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A Cultivated Passion

by Eleanor Lopez 1 Jun 2011
A Cultivated Passion

With three international certifications under his belt, lawyer turned sommelier Thomas Ling has spent the past decade honing his knowledge in the trade.

Thomas Ling is the only Malaysian to have the distinction of being a Certified Sommelier of the Court of Master Sommeliers (UK), Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) with the Society of Wine Educators (USA) and is accredited as an International Bordeaux Educator with Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), France.

Wanting to escape parental pressure and expectations, he took time off after college and travelled. Upon returning a year later in 2001, Ling opted out of the rat race and took a part-time job as a retail assistant at a wine shop instead. “At that time the Malaysian wine market was beginning to boom. It was the very first shop at the time and I was practically just taking care of the shop and recommending wines to customers.”

This would prove to be the most serendipitous decision he ever made. Denise Wines went on to become the largest wine retail chain in Malaysia and South East Asia. Despite having a casual knowledge of wine Ling cultivated his interest, reading up on wine-making and worked his way up. “I took the opportunity to wear different hats, from retail to management trainee. Then I found my passion in marketing and training and also in procurement.”

Ling soon found himself travelling again. This time to famous wine countries to source wines for the business. “The first wine region I visited was in Australia, in Adelaide and Barossa Valley. Then it was France, in Bordeaux where I did my first vintage. I stayed back during harvest time to learn about wine-making. So pretty much close to six months a year I was out of the country.”

Being a believer that wine is essentially about culture and people, Ling admits it was an eyeopening experience as his travels took him off the beaten path allowing him to experience the true culture of the country. “I went to the more artisan, rustic, family-owned vineyards. And I got to stay with the wine-maker, and we’d partake with them in their daily activities and food. It was more like a home-stay and you get to immerse yourself in the culture.”

Although his passion for wine started out as a personal interest, he soon desired to go further in order to contribute towards raising awareness and appreciation for the beverage. “I decided to equip myself if I wanted to be serious about delving into wine. At that time there were no courses available in South East Asia. So after my work stints in the vineyards, I’d take a few days off and hop over to London to do the exams,” says Ling.

His accreditations complement his experience and knowledge that has allowed him greater access and reach into the international market, making him a much sought after speaker at international wine talks and events.

The most recent one was the Malbec World Day featuring Argentina’s flagship varietal, which included a wine-pairing dinner at Cava. Being a partner at Entwine, a boutique consultancy, Ling also has many opportunities to consult and partner events hosted by embassies, namely that of France, Canada and South Africa to promote their national vintages.

He shrugs off any allusion to his expertise and being a pioneer in that capacity. “We are basically filling a niche or gap in the industry here, so to speak. Anyone who says they know everything about wine is pulling your leg. One of the intriguing things about wine is that it is everevolving, it’s something that’s alive and growing.”

On the best way to enjoy wine, Ling admits that it’s a personal choice and there are no fast rules “but there are essentials and table etiquette”. His advice when choosing wine is to keep it simple and match the cuisine; “If you’re having French food then go with French wine, if it’s a Spanish meal than pair it with wine from Spain and so on.”

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