Cool-climate fine wines the best accompaniment to a Hong Kong summer
Tart fruit flavours and mouth-watering acidity are an antidote to the city’s torrid temperatures. Pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, Tasmania and Burgundy are good choices
As the mercury heats up, my thoughts turn to cooler climates – not the destinations per se, but the elegant wines they produce. Cool-climate wines are a refreshing antidote to Asia’s steamy summers.
Cooler climates produce delicate, finessed wines that are lighter in alcohol and on the edge of ripeness. Warm days are followed by crisp nights and preceded by misty mornings that slow and limit ripening. These conditions create excellent sparkling wine, tingling rieslings, and delicate pinot noirs.
Cool-climate wines possess minerally, tart fruit flavours with mouth-watering acidity. This acidic spine supports longevity in the bottle and in the mouth.
Champagne is the ultimate cool climate success story in Asia, while the undisputed champion of pinot noir is Burgundy. The area’s cool springs and warm summers provide just the right conditions for this fussy grape.
Marlborough in New Zealand is famous for superb sauvignon blancs, vibrant and taut with explosive green fruits, figs and gooseberries. Top producers include Cloudy Bay, Craggy Range, Wairau River and Seresin. Warm sunny days are offset by nippy evenings, which make wraps or jackets de rigueur after nightfall. Marlborough’s long, slow ripening season intensifies the fruit flavours. Grassy, herbal notes are supported by razor-sharp acidity.
Tasmania is known for superb sparkling wine, but the island state also boasts an impressive array of crisp white wines and tasty reds. Clean, easy-drinking sauvignon blancs, for example, are perfectly suited to seafood. Tasmania produces classy pinot noirs with spicy hints, supported by juicy acidity and elegant raspberry.
Casablanca, the Pacific coast wine valley west of Chile’s coastal range, is one of the country’s best-known cool climate regions.
Casablanca chardonnays have tropical and citrus flavours with oceanic notes. Chilean sauvignon blancs from ultracool Leyda are ocean influenced with hints of saltiness. Thick morning fog and clouds are commonplace in Leyda and breezes often turn into cold winds. This creates a crisp acidity which anchors the wine and reins in frisky flavours.
Parts of the US, Germany, and Austria are also in the “cool crowd”, as are Switzerland, Canada and England. In fact, England is one the world’s rising sparkling wine regions, with fine fizz making up about 60 per cent of the UK’s total wine production. At the 9th International Cool Climate Wine Symposium in May, I will visit the world’s leading cool-climate producers and experts in Brighton, England to discuss opportunities in our markets. The symposium segues into the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival, where the public can sip and sample England’s fine young bubblies and great cool-climate wines.
Closer to home, cool-climate wines have earned their place at the table. Joseph Luk, managing director of boutique retailer Cuvées, says their subtlety makes them superbly suited to Asian palates. “In our warm climate, nobody wants a wine that is too big and bold. Hongkongers prefer wines from Germany, Burgundy and New Zealand,” he says.
Cool wines are praised for food-friendly characteristics, despite their somewhat higher price tags. Japan’s very first Master of Wine, Kenichi Ohashi, says: “Asian cuisines match well with these high-acidity, low-alcohol, light-bodied wines.”
Patrick Hung, senior marketing executive at Schmidt Marketing and Schmidt Vinothek, says Germany’s fruit-driven rieslings are a good fit for Asian tastes. In Germany’s riesling-dominated Ruwer River region, fruit fights hard to ripen and roots dig deep for nutrition, which limits yield and enhances quality. The long ripening season adds to the aroma and vibrancy. MW Jancis Robinson describes the style as “light, crisp, racy and refreshing as a mountain stream” – perfect for surviving our long, hot summers. The Ruwer River tops The Drinks Business’ list of cool-climate wine regions.
Cool-climate wines are the perfect accessory for your next soiree. Raise a frosty glass and think of misty mornings, cool breezes and verdant valleys.
Debra Meiburg is a Hong Kong-based Master of Wine