The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Winemaker Sebastiano Rosa, International Man of Awesome

The Sassicaia winemaker takes a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong

At The Principal with Kavita Faiella and Sebastiano Rosa

The whole wine world is aware that Hong Kong is rocking, but our fair city is still very misunderstood. On a day-to-day level, Hong Kong people love to discover what’s new and they are surrounded by a multitude of choices and perhaps too much information, if such a thing exists.

So when Sebastiano Rosa, best known for his work at Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia, Guidalberto, Le Difese) and Agricola Punica (Barrua, Montessu) visited us on short notice, we were both honored and in a mad scramble to organize interesting events. We wanted to share Sebastiano with Hong Kong, while also wanting him to come away with a real understanding of the city, its culture and its wine market. Fortunately, Sebastiano is very inquisitive and curious, so he allowed himself to better understand Hong Kong in a way that many visitors miss.

The highlight of Sebastiano’s visit was our evening at The Principal, still relatively new and an immediate star in HK’s restaurant scene. Wine Director Kavita Faiella was kind enough to join our dinner, and quite honestly she is reason enough to visit The Principal. Go with friends and become anti-social, losing yourself in the superb wine list she has put together.

The evening, like all of our events during the visit, featured wines of Sebastiano’s influence, including the emerging star, Sardegna’s Punica 2007 Barrua, a Carignano-blend that follows the Super-Tuscan blueprint of honoring local varietals among Bordeaux grapes. We actually served this last, after a 1997 Sassicaia, and it paired beautifully with an incredible selection of regional cheeses. As we bring more of this wine to Hong Kong, I have a really positive feeling for how it will be received.

Sassicaia, Guidalberto (Sebastiano’s “little boy”), and Le Difese not only shone at The Principal, but also at Dow Kee Restaurant in Wanchai, where twelve of us dove into a superb Cantonese arrangement, culminating with BBQ Roast Pork and succulent Suckling Pig. Le Difese and Guidalberto each showed us that the hype surrounding the 2009 vintage at Tenuta San Guido is justified. Both are stunners, and among the greatest vintages I’ve tasted of each. The Guidalberto in particular showed uncommon approachability and incredible balance in its youth, but it easily has another ten years of greatness ahead. It was only natural for us to wonder aloud how great the 2009 Sassicaia will become.

“Awesome” was the word Sebastiano used continuously throughout the meals, though he said it as if he’d been spending months trying to find the perfect descriptor. Perhaps such a mentality allows the wines of Tenuta San Guido and Agricola Punica to enjoy such international appeal while also remaining very distinctly Italian. Upon his departure, we heard the simple phrase we were all hoping to hear from “that James Bond winemaker,” as one top Sommelier referred to Sebastiano.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

We look forward to welcoming Sebastiano Rosa back to Hong Kong this fall for an extended visit.

Drinks on The Deck: Junk Season in Full Bloom

What to drink on your island escape

With the recent celebration of Hong Kong’s Dragon Boat Festival, Tuen Ng, it seems you’re more likely to find Hong Kong people on the water than on land during these super-hot days. To avoid getting island fever, we take to the waters on junk boats, and we do so properly armed with wines suitable for the broiling hot weather and bustling seafood restaurants on the outlying islands. Above all, Hong Kong’s love of decadence must be properly catered to.

Each week, more and more calls come in from clients for ‘junk wines,’ so it’s important that we’re prepared to recommend accordingly. Fortunately, I have a bit of experience in the matter and have also seen many a well-intentioned host go wrong in the July heat with massive, big name wines that make drinking milk seem like a fantastic choice.

Friulano is an Italian grape variety that seems to have been created just for junk season. Offering the citrus elements of Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano makes a wine that can provide great elegance and racy minerality that are both quenching and food friendly. It‘s my top choice when heading to Po Toi or Lamma for fresh calamari, or just to ‘replace drinking on a boat’ with ‘drinking well on a boat.’

Another favorite white for the high seas is Pigato, and I’ve long been a fan of those produced by Riccardo Bruna. Pigato is indigenous to the region of Liguria, and Bruna’s Le Russeghine is like a Margarita in a wine glass, with sea-salty flavors that make you feel like you’re on a boat even when you’re not.

For reds, I’ve been having great luck with Refosco as a wine that can be slightly chilled and also pairs great with grilled meats. Also from the region of Friuli, it’s a wine that can be enjoyed on a very casual everyday level, such as Marco Fantinel’s Refosco Borgo Tesis, a perfect and inexpensive aperitivo selection, to Miani’s cult-classic Refosco, which rabid collectors are constantly in hot pursuit of.

Whatever you select, I hope you’ll find something delicious that crosses the fine line of ‘drinking on a boat’ over to ‘drinking very well on a boat.’ Your shipmates will thank you.

Hong Kong’s Changing Tastes, Evolving Market, and Wide-Open Fields

An insider’s view on why Hong Kong is a pretty interesting place for wine enthusiasts

The times they are a-changing in Hong Kong, especially if you read into recent happenings in our world of fine wine. For a long while, whiskey and Bordeaux have been the twin standard bearers of the banner for Hong Kong’s finest drink. However, recent trends indicate that our juggernaut wine and spirits market–combined with a shifting collective palate–is ready for a major revolution. Sure, whiskey and Bordeaux will likely remain at the forefront of generally acceptance; however, the community is clearly embracing other wines and spirits with comfort bordering on wild enthusiasm.

This weekend, a wine auction focusing on Italian fine wines will take place in Hong Kong. While many may attend simply to get while the getting is still good, others who’ve been more investment minded will be curious to see how these wines perform at the sport of auction. Will a wine like Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte fly completely under the radar, or might this auction raise its profile among rabid collectors who were previously unfamiliar with its beauty? And more importantly, will this auction drive increased representation for Italian wines at HK’s major auctions going forward?

The announcement that Chateau Latour intends to forego the En Primeur process going forward has also raise, well, every eyebrow in town. The investment machine of En Primeur may be threatened should Latour’s strategy of holding wines until deemed ready for release throws the cash and investment cycle for a loop, particularly if it proves to be successful. As creatures of habit, wine investors are already exploring new strategies rather than packing it in.  Burgundy and many Italian wines immediately offer a supply and demand formula that Bordeaux has managed to thrive despite lacking, and this has investors investigating, instigators instigating, and the rest of us watching intently.

We’ll see what comes of these and other developments in our wine world. Yet it seems 2012 is a crossroads, and every direction now seems possible.  Whichever wine or spirit category finds a way to brand itself as the next big thing is likely to win the day. Regardless, we’re in an exciting stage right now and I’m hopeful that collectors, investors and enthusiasts will embrace whatever lies ahead with the same enthusiasm that’s driven our region to prominence.

At the very least, whoever wins the lots of Le Pergole Torte should enjoy this less-competitive time. I suspect it will not last very long once their friends have a taste.

Home from Hong Kong for the Holidays

You can go home again, but bring some good wine

Living abroad is an extremely enriching, rewarding experience, yet it also requires a certain amount of sacrifice and time for adjustment. There is the great adventure of living in a foreign land – new faces, foods, smells, a new language and, for some, a very different way of life. Learning about new cultures and experiencing life from a different viewpoint has been one of the highlights of my career and life thus far. However, being away from family and close friends has not been easy, moving life takes time and patience. I have grown tremendously and strive to keep a healthy balance of time way from home and time with family. On the special occasions when I return home, I spend time reflecting on past visits, reliving great memories and creating new ones.

During my time Asia, I have been blessed with a great group of great friends and colleagues who have been my “family away from home.” There are a large number of expats living in Hong Kong and China, and we all reach out for the same sense of familiarity to home, which not only gives us something in common, but also pulls us together. I can easily say that the holidays spent away from the USA have been the most adventurous (perhaps I should write a separate blog on holiday bloopers abroad). This year I was very fortunate to have spent the holidays with my entire family. Although there were not as many outrageous events as I have experience overseas, my family is quite colorful and I can say there were plenty of laughs, copious amounts of comfort food and a few decent bottles of wine.

We can all agree that every bottle of wine has a story and for some of us a special memory. My humble cellar holds a rather eclectic mix of wines that mark past wine trips, gifts, special events and indulgent visits to the wine store. One of my favorite memories consumed was a bottle of 2000 Domaine du Chay from the Cotes de Blaye. The wine showed exquisitely and I was very pleased we did not wait another year to pop the cork. The bottles was given to me by the generous owner/winemaker, an elderly gentleman who only had three or four teeth from what I remember. Hailing from an area of Bordeaux that is often overlooked, Blaye occupies the northern end of Bordeaux’s right bank, an area that produces lovely white and red wines at tremendous value. This elegant red brought back fond memories of my broken French and a lovely meal among French friends overlooking the citadel. It is these rather unknown bottles that are at times the most memorable and enjoyable.

Sitting at the airport observing all of the post holiday traffic, I reflect on my trip. Not once do I think about the tree, Christmas carols, presents, fireworks or holiday food and fuss. Instead, I think of the people, my surroundings and spontaneous silliness that each day brought. It is these intangible details that are truly special about being home for the holidays. Now that I am heading back to Hong Kong, I look forward to the many adventures of 2012. Happy New Year!

An International Attitude of Gratitude at a Thanksgiving far from Home

Sharing pinot, pie and a pile of thanks with friends

I rarely get homesick living in Hong Kong.  But there are certain things that put me over, such as seeing my nieces sing Katy Perry songs on Skype and, more recently, missing a Thanksgiving day of turkey and rooting for whomever is playing against the Dallas Cowboys with the whole family. And I missed the tradition of drinking Pinot Noir alone while the rest of my family drinks Coca-Cola. Every family to their own.

Last week my dear friend Emily, a woman of proper English descent, organized a Thanksgiving dinner to make me feel less homesick. More than just a celebratory meal, the event reminded me of what I love most about Thanksgiving, and that is declaring what we are thankful for. This year I was so thankful for Emily organizing a dinner of six people from America, New Zealand, England, Wales and Ireland at a French Brasserie in Hong Kong. It was warm enough to wear shorts, and I was without football. However, as everyone took their turn to declare their thanks for something, and it did get a bit sappy at points, I was reminded of what is so special about Hong Kong, an ultimate East-Meets-West universe where we’re all very different, yet so alike.

I regret to inform you that my friends refused to indulge me by performing Katy Perry songs together. Nor did they buy my explanation that Thanksgiving is the day when Europeans shower Americans with expensive gifts and praise. But perhaps new traditions were born. United by various bottles of Pinot Noir, we found common ground in need to express thanks. I suppose the more bottles we opened, the more thankful we became. The pie at the end was the gravy on top of a tremendous HK Thanksgiving.

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