Highlights, challenges and triumphs
VinExpo Hong Kong ended a couple of weeks ago, but it was such a fast-paced gathering with so many lingering reverberations that I’m still feeling its effects. Certainly, no description of the event is complete without detailing the highly anticipated visit of Monica Soldera of the legendary Case Basse di Soldera in Montalcino. When I first arrived in HK, I noticed that Soldera was relatively unknown among Hong Kong’s wine collectors. (The wines of Quintarelli, Gravner and Giacomo Conterno fall into this category as well.)
With no existing following in HK, my challenge became how to properly introduce an $1800 HKD wine like the 2002 Brunello Riserva. Furthermore, the Soldera Brunellos don’t look like other Brunellos. I was happy to discover the power of tastings, and HK has embraced the wines of Soldera. Monica’s first visit to Asia was a perfect opportunity for producer and wine-lovers to get to know one other properly, and over the past year, we’d built up enough intrigue and positive experiences that Monica’s visit to Hong Kong in May brought four consecutive sold-out events during VinExpo week.
The most notable aspect of Monica’s visit was her grace and her refreshing approach to introducing the wines of Case Basse. While she is an encyclopedia of wine facts, Monica was casual and disarming—a perfect demeanor for VinExpo, because the week had overwhelmed everyone with a deluge of wine facts and bold statements. The Soldera dinners centered on spending time with each wine individually so that we could see how nature guided the family’s winemaking and gave each wine its own personality. Monica was able to make each wine seem like a guest of honor, allowing us to refrain from feeling a need to make any immediate judgments about anything. She took the competitive nature out of the tasting experience and created a light atmosphere to simply enjoy each other’s company and to get to know one other better.
Monica’s Hong Kong visit was so exciting that each event deserves its own description, which I’ve provided below.
Tuesday 25 May – Otto e Mezzo
This event was a no-brainer, because it matched Monica with HK’s celebrated Italian Chef Bombana, esteemed GM Danilo Nicoletti, a gorgeous private room for twenty, and a wonderful group. The food and wine were out of this world. I hardly had to work. I simply gave Danilo and Bombana the wine list, and they agonized over the proper menu, updating it just days before the dinner in order to perfect it. Tajima Beef Tongue on Brunello and Mushroom Risotto paired with a 2003 Brunello Riserva Soldera thrilled us, but we still had the 2002 and 1983 Brunellos ahead of us. It was as if none of us could fathom better food or wine, yet we kept going. Before the night had ended, the restaurant asked Monica to sign two remaining magnums of 1983 Brunello for their own collection; they’re now proudly part of a very impressive large format collection. Overall, this evening was a perfect start to our week, and Monica knew where she could get incredible Italian food if she got homesick.
Wednesday 26 May – Crown Cellars
We held a small gathering in the Crown Library that was co-hosted by Hong Kong’s ultimate host, Greg De’eb. It was a far cry from last year’s event with Movia’s Ales Kristancic, “Marvelous Night for a Moon-dance,” which featured bottles opened under a full moon, ballroom dancing and swordplay. However different the events, our guests received the same experience in the end: an understanding of the wine through the personality of the producer. Each wine was tasted together, side-by-side, throughout the meal. This format allowed us to feel all the wines evolve simultaneously over the course of hours. By this point in VinExpo, most attendees had been to two wine dinners already in the week, and the casual atmosphere—a Monica Soldera staple—and Soldera’s wines of finesse put some life back into our group as we all prepared for the rest of the week’s events.
Thursday 27 May – The China Club
When we host our producers in HK, we like to throw at least one event where we pair Italian wines with Asian cuisine. I always rave about the quality of service at The China Club, and in my last post I’d noted that they’d hosted a staggering number of wine dinners during VinExpo. Sadly, and I mean sadly, I couldn’t attend this dinner, but the feedback from attendees was consistently great. Soldera’s wines paired surprisingly very well with a number of local dishes and showed great versatility. A number of guests reported that their bodies were wearing down from intense eating and drinking during the week, some reported that they should have taken a night off from the events, but those who were there said they couldn’t miss the Soldera night at The China Club. Monica was very pleased to have the opportunity to host a dinner with Chinese cuisine, and she was delighted to pass the Chinese cuisine test, a prerequisite for success in the new Hong Kong market.
Friday 28 May – Don Alfonso
My colleague Christina escorted Monica by helicopter to Macau to start the day. However, I, being more afraid of heights than any man should be, was happy to take the boat and sleep on the way to our last day of meetings and events. Our evening at the stunning Don Alfonso in Grand Lisboa began with a very pleasant surprise—Chef Alfonso himself would be attending the dinner as a guest. As with the staff of Otto e Mezzo, Chef Alfonso and his restaurant team hold Soldera wines with high regard and worked hard to create a truly special experience for all of us who were lucky enough to attend. Don Alfonso’s perfect pairing of 1983 Brunello from magnum with Wagyu beef tenderloin and puffed spaghetti (it’s beyond description) was almost a shame to consume. But we did anyway, and it was amazing.
To paraphrase Monica’s father, Gianfranco, a great wine is one that you miss immediately after you’ve finished it. I missed the Soldera dinners the moment we left Don Alfonso. After an exhausting week and non-stop events, I take that to be a testament to Soldera.
VinExpo was a crazy blast of too much food, so much wine and an avalanche of new friends. Two weeks later, I’m only just beginning to recover. Naturally, I look forward to doing it all again next year.