Vin­tage Ig­no­rance


Hong Kong Tatler - - Opinion -

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.

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