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Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game

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Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game
You know the difference between your Chardonnays and Champagnes and Chiantis and Cabernet Sauvignons, and even empathise with the age-old sensibilities that lead to some wine being classified by grape varietal and others, by region.
You know how to pour, how to store, and how to adore good vino. You even manage to use the word terroir, referring to the specific environment and climate in which a wine was produced, in casual dinner conversation.
Congratulations. You’ve taken your first baby steps into the vast sea of oenological knowledge, and you’ve decided that you’re eager to learn more.
These are the next steps you should take, as told by celebrated silver sommelier and chef-restauranteur Ignatius Chan, the perspicacious culinary force behind Michelin-starred modern European restaurant Iggy’s.
The 60-year-old’s hard-won authority on the subject is on full display there with a comprehensive 25,000-bottle wine list centred around Burgundy.
Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game
Of imbibers and investors
Like the wine they seek, he classifies those on the quest for deeper oenological knowhow into several broad categories. The kind of aficionado you are decides how you’d deepen your learning, he says.

"There are novice and social drinkers who want to be a little familiar – so that when you get invited to drink with family or friends, you won’t be totally lost."

Then you have the investment collector — they may not buy bottles to drink, as they see it as one of the investments they want to diversify into after getting extensively into business, property and art. They won’t drink it, but they’d buy very intelligently.

“And then there is the true wine lover – maybe those who spent their school days living in London, Australia or America. By growing up near wine, they develop a certain passion for wine. They are the ones who’ve been drinking and have amassed a large collection by the time they reach their fifties or sixties. They are super knowledgeable, and they would know exactly what they want to drink.”

Be thirsty for knowledge
Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game
Plainly, it is the former two that require more instruction – and there is no better way, he says, than first-hand drinking experience, with an open mind.
“For people who really want to discover wine, they should just start with drinking what they like,” he says.

“Those who are just starting will probably prefer something that is slightly sweeter or fruitier. There are some who like Champagne, because of the bubbles. These are flavours and textures that naturally appeal to the palate."

Over time, friends might bring over something that they like, and they will expand beyond what appeals to them now and slowly gravitate to something else.

"Appreciating wine is like appreciating art or music. You might listen to music that is catchy or easy to listen to initially, and then progressively diversify to jazz, rock, classical or instrumental music. You will branch accordingly to what appeals to you; similarly with wine."

Keep track of bottles
Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game
Thus, it behoves a budding wine nerd to take note of bottles you’ve sampled at a party – their appellations, vintages, general taste profiles and most importantly, where you can reasonably find them if they’re not sold off the shelf.
A handy notebook – preferably spill-proof – works well in this regard, though digitally-savvy silvers can use the Vivino app (available both on iOS and Android) on their smartphone as well.
After all, no two wines are alike, even when they originate from the same blend and region. Ignatius points to his personal focus on Burgundy wine, which began at a time when Bordeaux was the talk of the town.

"I’ve focused on Burgundy since 2004, at the very beginning of Iggy’s. That was our direction – we have never changed."

“I like Burgundy because it contrasted with Australian wines, which was what I started with. Aussie wines were just too rich and big in flavours – Burgundy is delicate, silky and extremely interesting; made by lots of different growers in the same region – and in the same village – but tasting totally different.”

Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game
Drink within your means…
Ignatius advises experimenting with bottles that remain firmly within your budget, lest any untoward pressures built up sends corks flying.
“Wine is no different to art. It is all relative – there is no absolute. My advice is, buy the things that you like to drink and find affordable within the budget you have,” he says.

"There are people willing to part with thousands of dollars a bottle, because they’ve said they’d bring a certain bottle to a gathering, and they will do their level best to find them. That doesn’t apply to everyone."

… and don’t chase investments (necessarily)
Some wines might be better enjoyed through the lens of pure drinking pleasure, rather than a savvy investment. Trendy natural wines – made purely from unadulterated fermented grape and nothing else – for example are “not serious collectible wines simply because of how they are made”.
“It is not something that you can keep and evolve. It is unlikely that they are worth storing for 15 or 20 years; they are for buying and drinking. Fruity and easy drinking, with very interesting and artistic labels,” he says. “This gives it a natural talking point at a gathering.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that collecting wine shouldn’t make you money. Ignatius says that some of his bottles of Burgundy wine have gone up by “200, 400 or 800 percent in value” over the years.
“It might now be one of the most sought-after and expensive wines in the world,” he says.

"Many of the wines I’ve kept as their production is so limited, it is mostly being drunk up rather than resold. During auctions, you don’t get cases, only bottles. And those that are available are fetching outrageous prices."

Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game
Vintages aren’t everything
He also disagrees with the conception that vintage should be a top-of-mind concern, especially when you’re buying from a top-shelf winemaker.
“A bad year does not necessarily mean bad wine,” he says.

"If you buy from good, serious producers, every year is a good year. Good producers are always selective and careful with the grapes they use. For them, it is the quantity that will be affected in a bad year, not the quality."

He likens vintages as an expression of a wine’s “personality” – or its offspring.
“Five different vintages are like five children. They are being brought up in the right home with the right values. You know that all the children will grow up well,” he says.
There is no shortcut (experiment!)
The caveat, of course, is that knowing the right producers is paramount to getting consistently good wine.
Ignatius’ bottles come directly from vineyards — a result of good relationships he established and reinforced over the years.
But like everything else in wine, Ignatius declares that “there is no shortcut”.
“A funny question that I get from wine collectors is – how long do you think I should aerate a bottle for,” he says, referring to the process of allowing wine to ‘breathe’ by introducing oxygen, which allows dormant flavours and aromas to be better expressed.
Thirst For Knowledge: Sommelier Ignatius Chan on How to Up Your Wine Game

“This is a really odd question, because I would open it at home first, taste it, then decide what to do with it. Wine is a living thing. It is like a human being. You cannot prejudge."

"I can guide you to do something, but you must like the experience. There’s no quick way to learn classical music – there’s no shortcut to learning wine. Any musician can enjoy jazz music. But if you want to be a serious jazz musician, you must understand its composition, or arrangement – so too for wine."

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We’re a community created by silvers for silvers, brought together by a sense of curiosity and desire to live the next phase of our lives with joy and purpose. Expect useful tips and uncommon wisdom to enjoy living fuller for longer.

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