Growing up in Korea, Jeannie Cho Lee had little chance to develop a taste for fine wine, but she has spent six years making up for lost time in pursuing her goal of becoming Asia’s first Master of Wine.
The Hong Kong-based Lee has passed the first two sections of the notoriously tough Master of Wine exams, setting her on the road to a title that just 265 people worldwide are entitled to use.
If she clears the final hurdle — a dissertation based on original research –she will become the first person from Asia to qualify for the honor, marking the increasing sophistication of wine drinkers in the region.
“It is hard for someone from Asia,” the 39-year-old mother of four told AFP. “We don’t live in a wine growing region. There are no wineries you can walk to or producers you can stand next to while they make the wine and ask them what that bag of sugar’s for.”
“When they do come through here it’s for marketing, so they’re not necessarily telling you what’s really going on.”
The Master of Wine designation has been likened to a PhD, and Nicholas Pegna, Hong Kong managing director of wine merchants Berry Bros. and Rudd, says it is an extremely difficult task — particularly for those not working in the industry.
“You can teach people the theory, but you can’t teach them to taste wine. That you either have or you don’t,” he says.
“It’s much easier if you are working in wine. For people outside the trade, it’s much more difficult to keep track of developments. What’s so admirable is that Jeannie has taken it all on herself.”
Lee is one of many Asians to have discovered a passion for wine in recent years, and the trend is expected to continue — a recent study forecast consumption in the region will rise 46 percent by 2010.
China will be one of the world’s top 10 wine consuming nations by that year, according to a survey carried out for the global wine and spirits convention Vinexpo.