The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Macaroni and Cheese

Posted on | March 5, 2010 | Written by Josh Rubenstein | No Comments

Today I met Mark Bailey, the new Sommelier at Dakota Prime to introduce IWM while sharing one of my favorite food and wine pairings in Hong Kong with him—Dakota Prime’s Macaroni and Cheese with Truffles, a dish that is not your kid’s SpongeBob Mac and Cheese, and San Giuliano’s 2005 Barbaresco, a wine that a revelation for those of us who want to let our Giacosas age but want to drink a great Barbaresco now.   We talked about unique opportunities we have in the Hong Kong wine community, and our conversation reminded me of my first impressions of the Hong Kong wine market when I arrived twelve months ago.

The eyes of the wine world remain on Hong Kong because of the city’s staggering auction results, but that phenomenon is not quite an accurate picture of the wine scene on a day-to-day basis.   Upon my arrival, many clients here told me of how they saw many wine merchants open businesses in hopes of capitalizing on the spending frenzy frequently reported by Bloomberg and other major media, only to close their shops just as quickly as that frenzy ended.  The newspapers would have had me believe that a throng of local collectors would greet me at the airport with blank checks and ask me to fill their cellars unto bursting with Italy’s best wines.  What I’ve found is less a mania for collection and more a profound love of wine, and I like it.

Hong Kong’s passion for enjoying life’s finer things manifests itself in an obsession to understand wine, and not simply to bid wildly on Lafite at auction.  The wine lovers of Hong Kong move beyond first growths and Parker scores and search for the story in each bottle, and they appreciate the way a farmer can put his heart in a bottle, just as art lovers appreciate how Van Gogh put his heart onto a canvas. (Would Ales Kristancic cut off his ear?  Would you be surprised if he did?)  When you think about it, the deep appreciation felt by Hong Kong wine aficionados makes sense; a culture largely influenced by principles of Feng Shui is naturally adept at feeling what lies beyond plain sight.

Today I met a friend for lunch who has recently taken classes in Italian wine, Champagne and Burgundy, who is preparing to take her Level 3 WSET exam for fun, and who will travel to Piedmont and Bordeaux this year.  The joy she gets from the education in wine makes the journey itself a destination. This attitude is inspiring, and this attitude drives me and my peers in the Hong Kong wine community.

When I arrived in Hong Kong bearing the strange gifts of Italian wines—like Ales’ biodynamic beauties that call for you to open underwater and decant overhead—I wondered how both I and my wines would be received.  I was fully confident in IWM and our ability to contribute to the wine community’s thirst for the world’s very best wine, and I felt sure I could serve both the people and the wines properly.  But would anyone care to understand what was in these bottles? I was fortunate to meet some of the leaders in the HK restaurant scene early on, and on meeting them, I knew we had found the right place, and the right partners, to share our passion.

Mark’s designs for Dakota Prime’s enhanced wine program will offer HK foodies countless opportunities to discover what’s beautiful about wine—and not merely what’s most familiar. And his innovations are evocative of the Hong Kong restaurant scene in general. When Giovanni Perna at Domani recommends a new Italian wine to me, I don’t think twice about trying it, even if I experience only a fraction of the passion he feels for this wine.  When I dine at Tuscany by H, I don’t open the menu; Chef Harlan tells me what he thinks and I trust him completely.  (If you’re a fan of great service, watch him operate on any night and you’ll see how much he genuinely cares about every guest’s experience that night.)  At the new Otto e Mezzo, GM Danilo Nicoletti’s face lights up like a Roman candle when he talks about the art of Italian wine and his own culinary artist, Chef Bombana, and the collection of fine art in the restaurant itself is an ode to a time and place in Italian culture.  Make no mistake: Hong Kong is an awesome place to be a wine lover.

If you’re reading this with a glass of wine in hand, as I have been while writing this post (I’ve been drinking Movia 2006 Pinot Grigio—I usually don’t love Pinot Grigio, but this is art, my friends), I hope you’ll drink to Mark’s success in guiding us wine lovers to profound wine discoveries. May I suggest the San Guilano Barbaresco paired thoughtfully with Macaroni and Cheese and perhaps a side of Porterhouse?


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