Q&A with Halliday

Yuki Hirose on becoming a master sommelier

By J'aime Cardillo

25 Oct, 2023

In August, Yuki Hirose passed the gruelling exam to become a master sommelier (MS). He tells us about the process and explains the five wines that changed his life.

Tokyo-born Yuki Hirose moved to Sydney almost two decades ago. He found his home at Sydney’s Rockpool where he spent more than 10 years working alongside sommeliers and on an outstanding wine list. In 2021, during the pandemic, Yuki made the move to Melbourne for an opportunity with Lucas Restaurants. Two years on, Yuki is overseeing the Kisumé, Grill Americano and Society wine lists, mentoring 20 sommeliers in the group, and creating exciting feature programs in each venue. In August 2023, in Vienna, Austria, Yuki passed the gruelling exam to become a master sommelier (MS). He joins an exclusive group of less than 300 master sommeliers across the world. 

“Relieved. When I knew I had passed the exam I felt relieved,” Yuki says. He had previously failed the master sommelier exam five times. “Now I can call myself an MS, and every word you say, action you make is as an MS – it comes with responsibilities and expectation. But now it’s time to give back the knowledge and support I have received along the way.” 

Yuki HiroseYuki Hirose MS.

“I was so lucky to be surrounded by amazing people who believed in me and gave me their time and resources – Loïc Avril, who is the head of fine wine at Lucas, master sommeliers Sebastian Crowther, Dorian Guillon, Carlos Simoes Santos and Franck Moreau, along with Justin Biskup (former head sommelier at Vue de monde) to name a few. And my girlfriend who didn’t leave me alone in the dark when I had a miserable time. I just would like to express my huge gratitude to those humans. I may be the one who sat in the exam chair, but those people are the ones who really made me an MS. And I can’t thank them enough.” 

Yuki says he was a uni student working in a bar in Toyko when he fell in love with the complexity of the wine world. “I started tasting different kinds of wines that were available at the time, and then I moved to Australia and was once again amazed at the quality of the wine, and the wine culture here.” 

On becoming an MS, Yuki says you need to know everything. “There is a bottle of wine sitting in front of you, and you must know everything about the wine – whether it’s a tiny grape varietal from an island of Greece to the minimum alcohol percentage of Chablis.”

Mount Edelstone vinyard.Henschke's Mount Edelstone vineyard.

He says you also need to perform under pressure, just like when serving in a restaurant. “Keep smiling, open the bottle elegantly, keep talking while you are decanting. Offer up dishes that pair nicely. Does the wine need to be slightly chilled? You will also need to demonstrate that you can recognise classic varietals from classic regions.” There were about 30 candidates in Yuki’s class, and generally only one or two pass. Qualifying alongside Yuki was Eleftherios Hanialidis MS, who lives in Athens in Greece. 

For those who are thinking about taking the exam, Yuki says you must taste day and night. It has to become second nature. The waiting list to take the MS exam is around five years, “Some people pass in two or three attempts, it took me six, so don’t give up and keep trying. Then when you pass all three sections: Service, Theory and Tasting – that’s when you become a true master.” 

So how did Yuki celebrate one of the biggest achievements of his life? “I actually just sat back and drank wines without analysing the acidity, alcohol and tannin level. I also went back to Japan to show my MS badge to my parents. I’m not sure how much they understood, but it was a priceless moment to me.” 

Yuki Hirose's Fast Five

The five drinks that changed me

01. 1961 Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 
Hermitage, Rhône
I was lucky enough to taste this wine at Rockpool in 2009–2010. At the time I wasn’t aware of the calibre of this wine. It just simply wowed me, and I still remember the complexity and subtleness of this bottle. It’s an experience for me to re-realise the magic of the time in the bottle.

02. 1974 Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, US
Similar to La Chapelle, the flavour struck me so much that I could still taste it the next morning. I’ve never seen this wine since, but it’s vivid in my mind, that cabernet from lesser-known regions can be amazing. Bordeaux produces magnificent claret but I was amazed, and at the same time encouraged, that a great wine can be crafted from young vines from such unknown land.

03. Rusty nail cocktail
I’m not sure why I start drinking this not-so-popular cocktail, but I remember sipping it at a bar counter back in Tokyo. It’s somewhat rustic (as the name suggests), a blend of scotch and Drambuie, and I like to use the smoky Islay Single Malt as a base. I like the contrast of smokiness and sweetness. It’s very much an after dinner, winter cocktail, that takes me back to Tokyo whenever I drink it. 

04. 1994 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz
Eden Valley, South Australia
Henschke is a popular choice of guests in the restaurant, and I’ve seen many of those with significant age, BUT this bottle that I opened just last week was on another level. It was so pure and so clean. No heaviness on the palate, just the flavour. It stayed on the nose for a long, long time. Pull the cork gently, no decanting needed, a medium-sized Bordeaux glass, and time is all you need. A true classic Aussie shiraz.

05. 2011 Ravensworth Velo Rosé
Murrumbateman, New South Wales
I am a big fan of Bryan Martin – he's so humble and his wine is so intriguing. This nebbiolo rosé is something I had never tried. You truly have to try it for yourself, its textures and flavours are something very unique. What I’ve learned from this wine is that there are no boundaries for winemakers as well as for sommeliers. This wine was meticulously monitored and planned and made with will. This wine was kept under flor until 2017, just like Vin Jaune from Jura, which isn’t easy as flor yeast is very fragile. We, sommeliers, always look for references when encountering any unknown wines, we should keep pushing boundaries and keep experimenting. This wine gave me courage to do something new but with precise purpose and strong will.

Follow Yuki Hirose on Instagram.

Image credit: Yuki Hirose/Lucas Restaurants and Henschke/Dragan Radocaj.