A wine tasting with Debra Meiburg, one of Hong Kong's first Masters of Wine and a former columnist for Post Magazine, was hands down the most memorable event I've been to this year. Meiburg - who turned up with some interesting props - began by asking us how familiar we were with the wine regions of Italy. And, as we were mulling how to respond, she held up a thigh-skimming, high-heeled Jimmy Choo boot and declared: "This is Italy." We were to be taken on a tour of this boot.
"Our first wine is from a region around the top of the boot, at the back of your leg," she told us, handing one of us a hat and another a fan, with the latter instructed to wave said prop towards the hat - thus illustrating how a maritime climate can cool down a region (and so affect the acidity levels of the local wine). Our first sample? A juicy, lemony pinot grigio by Ronco del Gelso from Isonzo DOC ( denominazione di origine controllata) in Friuli, way up on the northeast coast.
"Now we're going to have a look at the knee," said Meiburg. "This is Tuscany." The black rooster, she announced, handing out black feather dusters, is a rare bird indeed and therefore not unlike a chianti classico bearing the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico (which has a black rooster as its trademark) seal of approval. Wines from the Chianti region must be made from at least 80 per cent sangiovese grapes to be called "chianti", and Consorzio-stamped ones are the best. The Isole e Olena Chianti Classico we tasted was a prime example, with slightly floral, herbal and cherry notes, and a light nuttiness.
Next she produced two crowns - one silver, one gold - to represent the order of the wines from Piedmont, in the country's northwest. The principal grape here is nebbiolo, the best known regions for which are Barolo and Barbaresco, the former being "the king" (gold crown) and the latter "the queen" (sil-ver crown). Barolo wines are masculine, full-bodied and tannic while those from Barbaresco have fewer tannins and softer fruit, and therefore seem more feminine. We tasted a Cantina del Pino Barbaresco 2008, which did indeed live up to its queenly reputation, with its elegant but intense dark cherry fruit, white pepper and hints of a fine cigar on the nose.
Meiburg then brought out a black football and made a kicking motion with the boot. "This is Sicily!" The ball was the island and the colour black represented the dominant soil type there - volcanic ash. We sipped an I Vigneri by Salvo Foti from Etna Rosso - an inky, opaque purple wine with vivid berry fruit and, surprisingly, no oak, made from nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio grapes.
For Meiburg's next trick she wrapped one of our number in aluminium foil and produced a can of sardines. Aside from wine, mining and fishing are the two key industries on the island of Sardinia, just off the "knee". We tasted a Pala-Essentija Isole Dei Nuraghi 2009, which is made from bovale, a rare native grape. Not fishy at all, it had deep perfumey aromas of ripe red fruits, a hint of cedar and a warm finish.
Finally, out came swords and shields. "How many of you are middle children?" Meiburg asked, explaining that with Umbria being in the middle of the country (or boot), it has been fought over throughout history and that, accordingly, there are many influences there - Roman, Greek, Etruscan. The Colpetrone Sagrantino di Montefalco 2006 from Umbria - to which wine bigwig Robert Parker Jnr has awarded 92 points - seemed the perfect sum of all its parts. It showed bold ripe dark fruit with spice and dried herbs, firm tannins and a long finish.
A round of applause for Meiburg for putting on not just a tasting, but a memorable show and tell!
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers