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Sommelier Young-gil Choi

Young-gil Choi, the sommelier at Solbam's, is dedicated to enhancing the service, making customer preferences and timing his utmost priority.

What motivated you to pursue the path of a sommelier?

During my college years, I pursued a major in tourism and embarked on my first professional journey at a hotel. While I didn't initially set out to become a sommelier, I was pondering how to excel within the service industry. This led me to develop an interest in the role of a sommelier, a specialist in the realm of wines.

After leaving my initial hotel position, I joined "Second Kitchen" situated in Hannam-dong, an establishment lacking a professional sommelier. At that juncture, I was driven to immerse myself in wine studies and build my expertise. I believed that a deeper knowledge of wines would enable me to provide more fulfilling experiences to customers.

Subsequently, I aspired to gain exposure to the world of Michelin-starred fine dining. After several interviews, I found my place at ‘L’Impression’, a two-starred restaurant. Commencing as the youngest server in the hall, I honed my skills in wine service and handling. The entire team, including the chef, later transitioned to a new establishment called ‘Restaurant Allen’, where I continued to contribute. Following nearly two years with the team, I transitioned to the modern Italian pasta bistro named ‘Perrige’, where I worked for about a year and a half.

How did you go about studying the art of wine?

My journey into wine education began while at Second Kitchen when I enrolled in the Wine Vision Academy, a platform designed for professional wine education. This decision allowed me to undertake exams and accumulate knowledge. Working at L’Impression exposed me to genuine fine-dining service experiences. Subsequently, I pursued a CMS certificate, successfully becoming a certified sommelier. Currently, I'm preparing to advance further as a sommelier.

I don't believe studying wine sets it apart significantly from other fields. Similar dedication to personal study is essential in any domain. I collaborate with colleagues who share the same aspirations. I find that practicing tasting and wine service collectively yields better results.

I'm curious about your journey to Solbam following your experiences in a variety of restaurants.

After two years in fine dining, my peers' choices during that time had a significant impact on me. Those I followed established their own wine bars, some joined major food companies, and others ventured into casual bistros. This taught me that an exceptional sommelier can delight customers not only in fine dining settings but also in various other spaces, finding happiness in their work. I realized that creating exceptional experiences for customers extends beyond fine dining establishments. Contributing to enhancing casual spaces with professionalism and a deep understanding of wine was an intriguing prospect.

Following a satisfying year and a half at Perrige, I reconnected with DY Kim, the sommelier at Solbam, whom I originally knew. I believed that my forward-looking perspective could synergize with Solbam's goals, and above all, I resonated with the chef's vision. Chef Eom displayed a commitment to reforming old kitchen practices, a sentiment echoed by my colleagues. While working as the sole sommelier in a business was valuable, I saw an opportunity for further growth by collaborating with the sommelier team. This is how I came to join the Solbam team.

What major distinctions do you observe between bistros and fine dining establishments from a sommelier's viewpoint?

Primarily, the duration customers spend in each type of restaurant differs. Fine dining experiences last approximately three hours, whereas bistro visits tend to be shorter. This temporal variation influences how wine is managed and served. Additionally, I perceive variations in customer experiences and expectations. The significance of 'food' seems relatively diminished in fine dining. Analogous to watching a performance, the overall impression of the restaurant—its spatial design, interior ambiance, table settings, utensils, restrooms, the overall atmosphere—gradually contributes to a holistic experience. Therefore, we factor these aspects into our service considerations.

What takes precedence when curating a wine list?

In my perspective, the wine list should mirror the restaurant's aspirations. It's not just about featuring high-quality wines; considerations of nature and sustainability should also be integrated. Naturally, pairing wines with the menu holds importance. As a sommelier, grasping the producer's narrative and identifying connections between their story and our restaurant's essence is pivotal for effective communication.

Regarding the primary focus of your service...

I believe delivering a service that ensures customers enjoy a comfortable and delightful time is paramount. While some guests might yearn for an in-depth wine story, others might not place such emphasis on wine. It's possible for an enthusiastic yet less experienced sommelier to inadvertently overstep boundaries. In contrast, a more effective approach involves meticulously gauging the desires and time preferences of the patrons before us. This entails crafting an experience that caters to their needs and desires. Our service guidelines should remain consistent and structured, but ultimately, the end result should be tailored to each individual customer.

Could you share your aspirations for the future?

Initially, as a part of the Solbam team, my aim is to be a sommelier who enriches both regular and new customers' experiences. Looking ahead a decade, I envision establishing my own establishment alongside like-minded friends. This venture will be characterized by my growth as a competent and skilled sommelier, marked by participation in various competitions and achieving qualifications.


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