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The Taste Test

Allen Gibbons  

Hong Kong is set to host the world’s first Asian wine competition, as part of the 2009 Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair, 4-6 November. Allen Gibbons is Executive Director of the International Wine & Spirits Competition, which will co-host the event with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. In Six Questions, he says the inaugural competition is a chance to educate budding wine connoisseurs, and for the industry to capture growing business opportunities in the promising region.

Why are you launching the competition?
With Hong Kong’s desire to be a major world hub for wine and the Government’s decision to remove wine duties, the opportunity there for everyone connected with wine is clearly enormous. There is also a rapidly growing interest from consumers about wine, and this is where the competition comes in. Our objective is to provide information on wine quality, so consumers can make a more informed choice. We want to make sure, however, that the competition is making judgements that are relevant to the Asian consumer, which is why we have recruited judges from across Asia.

How does the competition work?
Each wine will be judged by our panel of judges, who include local wine experts Debra Meiburg, Hong Kong’s first Master of Wine; and Simon Tam, the world’s foremost expert on wine and Chinese food pairings; my fellow competition directors; and our Chairman of Judges Dr Tony Jordan.

These are completely blind tastings – judges will not even see a bagged bottle – to ensure absolute objectivity. The judging panels then mark the wines and, dependent on the score achieved, the wine may win a Bronze, Silver or Gold Medal. At this point, the very best wines will then go forward to the trophy judging, where they are eligible for such awards as Best Australian Shiraz or some of our Asia-specific trophies, which we are very excited about, including Best Wine from China. In addition, we have introduced food-and-wine-matching trophies with specific Asian dishes such as abalone, dim sum, kung pao chicken and Peking duck, which shows our commitment to the competition being all about Asia and the Asian consumer.

What potential do you see for the Asian wine market and wine consumption in the region?
The opportunity across Asia is phenomenal, and Hong Kong is definitely leading the way, which is why the competition is based here. Our vision, however, is very much to expand food and wine matching to include, for example, dishes from across Asia, as this will help consumers and producers alike. It’s worth remembering that while the majority of wine drunk here is produced in traditional wine-making countries, there are vineyards in China, India, Thailand and Japan, to name but a few, and this is something that, again, we want to highlight.

Do Asian wine lovers have a different palate than their European counterparts? Which wines suit Asian food?
I think the biggest difference is, undoubtedly, driven by the cuisine. Asian food is very different from that in Europe in terms of texture and flavour intensity, not to mention the wonderful spices used. While the wine industry has been matching its products to European food for hundreds of years, the practice of matching with Asian cuisines is still in its infancy. Some areas have undoubtedly seen the opportunity. You only have to look at how some Riesling producers in Alsace have specifically targeted the Asian food market to see how well it can go when correctly matched.

How do you see Hong Kong’s potential as a wine trading hub?
Geographically, culturally and commercially, Hong Kong is ideally placed to become the wine hub of Asia. It is one of the world’s great cities, and given its long history as a trading hub and a centre of entrepreneurial activity, where else would you go? The energy and sense of possibility in the air make you realise why Hong Kong is the success it is.

What’s your own favourite wine?
Always the most difficult of questions, much like asking someone his favourite type of music. It depends on the mood and the occasion. I love German and Alsatian Rieslings for their delicacy, but then I also have a penchant for the big Shiraz’s coming out of Australia’s Barossa. One of the best things about the wine industry is the breadth of products on offer. How can you pick one, when you can have the truly fabulous first growths of Bordeaux, but then also find great Bordeaux-style wine made in Canada’s British Columbia. 


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