Sunday 24 February 2013

The Wine Gangs

Call them alliances, cooperations, partnerships or .... gangs, there seem to be more and more of them in the wine world.

The Rhone Gang
The most well known in Hong Kong and Macau is probably The Douro Boys, a syndicate of five independent family estates from the Douro. Created 10 years ago, it has successfully brought Douro wines to the table and raised the overall profile of the region's still wines.

Recently, I met another syndicate: the Rhône Gang from Southern Rhône. They are Louis from Chateau de Saint Cosme, Frederic from Chateau Pesquie, Rodolphe from Chateau de Montfaucon, and Arnaud, the guy in the shadows (aka marketing and PR man). Like the Douro Boys, they each represent independent boutique family estates, and they have now been working together for 13 years. They describe themselves as ‘serious in business but funny in life’. Sharing a belief in respecting the terroir and making the best wine from their land, their collaboration means they can offer a wide range of Rhône wines that complement but do not compete with each other. Having successfully established a bridgehead in Japan they are now marching on China. Try their wines from Sinolink.

The latest gang, or rather, more like a football team, is PIWOSA (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa)—not a particularly imaginative name, perhaps, but the intention is good. As the name suggests, it is an association of some of South Africa's best wine producers. Unhappy with the under-representation of premium South African wine in international markets, 15 of the largely family owned producers from across the Western Cape formed this alliance last month (January 2013) with a clear objective of raising international perceptions of the top end of the South African wine spectrum. Like other gangs, they plan to tramp the globe spreading the word. I have tried most of the wines and there is no doubting their quality. Some, but not yet all, are available in Hong Kong.

With most well-known wine brands owned by big corporations with global marketing muscle, alliances like these among smaller players make sense. By collaborating they create a bigger noise, yet each member still retains his individuality and style. A well-chosen name (Douro Boys, The Rhône Gang) helps lend a human face. With today’s consumers increasingly seeing wine as a lifestyle product, this personal touch certainly brings life to wine, and helps us differentiate them in a crowded marketplace.

I would love to see more of these gangs from other countries. Pedro Parra, a terroir consultant from Chile, is considering something similar with like-minded winemakers there. Perhaps we could organise friendly inter-gang matches one day?

Thursday 7 February 2013

Eddie on the right track with fun-and-enjoyment mantra

Photo courtesy of Ali Nicol

Did you know that even though there are no vineyards in Hong Kong we do have a handful of winemakers living here? Apart from myself—although I don’t think I should really be counted since I don’t make wine for a living at the moment—there is Eddie McDougall, a Eurasian Hong Kong-born flying winemaker who makes his own wine in Australia using grapes from King Valley and the Pyrenees and is the owner of The Flying Winemaker, a wine store cum bar cum school in Lan Kwai Fong.

Eddie had a series of activities lined up for the launch of his latest wine recently. The wine was originally named Umami, but for technical reasons he could not register that name so chose to market it under his own name: Eddie McDougall. So don’t be confused when you see the name Umami in a much more prominent position than his own on the label.

At one of the launch events organised by the The Elements Club, we had four of Eddie's wines with a Chinese dinner. I particularly liked the Frederica’s Pinot Gris 2010. The wine was barrel-fermented in old barrels, lees-stirred and matured for eight months. The flavours are intense yet well-integrated. Its structure and relatively high alcohol of 13.8% make it a nice pairing with heavier seafood or stir-fried pork dishes (we had it with wok-fried prawns with Sichuan chilli sauce and deep-fried scallops coated with taro crust 川汁蝦球,荔茸帶子).

Little Pig Rosé 2010, using the nickname given him by his grandmother, has an attractive pale pink salmon colour. I was expecting a soft delicate wine but instead my first impression was of something savoury and structured. Eddie explained that the wine, from Merlot grapes, underwent cool temperature fermentation and was aged for 12 months, so no wonder it developed the characters that Eddie highly recommends be paired with Cantonese style barbecued pork (叉燒). A delicate rosé would not stand up to the pork's robust flavour.

Eddie’s wine philosophy is that wine should be fun and enjoyable and that good quality wine is not necessarily expensive and out of reach. I totally agree. Indeed this is what I would like to promote in Hong Kong—a wine culture that values quality over price, enjoyment over pretentiousness, and, above all, sharing over showing off. I would love to see that one day, hopefully in the not too distant future, it is the norm that consumers have their rice box dinner at home in front of the television with a glass of wine rather than a can of soft drink. I have been discussing this with a few people recently, including Eddie and Betsy from Northeast and I think they share the sentiment. I hope we can start to generate enough support from other like-minded people to make this happen. Let me know if you agree.