When he moved to Melbourne from China twenty years ago to study English, Art and Design at Swinburne University in Prahran, Oliver Wang had very little interest in, or knowledge of, wine.
And while some might be surprised to learn this discerning sommelier’s interest in wine was sparked by devouring one-litre bottles of cheap Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from his corner liquor store, what’s perhaps most shocking is that his vinous knowledge developed while working late-night shifts behind the bar at one of Melbourne’s most infamous nightclubs, Revolver.
After finishing university, Oliver’s taste improved along with his bank balance, allowing him to try his first Pinot Noir. He soon got hooked on the Burgundian style working as a sommelier for Taxi Dining Room (now Taxi Kitchen & Bar). Now as head sommelier at Melbourne’s famed Lucy Liu restaurant and The Smith, Oliver is in the perfect position to try as much Pinot as he likes.
When did you lose your Pinot virginity?
For price reasons, I was always into Montepulciano d’Abruzzo because of its soft light style. I used to buy very cheap one-litre bottles of it. It wasn’t very good wine, but it was perfect during uni days, when I’d drink a whole bottle of while working in my studio.
From Montepulciano d’Abruzzo I slowly moved onto Pinot. I don’t exactly know when, but I suppose it was after uni when I was working a bit more and had a bit more money in my pocket.
Pinot is my favourite type of red wine now, and we always have two contrasting styles on pour at Lucy Liu.
What are the top three Pinots you’ve ever tasted?
It’s hard to say. Generally I like the three Grand Cru vineyards: Clos de la Roche, Morey-Saint-Denis, Bonnes-Mares. It doesn’t matter to me who makes them, I don’t have a producer in my mind, but I always drink these three appellations of Grand Cru – if I have enough money.
What’s the most expensive Pinot you’ve ever poured?
I was pouring a 2010 Mazoyères-Chambertin at $28 a glass, which is quite expensive for our restaurant.
By the bottle, the most expensive bottle I’ve sold in the restaurant was a 1999 Meo Camuzet Richebourg a couple of years ago.
Is there a particular vintage of Tasmanian Pinot Noir that stands out for you?
I’ve only really started tasting Pinot from Tasmania in the last few years, so I haven’t really seen many vintages.
I have looked at quite a few producers and vintages since 2010 though and the 2011 stood out as quite impressive in my memory, with the 2012 coming in as a close second.
The 2011 vintage was quite precise and clean, almost juicy with a lot of back fruit – more backbone.
Who do you admire the most, in the world of wine and food?
Michael Lambie who is the owner and executive chef here at Lucy Liu is quite amazing, as he is able to change his cuisine style from European to fusion to crossover Asian to Pan Asian.
Outside of work I am very interested in crossover food. Because I am Chinese I naturally prefer the Asian influenced style of cuisine. It’s great that a lot of modern Australian cuisine has moved away from traditional English and French food and is now embracing fresh Asian flavours.
In Paris I went to a wonderful restaurant called Cru, tucked up in a back alley and it was an amazing French and Japanese crossover. So it’s not just happening in Australia but we have really embraced it due to our multi-culturism.
What wines and/or regions are you the most excited about right now?
Pinot Noir is my favourite varietal and it’s great to see so many good wines and new brands coming out of Tasmania. Dalrymple’s Coal River Pinot Noir, Tolpuddle, Home Hill, Sailor Seeks Horse, Stoney Rise, Freycinet, Domaine A – and there’s still plenty more to discover.
It’s also good to see that some of the bigger companies are investing in Tasmania.
The North Otago’s Waitaki region is also producing amazing Pinot. The vintages are not consistent because it’s a very hard environment, but it means the wines are very interesting and exciting to taste.
If you could choose any food and wine in the world to have as your last meal, what would it be?
If I could get home before the earth blows up I would go to my favourite Peking restaurant in Beijing, Chong Wen Mai Qiujiude, and have Peking Duck. I love Peking Duck and I think the best wine to match it with would be Clos de Vougeot.
If you had $1000 to spend on a bottle of wine, what would you buy?
I wouldn’t spend that much on one bottle. But I would probably buy a few bottles from my favourite Grand Cru vineyards.
What’s the most memorable food and wine experience you’ve ever had?
I had a wonderful food and wine experience in Beaune, an old medieval church basement turned into a restaurant.
It was called Les Caves de l’Abbaye. We were drinking White Burgundy, not Pinot actually, but it was more about the atmosphere than the food and wine. It was another world.