“The next step was for me to determine their varieties and production method [top or bottom fermented].”
Hailing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Ng began his career in 2014 with the Les Amis Group at Singapore’s now closed Italian restaurant La Strada, having given up a partial scholarship to study accounting and finance in Hong Kong.
After five months at La Strada, Ng began studying for the Certified Sommelier Examination and, at the age of 19, became the youngest person in Singapore to pass it.
But it was 2018 and 2019 that would become the defining years of his career, Ng says.
In 2018, he joined the award-winning Park90 wine bar, at the Conrad Singapore Orchard – known for its selection of Robert Parker-rated 90 points and higher wine labels – and a year later he won two titles: the Best Sommelier of Singapore as well as Southeast Asia, and also passed the Advanced Sommelier Examination.
“There were lots of opportunities and a lot of eyeballs on the brand. Business grew,” he says.
He adds: “My parents played a pivotal role in shaping my interests. I was reading wine literature at 13 because my parents would not let me engage in other forms of entertainment.
“So when my peers indulged in anime or manga, I was drawn to old music that my dad listened to, films like Pride and Prejudice […] and the world of wine.”
It helped that his uncle was a wine enthusiast and would bring him bottles to sample.
At that time, social media was taking off and Ng tutored himself on YouTube, to expand his understanding of wine.
“When I worked at La Strada, I would study on the bus on the way to work, end lunch service and read until dinner, finish with dinner service and continue studying on the bus ride home. I would keep going at home till I went to sleep,” he says.
On his days off, Ng would park himself at McDonald’s early in the morning to study over numerous coffee refills as he imagined himself sipping wine.
Seventy per cent of his salary went on wine.
“I would purchase three or four bottles at one go and ask my aunt, whom I lived with, to remember what these wines were and to pour them into four glasses. I conducted my blind tasting in this manner,” he says.
“One of the best ways to learn is to open the bottle and find out for yourself. That is why people buy 12 to 24 bottles at one go and drink one every year.
“Within a year you gain new experiences, and when you open a bottle you unlock flavours and find things you have never tasted before.”
This September, Ng spent three weeks in Burgundy, eastern France, at places such as Château de Premeaux for the harvest, and Domaine Jean-Marie Fourrier to try his hand at pigéage, moving a step closer to his dream of producing his own wine.
As for his next goals, he is setting his sights on becoming a master sommelier and winning the Best Sommelier of the World competition. But what comes after that?
“I have been asking myself that question a lot of late, after coming back from Burgundy,” he says. “Singapore is getting too expensive to live in, and it is so easy to forget why I am doing this here, when things become businesslike. And I remember not choosing that path when I decided not to pursue accounting and finance 10 years ago.”
His dream, he says, is to open a bistro in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy. And it appears he is already putting things in place – he plans to start learning French next year. Already in the pipeline is the opening of his own boutique wine bar, with the full backing of his boss at Park90.
When it comes to work-life balance, Ng says that during his downtime he limits his professional assessment of a wine to the first 10 minutes, after which he just relaxes and eases into the bottle.
And it was on that trip to Burgundy – travelling with his girlfriend after the coronavirus pandemic – that he got to share some of what he has learned.
“There were a lot of emotions,” he says. “It was the first trip after so long, and our first time in Burgundy. I wanted to share with her what I knew and I saw how much she wanted to get into my world.”
With a bottle of Jacques-Frederic Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny 2019, which he has always loved, everything fell silent.
“There was no need for analysis, just purity and harmony. You experience how the wine becomes inseparable from you – you become one.”