Wine master toasts family life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 April, 2010, 12:00am

There is nothing more satisfying for a mother than being able to share her passion with her children. Jeannie Cho Lee, the first ethnic Asian to earn the title of Master of Wine (MW), a qualification awarded by The Institute of Masters of Wine in Britain, says her children imitate her naturally. If she is drinking wine, her daughters swirl the water in their glasses. They also know how to describe wine.

'I want them to have a very keen sense of smell and the ability to describe it. Even my eight-year-old twins can smell a Riesling,' says Korean-born Lee. 'Every time I drink something, I ask them what it smells like. I help them build their vocabulary so that they can communicate what they smell.'

Now based in Hong Kong, Lee became fascinated with wine when she was an exchange student at the University of Oxford, where she gained exposure to different wines over college dinners.

She did not go into the wine business straight away. Instead, she became a journalist. 'For me, wine is about giving pleasure and about sharing. If you have to make that into a commercial business by trying to sell wine that perhaps you may not even like, it defeats the purpose of what wine brings to my life.'

Lee started toying with the idea of sitting the MW exams in the late 1990s but had a one-year-old child then. 'When I thought about it later, I became pregnant again.' When she applied for the programme in 2001, she found out she was pregnant with twins. So the studying and the intensity of the programme didn't happen until 2003 when her twins were older. She passed the exams in 2007 and was given the title the next year.

Despite having to travel frequently - either to a wine region or to participate as a speaker or a judge in international wine competitions - Lee says her four daughters are very supportive and do not complain about her being away.

Two summers ago, she asked her children to tell her if they preferred her to be a stay-at-home mum. 'It's not even a dilemma or a question for me. I would do it in a second.' It was unanimous that they wanted her to work. 'They know that work makes me happy,' she says.

Last year, Lee published a book, Asian Palate, and has almost completed another one. She is set to launch a website about Asian cuisine and wine pairing ( and is working on a mobile application. She continues to write for wine publications.

'Everything I'm doing is about communicating and sharing information,' she says. 'It's interesting to have a group of people who enjoy food or wine together and be able to make commentary or maybe even argue and differ in opinion. It brings our lives back to a more real level where we socialise in person rather than electronically. It brings a conversation to the table that's really about a shared experience.'