When Markus Del Monego was 18, he drank every day. He would drink with friends and he would drink with strangers. Good boy, said his mother. Growing up in the cosmopolitan heart of Europe, around Basle where the French and German lands meet amid wine lands that have been producing for 2,000 years, there was always wine on the family table. It was part of life. And when the young Markus took a drink, it was not in a rowdy pub, but with scholars of the grape. By the time he was 20, the Swiss-born German had been awarded a prize for being extremely knowledgeable about French wines. The next year, he was crowned Best Newcomer Sommelier in Germany. Today, Mr Del Monego is officially the Sommelier World Champion. As such, he is one of the ranking experts on the planet about wine. What is the best wine? 'What you like,' he says, firmly. 'Well, good for you,' I said, tasting a flowery gewurztraminer Mr Del Monego had hand-carried from Germany. He was in Hong Kong to taste a range of wines which local restaurateur and wine lover Wilson Kwok is going to present in his new Alsace restaurant in Kowloon Tong. Mr Del Monego, a mere 32 years of age - a very young vintage - says it is the responsibility of a sommelier to help his customers, not merely to sell expensive bottles of wine. 'You have to act as a guide and assistant,' he explains. An expert wine waiter has a duty to spend time with customers, to explain new wines and what foods they best accompany. His years of expertise enable him to suggest a nice dry sauvignon blanc might go better with the oysters than a vastly expensive Bordeaux classic cru, or that a fruity young Australian merlot might be nice with a Thai beef salad. But at the end of the day, Mr Del Monego warns, the customer is the boss. No matter how eccentric his choice, if that is what he wants, that is what he gets. He learned this lesson early. When he was an assistant waiter working his way through hotel training school, a large brusque American appeared in the hotel restaurant. 'Bring me the best red wine in the house,' the guest roared. 'I didn't know what to do, so I went to the manager,' Mr Del Monego recalls. 'She told me what wine to serve.' The customer did not like it. 'That tastes sour,' he complained, and proceeded to spoon sugar into a glass of 1970 Chateau Talbot, one of the great classic red wines of Bordeaux. Horrified, the young waiter went back to the restaurant manager, who shrugged. 'It's his wine,' she said. As the man recognised as being the best wine waiter in the world, Mr Del Monego tries to adopt this same aura of tolerance. Sometimes, he admits, it can be difficult. The main thing to remember is that people eating and drinking should be enjoying themselves. His job is to help them do that. Wine tastings and wine games and other quests for knowledge are interesting, but they should all lead to enjoyment as well as education, he stresses. 'It's better to have someone know a little bit about wines and to like what they are doing than to take it so seriously that they forget the enjoyment,' he says. 'The basics of teaching people about wine is not to make experts out of them, but to educate them to enjoy themselves.' During his time in Hong Kong, Mr Del Monego conducted tutored tastings of wines of the Alsace region and other areas in the heart of Europe. Less well known than vintages from Bordeaux and Burgundy, these elegant, more restrained wines of the Upper Rhine, Switzerland, the Jura and Alsace have ardent followers in Hong Kong. Many people contend the subtle joys of these regional wines provide companionship for Cantonese food. Mr Del Monego is not going to argue with that. If people like to drink a gewurztraminer with steamed prawns, that is enjoyment and just fine with the world's top wine waiter.