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Shanghai's Star Sommelier

If a young Chinese woman appears as your sommelier when you're next in Shanghai, know that she's one piece of the puzzle that is the new China. By CHRISTOPHER KUCWAY.

Published on Oct 1, 2015

YING GUO IS A SIGN, if there ever was one, that China is changing. The wine sommelier at the Four Seasons Pudong is ranked, at first a bit unexpectedly, as one of the best young sommeliers in the world. Step aside, old men in white gloves. Please be quiet, wine snobs who toss around modifiers to impress. This lady is a small taste of the modern China you know little about. Yes, she's young, female and Chinese but Guo will be the first to tell you that wine is about evolution. "The first thing about wine," she tells me inadvertently speaking of herself, "is that there is always something new."

Ying Guo
Sommelier Ying Guo at the Four Seasons Pudong. Christopher Kucway.

Guo was one of the first wine experts in China—there are now upwards of 40 in the country—and she's developed a pedigree that is difficult to match, not only in the Middle Kingdom, but anywhere on the globe. In February, she became the third person in China to pass the three-day advanced sommelier exam administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, a portion of which requires identifying 43 characteristics of six different wines.

Diplomat she is, Guo won't be drawn on any one label or vintage. As with eating in China, she says, there are no rules. The hotel offers elegant Chinese cuisine at the 22-seat Shang-Xi, and an authentic Italian menu at Camelia, both locales where wine of every description is ordered, recommended and served.

A better route to uncovering this young expert's favorites is through her secondary hobby. At home in Shanghai, Guo covets a box full of rocks. Of course, they're not just any rocks, but stones from vineyards she's visited and, she says, each has its own story. Guo is intrigued by terroir, specifically with distinct vines that grow where nothing else can, often across steep hills such as those found in the wine regions of Mosel—with inclines up to 65 percent—and Priorat, where the porous base of black slate and quartz is known as llicorella. "I'm impressed by the balance of a wine, the purity," she says.

An old castle in Priorat.
The ruins of an old castle in Priorat. Marialusia Wittlin/Getty Images.

Guo has a sparkle in her eye when thinking of the next wine region she'd like to explore. While pondering the terroir, the climate and the wine itself, there's another relevant ingredient. "Wine makes the world very small," she tells me. "You always meet new people."


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