The sommeliers of Beijing

It’s tough being a Beijing sommelier. The hours are long, the pay is poor, and the customers argue. But, says Jim Boyce, there are rising stars nevertheless.

Frank Hao, Meiyu Lee, Hans Qu, Lu Yang
Frank Hao, sommelier, Tavola; Meiyu Lee, wine director, Park Hyatt; Hans Qu, winner of the first China National Sommelier Competition; Lu Yang, corporate wine director, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts

"You can’t make me pay.”

Imagine that claim from a customer who brings a half-dozen bottles of wine to a restaurant and is told there is a corkage fee.

But such a customer might well feel justified in Beijing. Not only does the law allow diners to bring drinks free of charge, but high markups at many venues inspire such thoughts in everyone from aficionados who know the true value of what’s listed to novices who don’t want to pay as much for a basic bottle as for their meal.

Such face-offs over corkage might be relatively rare but they are one quirk that makes Beijing a special spot for sommeliers.

And Beijing is indeed special. As capital of the millennium’s economic success story, it is ...

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