having won the top honour in the Hong Kong regional round of three international competitions, Sammy is truly worthy of his reputation.

Intriguing Chinese wines

Sammy has tasted a wide variety of wines of the West and spent extensive time learning about their characteristics. He also has a curious and open mind which has expanded the exposure of his wine-tasting portfolio. ‘I love to taste wines that I have never tried before,’ he said. Over the past few years, Sammy has begun to promote less well-known Chinese wines and was the Chairman of the Chinese Wine and Spirits Committee of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Wine & Spirits (HKGCWS). ‘China is blessed with a vast territory and abundant resources. There are various kinds of environments in the country, giving it a strong potential to create very fine wines,’ he explained. In retrospect, his interest could have been sparked by the wine book inspired him when he was 13, from which he realized that the various types of Chinese wine – yellow wine, white wine and medicinal wine – all have their own uniqueness.

In Hong Kong, many people have a certain bias towards Chinese liquors and promotion work has never been easy. ‘The traditional Chinese yellow wine Huadiao, for example, is classified by the Census and Statistics Department as cooking and seasoning wine which is quite different from what Huadiao really is.’ Sammy complimented Huadiao as a premium wine that can be enjoyed in many ways, such as mixing it in cocktails or warming it to enrich its aroma. Years of his promotion efforts have gradually gained him positive responses. ‘Fine-tuning the right angle for promoting Chinese wine is a challenging task. Being able to move from zero to one is very rewarding.’

An advocate for wine appreciation

The BBA and MBA studies completed at the OUHK in 1998 and 2003 respectively have equipped Sammy with useful knowledge. ‘Wine products involve a wide range of business knowledge. What I learned here has been helping me analyse different sales and marketing strategies.’ In recent years, Sammy has been grooming successors and popularising the concept of wine critique through education and training. He modestly said, ‘I am a good “primary school” teacher leading new joiners to learn about wine-tasting from the basics.’ Today, he is a teacher to many students, some of whom have become champion sommeliers.

Sammy’s distinguished achievements in promoting wine have earned him the French medal ‘Cahors Chevalier’. He has also been actively lifting the standard of wine judging in Hong Kong, and is currently the Chairman of the Wine & Spirits Judging Committee of HKGCWS. His initial passion for wine appreciation, however, has never changed – he has always wanted to reveal the depth and details through wine-tasting. As he puts it, ‘Wine carries numerous delicately crafted contents that await the discovery by a sommelier. Exploring the stories and different perspectives of wine and sharing them with the clients is my greatest enjoyment.’