Friday, 19 August 2016

Nederburg’s entry to Hong Kong

Distell’s Nederburg is one of the largest premium wineries in South Africa which has been making wine since 1791. They also run the annual Nederburg auction, one of the world’s five major wine auctions, since 1975. Therefore, I am a little puzzled why we don’t see more Nederburg wine in Hong Kong (only a few SKUs of two lines are available here). Hopefully, we don’t need to wait for too long now. Nederburg’s new cellar master Andrea Freeborough, during her first Asian market visit recently, said they are planning (finally) to introduce their iconic wines, Manor House and Heritage Heroes, to Hong Kong.

Although Andrea is the new cellar master, she was not new to Nederburg. She was the white winemaker at Nederburg under then cellar master Razvan Macici in 2000, before being transferred to head Die Bergkelder, another wine brand of Distell, for 10 years. In 2015, she returned to Nederburg and took over from Razvan, who has been promoted to cellar master of Distell group.

We chatted with Andrea over a casual but absolutely delicious dinner. Over the conversation, I could see that Andrea is focused and disciplined. She decided to become a vinegrower at the age of 14 after seeing a photograph of a vineyard in a magazine. In subsequent holiday in Stellenbosch, she visited the university and cemented her career path, a decision that she never looked back.

Nederburg may be big, but Andreas said the team is like a family and she was glad to go full circle back to Nederburg, where there are still familiar faces from 10 years ago. She is also proud of the innovative attitude of the team. A new wine has to be agreed by the marketing department before it could be commercially produced, but her marketing colleagues are often open-minded and always support them. I am looking forward to tasting new Nederburg wine created by Andreas some time in future.

Andrea’s new wine may take a few years to materialise but hopefully, Nederburg’s Heritage Heroes range, a limited-edition premium range that celebrates the story of Nederburg heroes, would be in Hong Kong soon. The range consisted of five wines, each wine a tribute to a person that contributed to Nederburg heritage. Andrea brought four of the wine for us to try:

The Anchorman: a wooded Chenin Blanc that was named after Philippus Wolvaart, founder of Nederburg. The wine was partially fermented in stainless steel, barrels and old large vats, as well as a portion using carbonic maceration (have to say not a common practice) to add the freshness. It is versatile and went well with both the appetisers and the steak.

The Brew Master: a Bordeaux blend after Johann Graue, who bought Nederburg in 1937 and was the one to have introduced cold fermentation techniques, thanks to his experience working in a beer brewery in Germany. The wine is classic, complex and well-integrated with a good ageing potential.

The Young Airhawk: a wooded Sauvignon Blanc in remembrance of Arnold Graue, Johann’s son who was a talented winemaker supposed to succeeded his father but sadly died in a light aircraft crash at only 29. The wine is a classic Old-New World wine with ripe fruits yet restrained and elegant.

The Motorcycle Marvel: an intense and rich Rhone style blend to celebrate the legacy of cellar master Günter Brőzel until 1989, who created the first South African noble late harvest wine, Edelkeur, in 1975.

The Beautiful Lady: We didn’t try this one, a Gewürztraminer in memory of Ilse Graue, the wife of Johann, and mother of Arnold.

But while waiting for the Heritage Heroes line to land in Hong Kong, try Nederburg’s Ingenuity in the meantime, a truly innovative range that allows winemakers to create new blends. Its white is a blend of eight varieties while its Italian blend is a of Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo. Ingenuity is available from Watson’s Wine.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Hong Kong street food with wine

Love the eFlyer that Kylix did for a Riesling Weeks event with German Wine Princess Katharina Fladung. It began with,

“Wine = Western cuisines?
Wine = Upmarket restaurants?”

When mention wine and food, most consumers would think of wine and food pairing dinners in formal, and often western restaurants. While the menus are delicious, the settings could deter some wine lovers. The emphasis on these wine pairing dinners also mislead some consumers to think that wine should only be drunk with elaborate meals. This is against my philosophy that wine is a lifestyle beverage that could be enjoyed in both casual and formal environments and shared with friends. Therefore, when Yuki from Kylix suggested matching typical Hong Kong snacks with German Riesling, I immediately jumped to the idea.

We had four Rieslings ranged from Trocken (dry) and Kabinett to Spatlese and Auslese. The menu
included Hong Kong style roasted pork belly and barbecued pork, dum sum, three stuffed treasures (煎釀三寶), curry fish balls, clams in spicy and black bean sauce, and red bean pudding (砵仔糕). Roasted pork belly fared well with the Trocken while Kabinett was the best match with dim sum. Spatlese stood up to the stronger flavoured honey barbecued pork and three stuffed treasures; and the majority, including Katharina, concluded that the Auslese was perfect with curry fish balls and the spicy clams.

The best part of this exercise was demystifying conventional food and wine pairing. Most guests admitted that it was the choice of food that attracted them to join. Hopefully, this experience would inspire them to have wine with their everyday dinner.

Dedicated wine lovers have wines whenever they eat and would BYO to local eateries. However, we need more mid-market Asian restaurants to serve wine in order to turn wine into a mainstream beverage. I still would love to persuade our fast food chains to serve a glass of wine with their personalised dinners, and Chinese restaurants to serve weekend dim sum brunch, not with tea but with a Riesling Kabinett - a perfect breakfast wine with dim sum.

Wines selected for pairing from Kylix:

Friday, 15 July 2016

Out of the box wine events

We are always invited to wine tasting events, wine workshops and masterclasses. Most of the time we enjoy them because the presenters are knowledgeable, the winemakers are passionate, the owners have stories to tell, and the wines are good. But with so many tastings we attend over the years, how many of these events can we truly remember?

Time around big trade fairs is particularly busy with big and small wineries fighting to invite the same group of people to their functions. Vinexpo this year was no difference. However, there were two tastings that the organisers went that extra mile to make the events memorable.

The first one was Vinadeis Fashion and Wine. Vinadeis teamed up with designer Jean Daniel Peccolo to present Olivier Dauga’s latest wine through fashion, which according to Jean, was inspired by the harvesting in vineyards. Guests were invited to taste one wine when the model walked out, where the wine and the clothes were linked with a common emotion. For example, Chateau de Jonquieres Cuvée Eole 2014, a blend of Syrah and Grenache from Corbières in Southern France, was titled The Saucy One because of its fruitiness and round mouthfeel that was also the theme of the outfit. Seven wines were presented with seven sets of clothing under seven themes. I dare say that to a lot of wine professionals (me included), this was a little too far-stretched and difficult to imagine. Prior to the fashion show/tasting, Bertrand Girard, CEO of Vinadeis, said we should interpret the wine and fashion through emotion and feeling, rather than the technical information or tasting notes. He was probably right because sometimes we are too analytical and forget about the pleasure of drinking wine. The wines presented were all well-made and guests, mostly consumers, clearly enjoyed this unique experience, happily snapping away and drinking the wine. I’m sure they would remember the wine better because of this occasion and are more likely to talk about it with friends.

The second event was the California wine tasting that started with a sparkling wine breakfast. An upbeat video highlighting the Californian spirits and lifestyle set the scene. Speakers, all well-respected professionals including Sarah Kemp, Debra Meiburg MW, Sarah Jane Evans MW and Karen MacNeil, then walked to the stage in a truly Hollywood style accompanied by their chosen songs such as California Dreamin’. The ladies made a point that the quality of Californian wine has been recognised at Steven Spurrier Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 so this event was not to discuss about soil or winemaking techniques but rather the entrepreneur’s spirits of the owners/winemakers as well as appreciating the many different styles of wine. 17 top class wines were tasted and guests, even though the bold style of Californian wine may not their cup of tea, all left on a high note. I believe this Vinexpo tasting must be the most ‘shared’ on Facebook and Instagram.

Wine is the most fragmented product with thousands of big and small brands from all over the world. Wine quality of course is important but it is not enough to make the brand stand out from the crowd. Whether you like their approaches or not,  Vinadeis and California Wine Institute have successfully grabbed their guests’ attention. Won’t we all remember the ladies in red sunglasses when sipping a Californian wine now?

These two events also reminded me of ‘The Feminine side of Riesling, presented by women for women’ tasting organised by Wines of Germany in 2014 Vinexpo. That tasting was nowhere as costly as these two but the fact that only women presenters and guests were invited was enough to make people talked about then and even remember today.

Therefore, a stand out event doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to be creative.

The wines left the most impressions were:

Domaine de Carpy Cuvée Vue Imprenable 2014, Fitou, (Grenache, Carignan and Mourvédre)
Cazelles Verdier, Cuvée Les Pierres qui Chantent 2015, IGP Pay’s d’Oc (Chardonnay)

Domaine Carneros ‘Brut Cuvee’ 2011, Carneros
Au Bon Climat ‘Bien Nacido Vineyard’ Chardonnay 01, Santa Maria Valley
Longoria ‘Fe Ciega Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2013 Santa Rita Hills
Seghesio Family Vineyards ‘Cortina’ Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley

Friday, 8 July 2016

Underrated Portuguese wine

A lot of Macanese favourites, such as ‘Portuguese’ egg tart, pock chop bun, almond biscuit, dried beef, to name a few, are so popular among Hong Kong consumers that they are now readily available in Hong Kong. However, somehow we don’t quite share our neighbour’s love for Portuguese wine. Portugal is small but has a diverse climate and a wide variety of indigenous grapes, resulting in a myriad wine styles. To me, Italy and Portugal are very similar in terms of the range of climate, grape varieties, wine style, and also their fates in Hong Kong markets - both are overshadowed by their neighbours.

Probably because I worked in Portugal therefore I have a soft spot (yes, another one) for Portuguese wine. I like their honesty and rusticity - but don’t take this as cheap and cheerful or not worth ageing. Their top wine is concentrated and deep yet not posh. Recently I had a chance to taste a good range of Portuguese wine at Adega Royale portfolio tasting, and it felt good. The ones that particular stood out were:

Quinta da Calçada Exuberant Branco 2013 and Edicao Reserva Branco 2013: A blend of Alvarinho, Loureiro and Arinto, all indigenous grapes from the region of Vinho Verde. Both are elegant with persistent mineral finishes. A lot could be contributed to the age of the vines - the quinta holds some of the oldest vineyard in the region dating back to 1917 and the soil.

Solar dos Lobos (Mansion of the wolves in Portuguese) for its creativity of the labels. It literally put the technical sheet and tasting notes in cartoon form on the front label. Granted, the wines are not for the most discerning palates but they are made-well and the refreshing labels are humorous and welcoming to timid wine consumers, a big market that unfortunately most of the trade tend to overlook.

Quinta de Saes Reserva Estagio Prolongado Tinto 2012: A field blends of 28 varieties in from Dão, multilayer fruits, elegant with long finish.

Quinta do Fojo 1999: I would love to make wine like Margarida Serôdio Borges - making wine for fun without commercial pressure. She still makes wine in the style of her grandfather, fermenting in largares.

Quinta da Plansel Tinta Barroca Tinto 2013 and Touriga Franca Tinto 2013: I have tasted Dorina’s wine last year and they are delicious.

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Branco 2013: One of the best ‘entry level’ white wine.

A few years ago, I used to go to Macau to stock up Portuguese wine and luckily I don’t need to do anymore. Still it would be great to see more of them here in Hong Kong.

Thanks Haigan from Adega Royale for being a believer of Portuguese wine.