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- 2012-07-03T17:18:00+01:00 Tuesday 3 July 2012
Tell us a little about yourself – Where are you based and where do you work?
I am currently based in Hong Kong, I have been here for almost 2 years now and I’m the Wine Director of the Press Room Group, which has 12 restaurants throughout the city.
How did you first become interested in wine?
I wasn't born into a wine family and my mum and dad don't really drink much wine, only on special occasions. It was only when I started to travel the world that I was introduced to wine. Whilst I was studying at university I lived and worked in Italy and my time there gave me a serious appreciation of beauty. From the table, to the landscape and people - there is beauty everywhere you look in Italy.
I was very lucky to be a part of a big family in Italy who owned a wonderful restaurant in the Emilia Romagna region and I looked forward to sitting down to eat with them every day. Each meal was an occasion and we always ate with wine. At the time I also worked in a wine bar and had the opportunity to learn some of the basics about Italian wine, I travelled to a number of wine regions, loving every moment. When I finally returned home I went to work with Stefano Manfredi, a renowned Italian chef in Australia, and I found that I enjoyed going to work more than I did university. I was very excited to find out that I could make a career as a wine professional in a restaurant and I have been have been hungry for knowledge of every facet of the wine world ever since.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learn as a sommelier?
Communicate. There is no point in amassing a huge amount of knowledge if you don't have the ability to share it with both your guests, and even more importantly, with your staff. Particularly in Asia, where wine is such a foreign concept, training and making wine easy to understand is very important as it’s not only a method of education but also builds trust within your team – it’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Is there a person or a producer you particularly admire within the wine industry?
Gerard Basset MS MW. Is there a sommelier in the world who isn't inspired by Gerard? He's achieved so much and yet is still so generous with his time. I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to taste with him during the awards.
Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment?
I drink simple wines at home. It’s my comfort zone, so there is always Riesling chilling in the fridge, which is my favourite thing to drink after work. For reds, I generally drink Pinot Noir - Ponsot or De Montille Bourgogne Rouge – entry level wines from great producers. I also really love Ocean Eight Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula in Australia.
What are your favourite food and wine combinations?
My favourite food and wine combinations are the ones that other people introduce me too. Often when I am traveling through a wine region, a winemaker will introduce me to a pairing that I had never considered. I love experiencing things for the first time then and integrating these combinations back into my own restaurants.
Who was your most memorable customer, and why?
When I was working in the Maldives, I held a wine cellar dinner several times a week, where a table of 12 guests would dine in the cellar. It was very much like a dinner party where we would discuss great wine and food, but also a myriad of other things, from watches to holidays.
I met one particular guest who was an older gentleman from Luxembourg traveling with his daughter. He told me earlier in the week that he loved Pinot Noir and had been collecting mainly Burgundy for 30 years, so I spent the week introducing him to various other Pinots from around the world. On their last evening, the gentleman and his daughter came to the wine cellar dinner and he was shocked to see several bottles of Domaine de la Romanée Conti of various vintages. He had always heard about this wine, but never had the opportunity to taste it and asked very politely if he could hold a bottle. He held it in his arms as though it were one of the most precious things on the planet. One of the other guests on the table was taken aback by the gentleman's humble excitement to see such bottles and before main course he asked me how much one of these bottles would set him back, I gave him the price and he said “well if that's all it will take to make this gentleman's night, then lets open a bottle”.
We opened and served a 1990 La Tache. It was a spectacular bottle - I truly believe it was performing at its best as it knew the person who was about to drink it appreciated its beauty more than most people in the world. It danced and pirouetted for him. When we told the gentleman what he was about to drink, he simply cried into the glass. It was a very special moment and one that I will never forget.
Is there a strong wine scene in your city?
Hong Kong is one of the most important wine cities in the world. Having lived in Asia for 6 years, I knew that I must spend time in Hong Kong before returning to Australia as I didn't feel as though I could say I had an understanding of the Asian wine scene without spending time here. Since my arrival here, the influence of Hong Kong in the wine world has become even more obvious to me. I have opened more amazing bottles here than anywhere else in the world and have been given the opportunity to create some very diverse wine lists. It’s possible to make anything happen here.
Have you noticed any new trends emerging? What are customers asking for at the moment?
While it is a very serious wine city, the consumers are still quite traditional in their tastes. We are in a process of educating. The first stop was Bordeaux and we all saw what an impact that made on the market. Many of the consumers are now diversifying and exploring further - the most natural progression is of course to Burgundy and Rhone, but as many of our customers have a lot of these wines in their personal cellars, we are able to push the boundaries a little further in the restaurants. At The Principal we have wines from not only the classic wine producing countries but also Slovenia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Croatia and many more. The response to these wines has been very positive. The great thing about our guests is that the greater majority are inquisitive, willing to learn and try something new.
Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards?
The Decanter Asia Wine Awards fall just a month before my final Master Sommelier exam. I only have the tasting left to pass and so I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to taste with many of the other very experienced judges and really putting my palate to the to the test.