New Asia Wine Academy Serves Practical Insights into Emerging Tastes in Asia
30 October 2017 – HKTDC Wines with layered subtleties, rediscovered heritage grape varieties and food pairings that rely on savoury umami flavours are among the emerging trends among Asian wine drinkers, according to leading wine authority Jeannie Cho Lee, Master of Wine.
For the first time at the HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair – to be held from 9-11 November at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) – wine consumption trends will be examined in a practical course, led by Ms Lee and Steve Charters, Master of Wine. The Asia Wine Academy is a three-hour programme tailored to buyers, traders, winemakers and keen consumers. The course is based on core teachings from the curriculum of the Master of Science in International Wine Management at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
“In three hours, we plan to teach six hours of university-level material and to take people’s understanding of wine and the Asian wine consumer to another level,” says Ms Lee, who is SHTM Professor of Practice (Wine) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
“For advanced consumers of wine, the Asia Wine Academy will uncover their strengths and weaknesses, and provide the opportunity to better understand consumer trends. The focus is very much on trends in wine consumption and I hope the Asia Wine Academy will offer professionals insight into what the future may bring.”
The Asia Wine Academy is available at a special rate to registered guests at the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair. The programme is offered in two, 90-minute courses titled “Contemporary Trends in Wine Consumption,” and “Mastering Tasting and Rising Wine Trends.” Attendees who complete both courses will be presented a certificate endorsed by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Search for authenticity
This year’s International Wine & Spirits Fair features more than 30 group pavilions representing wine-producing regions, trade organisations and governmental organisations from around the world. There will be new pavilions by the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne, France, Southern United States Trade Association, the Russian Export Center, Enterprise Mauritius, Confederação dos Agricultores de Portugal, Setúbal Península Wines, Portugal, and Asociatia Producatorilor si Exportatorilor de Vinuri, Romania.
There will also be first-time exhibitors from Malaysia, Mauritius, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine, a trend that Ms Lee says reflects the emergence of a new wave of consumers; the millennials. “I see wine-purchasing by millennials as moving the needle of wine trends. There’s a demand for more authentic wines, including those made organically by small producers who are passionate about what they do.”
Exploring new flavours
Ms Lee suggests that wines from Eastern and Central Europe are poised for popularity. Wineries from Slovenia, Georgia, Austria and Greece are likely to be at the forefront of this trend, she says. “Look out for cool climate regions from all parts of the world, such as coastal Chile and high-altitude vineyards from Argentina emerging with lovely, affordable red and white wines,” she says.
However, understanding what Asian consumers want today lies in pairings with the region’s cuisine. “The secret is umami,” says Ms Lee. “Asians love umami, the fifth basic taste discovered by a Japanese scientist more than 100 years ago. There is a definite preference for wines that are subtle, with layers and a balanced taste with depth.”
Hong Kong’s global role
Euromonitor International estimates that demand for wine in Asia will grow by 8.5 per cent annually between 2016 and 2021. In the Chinese mainland, wine sales will grow by 10 per cent annually over the same period of time. “Most mainland Chinese consumers are new to wine,” says Ms Lee. “They have only a limited understanding of wine and want help in figuring out how to select the best wine, how to decipher the label, and to learn about wine in a welcoming environment.”
The Hong Kong Government eliminated all duty-related customs and administrative controls on wine in 2008, creating the city’s global standing as a wine trading and distribution centre. Since November 2015, the agreement facilitating the import of wine into the mainland through Hong Kong has been expanded to cover all ports in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Hong Kong’s leadership role in wine trading and distribution is supported by thriving wine auctions, retailing, catering, transportation, warehousing and education.
As a duty-free port with good air connectivity and excellent storage facilities, Hong Kong is globally recognised as the most cost-effective distribution hub. Wine merchants worldwide favour Hong Kong as a launch pad to expand their business to Asia and the mainland.
Events scheduled across Hong Kong
Across Hong Kong during the International Wine & Spirits Fair, more than 90 activities are scheduled, coming together under the banner of the Hong Kong Wine Journey. The programme includes specially selected menus and food pairings at restaurants across the city, free corkage at some exceptional dining hotspots, wine tastings and tours. For these special offers, refer to the Hong Kong Wine Journey website.
The Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair concludes on 11 November when doors open to public visitors aged 18 or older who are eager to enrich their wine knowledge and experience this signature event. Admission is HK$200 per guest and visitors with a valid ticket will receive a Lucaris crystal wine glass, while stocks last.
In conversation with Jeannie Cho Lee, Master of Wine
Jeannie Cho Lee is the celebrated author of two books – Asian Palate (2009) and Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate (2011) – a sought-after wine critic and judge, and the Professor of Practice (Wine) at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
To celebrate the 10th edition of the HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair from 9-11 November, Ms Lee will co-host the Asia Wine Academy with Steve Charters, a Master of Wine from Britain. Debuting at the International Wine & Spirits Fair, this three-hour programme will focus on emerging trends in wine consumption.
Ahead of the launch of the Asia Wine Academy, Ms Lee discusses Asia’s enduring love affair with wine.
Jeannie, for winemakers, wholesalers and buyers eager to come to Hong Kong and crack Asian markets, what do Asian consumers want most from their engagement with wine?
It depends on the experience and level of knowledge among the consumers because Asia is a large and diverse market. For the new consumer, they want to engage with wine in a fun, casual way. They will drink wine in social situations and at business functions. They tend to be eager to learn about the major grape varieties and key wine-producing regions.
As consumers gain more experience and a better understanding of wine, their level of engagement evolves. We tend to see more curiosity about how the wine they are drinking was made and want to better understand its flavours. These consumers are interested in using the correct vocabulary to describe wine, and want to know more about the wine’s terroir and its makers.
What do Chinese mainland Chinese consumers want from their enjoyment of wine?
The mainland is a vast market and there is some variation in the experience and level of knowledge of consumers there. In the biggest cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, wine drinkers are largely very knowledgeable consumers and I have found there is a great deal of interest in learning about wine. Drinkers here have developed broad tastes, moving beyond the familiar Bordeaux and Burgundy in recent years. They are now exploring wines from countries such as Spain, Italy and Chile. There are plenty of importers, wine schools and information to help them discover new wines.
However, most mainland Chinese are new to wine. They have only a limited understanding of wine and want help in figuring out how to select the best wine, how to decipher the label and to learn about wine in a welcoming environment.
There is a confusing amount of information online and the success of platforms that both sell and offer information means buyers must wade through too much detail. It’s confusing. I think a lot more work needs to be done.
Elsewhere in Asia, what new or emerging trends do you see among today’s wine drinkers?
The trend among consumers, retailers and sommeliers is towards elegant wines that are less alcoholic, more balanced and lighter in style. That is in keeping with Asian cuisines, which tend to be lighter, more varied and flavourful. The Asian diet does not tend toward large portions of red meat that pair well with heavier, tannic red wines.
I see wine-purchasing by millennials as moving the needle of wine trends. There’s a demand for more authentic wines, including those made organically by small producers who are passionate about what they do.
If there is a secret you could share with winemakers about the Asian palate, what would it be?
The secret is umami. Asians love umami, the fifth basic taste discovered by a Japanese scientist more than 100 years ago. There is a definite preference for wines that are subtle, with layers and a balanced taste with depth.
What is the most pressing issue for the wine industry in Greater China?
An important issue right now is the problem of fake wine in all of its forms from wines that infringe upon intellectual property rights, by trying to look like another popular label, to outright forgeries. Wine fraud occurs at all levels, from everyday drinking wines to expensive fine wines. It is a serious issue in a region that is home to the most important fine-wine hub, Hong Kong, and the fastest growing and biggest wine market, the Chinese mainland.
Could you elaborate on what countries, regions and varietals are emerging as “the ones to watch”?
Look for Eastern and Central European countries to make a bigger impact in the market, particularly wines from countries such as Slovenia, Georgia, Austria and Greece.
Look out for cool climate regions from all parts of the world, such as coastal Chile and high-altitude vineyards from Argentina emerging with lovely, affordable red and white wines.
Also, millennials are demanding authenticity, which means indigenous grape varieties will become more popular. Some examples include Aglianico from Italy, Mencia or Albariño from Spain, Xinomavro from Greece and Carménère from Chile.
This year’s California wildfires had a terrible human cost. What will the wildfires mean for wine producers and consumers?
It is truly a tragedy, with 40 lives lost and thousands of hectares of land destroyed. Most of the harvest was in the winery when the wildfires came through, but there was about 15 per cent of the harvest that was still on the vine that was lost, tainted by smoke or cannot be used. The volume of this vintage is likely to be small, but it is still too early to determine its quality. There were frosts in Europe this year as well, which meant a smaller crop there. Overall, the vintage will be smaller and, if demand is strong, prices are likely to rise.
You’re co-hosting the Asia Wine Academy sessions – a collaboration with the HKTDC at the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair. Who are the sessions designed for? Do participants need any specialist knowledge?
The sessions are aimed at intermediate- to advanced-level wine professionals or highly engaged wine consumers. We will offer intense sessions that cram a lot of knowledge and learning at a university level into each session. It will be most useful to have a basic foundation in wine appreciation and knowledge before taking the sessions.
Can you tell us what you hope participants will learn from the Asia Wine Academy course?
In three hours, we plan to teach six hours of university-level material and to take people’s understanding of wine and the Asian wine consumer to another level. I hope everyone will feel it is packed with useful and practical information. For advanced consumers of wine, the Asia Wine Academy will uncover their strengths and weaknesses, and provide the opportunity to better understand consumer trends. The focus is very much on trends in wine consumption and I hope the Asia Wine Academy will offer professionals insight into what the future may bring.