IT’S SHOCKING HOW MANY PEOPLE STILL HAVE NO IDEA THAT ASIANS HAVE DEVELOPED A FINE APPRECIATION FOR WINE, WRITES James Suckling
Arecent experience at a dinner in Italy was unpleasantly familiar. My son and I had been invited to dine in Piedmont by a Barolo producer. We were talking about wine-tasting events planned for Hong Kong when a doctor at the table suddenly complained that “over there,” everyone is still drinking expensive wines with Coca- Cola. “It’s a waste of good wine,” he said.
I almost fell out of my chair. I told him that in my decades of travelling in Asia, I had never seen anything to confirm the urban legend of Lafite or Margaux being consumed with Coca- Cola. I explained that Asia, in particular Hong Kong, is now home to the highest-level wine collectors of the world, who appreciate everything from a renowned Burgundy to an unsung Barolo masterpiece. “They tend to have an incredible knowledge of wine,” I said, “and always enjoy consuming and discussing it. They are different from many American collectors, who seem to cellar great wines but not drink them.”
“But they have no culture for wine and food pairing,” the doctor insisted. “How could they possibly have an understanding of great wines?”
Asians, in particular the Chinese and Koreans, have a dynamic way of consuming fine wine and food, I told him. They seem to compartmentalise the enjoyment of food and wine, and are not obsessed with finding the perfect match. They love the sensation of tasting different dishes at the same time with an array of aromas and flavours while drinking and enjoying different wines. “We shouldn’t impose Western concepts such as food and wine pairing on Asia,” I said. “We should encourage the enjoyment of wine on terms with which Asians are familiar.”
“But they have no gastronomic culture,” the doctor countered. “We Italians have been making excellent food and wine for thousands of years.”
I bluntly called him out on his ignorance and said he should learn about Asia before being so opinionated. “You will find Asian culture is as equally rich in gastronomy as Italy,” I said. “Perhaps they have not had a wine culture for very long, but their deeply rooted cuisine gives all Asians the ability to understand wine in their own unique way.”
He spent the rest of the evening claiming Tuscan wines are better suited to food than those from Piedmont, going so far as to say Barolos are bad with food. Luckily our host, who makes some of the appellation’s bestknown wines, was out of the room for that.
I hope the Tuscan doctor comes to Asia one day to appreciate how it’s redefining the way wine is enjoyed, whether by drinking a range of Burgundies with a Shanghai-style banquet or enjoying a Barossa Valley shiraz with Thai chicken. Most of all, I think he would marvel at how much Asians appreciate his culture.