Sommelier Akihiko Nosaka takes up the challenge of building a wine list that caters to Italian, Japanese and Chinese cuisines. He talks to Sarah Wong
What is the underlying concept behind your wine list?
We have three restaurants - Italian, Japanese and Chinese - and we have one master wine list which will complement the three cuisines. I look for good-value-for-money wines. Lastly, the wines on our list should represent their terroir [sense of origin] from around the world.
How many wines do you have on your list and in your inventory?
We have 2,000 wines on our list and 10,000 bottles in stock. We also have 20 wines by the glass, and I update this list every two weeks.
Is pricing a big consideration in selecting wines, and how much do your customers spend?
Yes I research competitor wine lists to make sure our prices are fair. The mark-up for fine wines tends to be lower. The average per-bottle spend ranges from HK$800 to HK$1,300.
If you had to pick one white wine and one red wine that works well with Chinese, Japanese and Italian food, what would it be?
For white wine, I would pick an Austrian wine made from the gruner veltliner variety. It is good value for money, has minerality, structure and elegance. For red, I would pick a New Zealand pinot noir from Canterbury. It is a Burgundian style of wine, fruity with good acid and structure.
What wines would you recommend pairing with your signature dishes?
For Chinese food, our signature dish is sweet and sour pork. It goes well with Alion, a Spanish wine made from the tempranillo grape. The wine enhances the taste and complements the sweet vinegar flavour. For Japanese, our smoked salmon goes well with the Blanc de Blancs Champagne. The smokiness of the fish goes well with the crisp acidity. Lastly, with Italian food, our roast suckling pork served in a brown sauce and onion marmalade goes well with Barbaresco from Piedmont. The wine has good structure and can stand up to the richness of the flavours.
What is the most difficult dish to pair wine with?
Fermented bean curd used for Chinese cooking. It has a smelly and strong taste. I have tried many wines, but it is difficult. It pairs better with Chinese yellow wine or sake.
Are there any cultural differences between Japanese and Hongkongers when it comes to drinking wine?
Japanese people usually start the meal with Champagne, then go on to white and red wine. A lot of Hong Kong people like to drink mainly red wine. In this case, I will start serving the red wine at a lower temperature in smaller glasses. I will then change and use larger glasses during the meal to control the temperature of the wine. In Hong Kong, BYO is more common. We charge a HK$500 corkage fee for a maximum of two bottles.
How do you select your wines?
In terms of style, I like wines that are elegant, with acidity, minerality and structure. I do not like big commercial brands and prefer wines which show their terroir.
Where do you source your wines from?
For fine wines, I have purchased about 6,000 bottles from wine auctions in Japan. Another 5,000 bottles come from wine merchants in Britain and Switzerland. For other wines, such as from Italy, Australia and New Zealand, I buy them in Hong Kong.
What is your best-selling wine?
For our Italian restaurant, our best seller is a white wine made from the favorita variety. Pinot grigio and Sicilian chardonnay are also popular. For Chinese food, it is the red Bordeaux, and for Japanese it is the red Burgundy.
What wines do you think Hongkongers should try more of?
As a sommelier, I am responsible not just for the wine experience but also for all beverages, including liquor, sake and food. I think people should try more Japanese sake. Also, Japanese wine made from muscat bailey-A (red) and koshu (white). They go well with fresh ingredients.
Are there any major wine trends in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is similar to Japan where there is a wine boom. Now Burgundy is the trend. The next coming trend will be [wines from] Italy, particularly from Tuscany and Piedmont.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love wine, and it is my hobby. In Hong Kong, there are many tastings organised by suppliers. [Through these,] I can develop my wine skills and knowledge.
What is your next goal?
Our three restaurants were recently awarded the "two glass" Best Award of Excellence 2013 by Wine Spectator magazine. My next goal is to focus on wine education for the staff and guests. I would like to organise unique wine events and staff training courses.
How do you relax?
I have a glass of German riesling from the Mosel Valley. It has a touch of sweetness, and it helps me to sleep after a long day at work.