Vinexpo Asia-Pacific lingers long on the palate

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 5:39am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 3:13pm

The magic of the Vinexpo trade fair is that although the show lasts only three days, the buzz it generates brings a stream of winemakers to Hong Kong that takes several weeks to process.

While some are hoping for a coating of the Vinexpo fairy dust, others have different motives. Winemakers from the northern hemisphere have new releases to push, and ones from the southern hemisphere want to check out the competition. Adding to the excitement this year was the big push for Côtes du Rhône wines organised by Le French May.

So can the Post dig out its crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses during the coming year? Not quite. The trade show doesn't collect figures on how much business is done, and by whom, and some exhibitors seemed to be here to find a new distributor rather than support their current one.

Plenty of others, however, were brought here by their distributors and many of their wines are available in Hong Kong. Here are some highlights of the past few weeks of tasting.

Johann Krige, of Kanonkop Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, gave a tutored tasting of five vintages of the winery's Paul Sauer Bordeaux blend. Krige describes the wines as "terroir-driven" and pointed out the structure given by a mix of roughly 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent cabernet franc and 10 per cent merlot.

The wine grew in alcohol strength from 12.5 per cent for the 1991 to 14 per cent for the 2009, but there were consistent flavour notes of berries, black pepper and tea leaves.

Geoff Merrill, proprietor of Geoff Merrill Wines in McLaren Vale, Australia, talked an audience through five recent vintages of his world-beating shiraz. The weakest wine came in at 14 per cent, the strongest at 15.5 per cent alcohol but these wines hide their alcohol levels remarkably well - they are certainly not fruit bombs.

Exhibitors are not happy unless they are complaining, but they always come back every year

While the big guns from Bordeaux don't really need a presence at Vinexpo, there were a few surprises from Burgundy. The great chablis from the estate of Jean-Marc Brocard was no surprise - but its relatively low price certainly was.

This is a wine that the trade would describe as over-delivering for its price.

The sparkling red wine from Parigot, which also makes a cremant de Bourgogne - a sparkling wine made by the champagne method but outside the Champagne area - was also a big surprise.

Sparkling red is usually thought of as an Australian invention and one with little appeal here. This was more than a novelty. The wine cannot even be labelled a cremant due to strict labelling laws. The makers seem to have their eye on the China market - one version comes laced with gold leaf.

Vintae is a Spanish company that owns wineries in several of the country's regions.

I tried the 100 per cent tempranillo wines from the Matsu winery in the Toro appellation. I hope the gastronomic wines, with their eye-catching labels, have already managed to find a local distributor or importer.

Debra Meiburg gave an interesting talk on the treasures of her native Sonoma County in California. While the region neighbours Napa Valley, the mountain range that divides the two gives Sonoma a distinct terroir. Not only has the tectonic activity that created the mountains given the region its unique soil, they form a barrier for the fog that rolls in off the Pacific ocean and cool the grapes overnight.

The characterful Australian Chester Osborn was there to introduce his range of eccentrically named but well-made wines. We enjoyed the 100 per cent rousanne Money Spider and the sweet viognier, marsanne, pinot gris blend called the Noble Mud Pie.

Anticipating some criticism for his tempranillo, grenache and shiraz blend, he called it Sticks and Stones, but it certainly doesn't deserve any brickbats.

Côtes du Rhône is an underappreciated region in Hong Kong. It's a vicious circle: it rarely gets ordered, so it rarely appears on shop shelves or wine lists, meaning no one has an incentive to add it to their list. Southern Rhone wines also have a reputation among some for being too sour for the Hong Kong market.

As Hong Kong's fine wine lovers appreciate wines that come from iconic labels, have interesting stories and present opportunities for displaying connoisseurship, it's surprising the area isn't better known.

There are only a handful of iconic labels, but few are better known than Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, while appellations include Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, home the world's benchmark viognier wines.

In the south, the possible permutations of up to 18 grapes in the wine must surely appeal to connoisseurs. However, the commonest grapes used are syrah and grenache, hardly unfamiliar varieties. As to that sourness, I didn't find it myself, but perhaps it is too subjective a quality.

The climate of the two sections of the valley is radically different and its cooling and heating mistral and sirocco winds surely provide plenty of talking points.

Alsace has fallen out of favour since its heyday as the mandatory match with Asian food, so it was nice to be reminded of its quality with a tasting at Dopff & Irion.

The funny thing about Vinexpo is that even though exhibitors are not happy unless they are complaining, they come back every year.