Unfiltered: Melody Wong, The Peninsula London

The director of wine for newly-opened luxury hotel The Peninsula London talks to Douglas Blyde about her push to get more Brits drinking baijiu.

Melody Wong began her vinous career as a commis sommelier at The Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland, while in London, she worked at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at Mandarin Oriental, Park Lane, where she was senior sommelier, then assistant head sommelier at the wood-panelled members’ club at Ten Trinity Square.

Her next role was wine consultant and buyer at Fitzrovia’s Mandrake Hotel where, as head sommelier, she scooped Drinks Business’ Wine List Confidential Rising Star award. A year ensued at D&D’s Skylon during the pandemic period, followed by Carlton Tower Jumeirah, including the Al Mare restaurant.

Describe your master wine list for The Peninsula London.

Our hotel wine list contained 800 references. A diverse selection from a classic 1928 Petrus (the opening year of the Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong) to lesser-known wine such as J’Noon from Maharashtra, India. We would like to share our heritage and so guests can discover baijiu (a traditional Chinese rice-made beverage) and Chinese yellow wine, too.

How is this tailored to the restaurants, Canton Blue, and Brooklands by Claude Bosi?

At Canton Blue, the list is curated to ensure harmony between the bold and complex tastes of the Cantonese dishes and the unique characteristics of the wine. It also features Chinese baijiu, Chinese yellow wine and Japanese sake. At Brooklands by Claude Bosi, we focus on grower Champagne and fine wines from older vintages and smaller producers. The frequently changing selection reaches beyond borders to complement the modern British cuisine, from classic Bordeaux to newcomers in New Zealand.

The entrance to Canton Blue.

Noting your substantial baijiu collection at the hotel, do you envisage this spirit growing in popularity with Londoners?

Absolutely. I believe Londoners are open minded when is come to drinks. Baijiu is very interesting given its long, storied history and many different varieties. The traditional design of the bottles, as well as the unique, umami aromas of the drink tend to excite curious drinkers. Despite this, it is still relatively unknown in the country. I see lots of potential in baijiu. Instead of the traditional Chinese style of drinking it as a shot, I see the London market using the spirit as a cocktail ingredient or sipping it neat and slowly.

Where is the cellar located?

Our temperature-controlled, bespoke main cellar is divided into two parts beneath the hotel. All bottles are laid down on display racks to ensure they are kept at their very best. I feel very fortunate to have such a high-quality cellar.

What grape variety could you happily live without?

Pinotage doesn’t click with my personal palate.

And what is underrated?

I always wonder why there are so few people who enjoy a mature, dry, and maybe oak-aged Alsace Pinot Gris. When it is aged (10 years+) it stands out with its rich bouquet of aromas with orange blossom, apricot, pear and round, creamy texture.

What ingredient do you abhor?

Celeriac purée. I do not mind the vegetable itself, but I have seen this purée on menus everywhere and I look forward to experiencing something else.

Do you prefer still or sparkling water?

Sparkling, of which Chateldon from France is the most memorable water I have ever had.

Tea or coffee?

Tough question. I’ve been drinking more tea recently, as we have an excellent selection of Chinese tea at The Peninsula London. Raw Pu-erh has this unique earthy, nutty, and mellow finish. Pinot Noir lovers should try Raw Pu-erh tea!

How do you hire, and then keep hold of sommeliers?

I like to have a sommelier team who truly love the job and wish to grow within the wine industry. Experience is not essential, as I believe knowledge will come with time if they are truly passionate. Sharing our interests is key within our team. Outside work, we share interesting articles and fun facts we discover, and attend wine tastings together when we can. At work, I tend to openly discuss the work I am planning with my team. It gives them a picture of what to expect in the future, as well as understanding the role a little better. Often, junior team members are not aware of the number of tasks needed to be completed outside of the floor.

What has been an embarrassing service mistake?

Luckily, I really cannot recall any personal disasters. However, I have experienced my fair share of Champagne showers…

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

To teleport. Running around in a large hotel between restaurants takes time. It would also save time commuting around London!

Tell us something surprising about yourself?

I played bass guitar in my university band.

What do you do in your time off?

I’m always thinking about where to dine on a day off. In the summertime, I love hosting friends at my home, everyone brings a bottle or two to share – it always makes for a fun day. I love watching Formula 1 racing as well.

What is your next conquest, in terms of a gastronomic destination you would like to experience?

Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. I am visiting Japan later this year and would love to try local sashimi and fatty tuna.

Who from history would you wish to share a treasured bottle with?

In a dream scenario, I would share a bottle of wine with Audrey Hepburn. Imagining her timeless elegance paired with the refined notes of the wine sets the scene for an interesting conversation about art, film and the beauty of life…

The Peninsula London – 1 Grosvenor Place, London, SW1X 7HJ; 020 3959 2888; [email protected]; peninsula.com

This article originally appeared on the drinks business.

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