Grape & Grain
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A Californian gets to wax lyrical about state’s finest wines at Hong Kong’s Vinexpo

Debra Meiburg picks her highlights from three days of tasting and networking, including Moet’s new Yunnan red, a new super Bordeaux, and wines from Portugal, Italy and the Golden State

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 June, 2016, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 June, 2016, 4:01pm

Did you notice a flurry of wine activity in Hong Kong last week? Perhaps your favourite sommelier had a skip in her step, or your go-to wine guy was eager to share his latest discovery. The probable source of their excitement was the biennial Vinexpo Hong Kong – arguably the region’s largest international wine and spirits exhibition for wine professionals.

The three-day event, which is held in alternate years to Vinexpo Bordeaux, brings professionals together with winemakers from 35 countries and is the industry’s window on the wide world of wine trends.

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On day one, we had our first taste of Moët Hennessy’s Ao Yun, a red wine produced at its Shangri-La winery in the Himalayas, in a remote northwestern corner of Yunnan province.

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Another pleasant surprise was the debut of an exciting, affordable new super wine from Bordeaux, which was unveiled by Bettane & Desseauve.

Newcomers weren’t the only wines featured, though – people were also treated to tastings of 2009’s magnificent French vintage, excellent sweet wines, some stars from Burgundy and Champagne’s great terroirs. I presented my arguments on what makes Portugal a world-class producer of quality table wines, not just its famous fortified wines Port, Madeira and Moscatel; while the Vinexpo Challenge, presented by “Best Sommelier of the World 2016” Jon Arvid Rosengren,also yielded some tongue-tingling results.

Italy was featured as the country of honour and its wine was discussed at a conference on Italian wines in Asia along with master classes, tastings and product launches.

This year’s Vinexpo was a professional highlight for me. I joined three leading women of the international wine business for two California-style events, namely Sarah Jane Evans MW and chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Karen MacNeil, author of the best-selling The Wine Bible, and Sarah Kemp, 30-year veteran of leading wine magazine, Decanter.

First, at our grand breakfast symposium and tasting on May 25, we introduced a diverse range of California’s finest wines. Together, we discussed and debated what California and its wine mean to us. For me, southern California conjures up beach vibes and images of Hollywood, while laid-back northern California (where I’m from) is all about beautiful natural scenery, fresh farm produce, and top wineries. The popularity of sun-kissed California wine is on the rise. According to Linsey Gallagher,California Wine Institute vice-president of international marketing, “California wine exports set a record in 2016, topping US$1.6 billion, with Hong Kong our third largest export market at US$97 million [an increase of 41 per cent from the previous year].”

We continued California dreaming on the evening of the 25th at our “Leading Women in Wine” event, held in partnership with The Women’s Foundation, introducing these inspirational global wine personalities to Hong Kong’s female executives and TWF members. Yes, we tasted some exceptional wines, but the focus here was on hosting a supercharged networking event to share the experiences and achievements of these fearless females in the male-dominated wine industry.

Su-Mei Thompson, CEO of The Women’s Foundation, acknowledged the role that successful women play in business, especially male-dominated industries, “We know that the most successful women are often the most generous about sharing their stories and encouraging others to achieve their goals. We also know women do better with the support of others than they do on their own. We look forward to seeing more and more women champions in this space,” she said.

These two events are further evidence that the next six months will be big for California wine in Hong Kong. In November, Christie’s will hold Asia’s debut Premiere Napa Valley wine auction. On May 24, we held a tasting of these boutique rare wines from the region’s top producers. The launch of the Premiere Napa Valley wine auction in Hong Kong signifies both the Asian market’s maturation and Napa Valley’s achievement as an increasingly sought-after region for collectors of fine and rare wine.

Vinexpo 2016 might be over, but it injected Hong Kong’s vibrant wine market with lessons and legacies that will echo around the region for at least two years, until it returns to our shores again in 2018.