Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Art of Wine Tasting - Asian Style

Being of Asian origin myself and having lived the first 20 years of my life in the region, I have always applied a different approach to wine tasting as part of my own style - I guess, one can call it Asian style.

Let me explain. A critical part of wine tasting is the getting to know the different smell or aromas in the wine. It sounds easy enough to say it, but it is actually the most intimidating part of wine tasting as most people feel that they should smell the kind of aromas that most people talk about in the western wine journals. This is where many tasters become confused and feel inadequate when they are unable to say the right words about the wine.

In my approach, I have come to realize that relating to a particular aroma in a wine is dependent on the taster's familiarity with that aroma. Just imagine someone saying that a Cabernet Sauvignon smells or tastes like black currants (something one hears very often as as description in western notes). If the taster has never experienced the smell or taste of blackcurrants, it may actually make the taster think of wine tasting as a something reserved for those who can identify the standard aromas - this is a common problem and one that begs to be clarified and made easier.

You can guess where I'm going with this. The taster's aroma and flavour profiles are based on years of expos
ure to products that are indigenous to where the taster comes from. Thus, if one grows up familiar with the smell or taste of a ripe Tamarind fruit (commonly found in tropical countries), the taster will recognize the fruit's aroma and flavour in certain wines, especially with many Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia, while a western influenced taster will not.

In the hundreds of wine tasting events I have attended, I have
always used atypical reference points that differ from my colleagues from Europe and North America. This is not to say that mine is better than theirs. I simply use my own aroma/flavour wheel memory bank based on my past exposure to products some of which are not readily available where they come from. In the end, we all agree as to the style and level of quality of a wine, despite the different aromas we may find according to our individual references.

As I spend most of my time in Hong Kong, I am continually bombarded by competing aromas as I walk the many streets where one finds endless varieties of fruits, meat and fish (fresh and dried) stalls of varying aromas, spices and smoke from restaurants' kitchens, etc. One's nose become so overwhelmed by these aromas that you either love or hate them. My Burgundy winemaker came to see me last February and was fascinated by this complex set of aromas which vary according to where were passing by. To him, this was an experience that he can never have in Beaune.

Which brings me down to this conclusion: consider yourself lucky if you grew up in such an environment. Here's why. Unlike the North American environment where exotic aromas and food flavours are rarely evident in public, those living in places like Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippin
es, Morocco, India, etc.. actually have a more acute sense of smell and taste based on years of exposure to more complex aromas and flavours. As such, one can see an advantage in terms of appreciating wine without having to rely on western references.

When I taste wines, I discover aromas and flavours that the producer has never even heard of or experienced. This is my advantage, and you can have yours, too. As an example, I once tasted a very good Faugéres from a small producer. My immediate reaction to the aroma was green papaya. Now imagine the look on this producer when I said it. Try doing it the next time you open a new bottle of wine and use your own aroma and flavour wheel reference. You will be pleasantly surprised and it will change the way you taste wines..for the better.

Leo J. Baduria

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wine in Asia - The future

Everyone knows that wine sales are leveling off in North America. Dubai may be an attractive market, but there's religion to contend with. How about Asia Pacific? Now we're talking.

Let's face it, there are more wineries now than 10 years ago, creating a potential for a huge wine glut unless new markets are developed. Even demand for Australian wines saw its first decline, after enjoying a successful decade of export sales.

Now everyone is focused on the two largest emerging markets: China and India. Just imagine the combined population in these two countries and you can see why wine producers are clamoring for position in these regions. It's the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

No doubt, we can envision a future where wine bars would line the cities like Xiamen, Zhuhai, Madras, etc.. and wine appreciation courses are readily available across the region, regular wine columns in several newspapers and magazines; restaurants and private clubs holding winemaker's dinners, tasting events, etc.. Yes it's possible. All that is needed is a commitment to share information and encourage moderate wine consumption as a healthy lifestyle to follow.
One major aspect of this evolution must focus on creating a user friendly approach to matching wine with the complex cuisine in Asia, with all its spices and aromatics. Only when consumers discover how wine can enhance the dining experience will they actually accept wine as a regular part of their food culture. This offers an exciting challenge to wine consultants and distributors: finding the best food and wine pairings in a non western food environment. As such, wine purveyors must embrace this challenge and learn about exotic aromas and flavours - this is the only way one can truly help the consumers to enjoy wine.

Leo J. Baduria
Portfolio Asia Wine & Spirits Ltd.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Case for Wine....

I'm pleased to announce that Portfolio Asia Wine & Spirits Ltd. has opened distribution of fine wines in Hong Kong. This is our first step in securing a solid base in this growing wine market of several million consumers. With the help of carefully selected quality producers from France, Italy, Spain and New Zealand, Portfolio Asia has shipped over 3,000 cases of wines ranging from delicious and well-priced Chianti DOCG from Vecchia Cantina di Montepulciano to the limited production Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2006 from Domaine Nudant.

Asia Pacific is poised to be the largest market for wine in the next 3-5 years, with new consumers just starting to discover wine from various countries. However, what is badly needed in this region to get this market moving is readily available information for the new consumer, which is a rare sight even in Hong Kong. There is definitetly room for new wine magazines, wine writers, wine clubs and tasting events.

I invite you to write a comment, ask me questions or make recommendations on how I can better serve you.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Leo Baduria
your fellow wine lover