General manager and head sommelier, Praelum Wine Bistro
Gerald Lu was crowned the youngest champion at the Singapore National Sommelier Competition when he was 25 years old. He has since gone on to attain accreditations from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Programme and the Court of Master Sommeliers, and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Sake Sommelier (SSI). Last year, Lu literally came one full circle when he won the national champion title at the eighth Singapore National Sommelier Competition 2017. He is currently the head sommelier and general manager at Praelum Wine Bistro, and the vice chairman of the Sommelier Association of Singapore.
How has the concept of luxury wines changed over the years?
About 15 to 20 years ago, people who drank the great growths, Super Tuscans, and the iconic American and Australian wines were considered affluent. It was that straightforward.
These days, with the combination of convenient, affordable travel and the reach of social media, wines that are obscure with miniscule production or only obtainable through connections, have become the new luxury. These wines are referred to as unicorn wines on social media.
With luxury fine dining, the ambience, the ingredients used in the dishes, the service and the presentation play a part overall experience. With wines though, what are some attributes of a luxury wine?
Rarity, obtainability and price. Another thing that can elevate the prices of wines in a restaurant is the presence of a good sommelier. The presentation and service of the wine before, during and after its opened, can leave a lasting impression on the drinker.
How do you envision the luxury wine scene in the next five years?
I think there will be a strong major split—the classic, famous labels from historical regions versus the lesser known regions and progressive producers with limited bottlings. This will be driven strongly by local sommeliers.
Are millennials changing wine trends?
Yes, without a doubt. Social media has a huge role to play in this shift. It is a lot easier to understand something that is fascinating, cool and trendy, rather than go back in time, read, ask and even try to understand history. Well hopefully in time to come, there would be a balance between both.
Which labels would you consider a luxury and why?
There are two ways to look at this—I consider it a privilege to drink any of the classics. Price aside, the fact that most of them consistently churn out quality bottles year after year is a testament to commitment, and if you take time to understand the vineyard’s history—how they came to and how their wines are produced, you will realise that every bottle opened is another piece of history gone in time. This is what makes a vintage wine valuable and a luxury to drink.
Secondly, any label that holds special memories to someone can also be considered a luxury.
Has the perception of luxury wines changed with the growing popularity of natural wines, or wines that are produced sustainably?
I don’t think the perception of luxury wines has changed much at all despite the growing popularity of natural wines. There are plenty of luxury wines that farm and vinify under sustainable, biodynamic practices.
I think its just an angle of looking at wines differently—past versus present. Additionally, I think the media has played a huge role in putting natural wines in the spotlight.
That said, from a commercial point of view, wine in Singapore, as a whole, has garnered a lot more attention over the last decade, so everyone benefits in the long run.