Do you ever wish wine wasn’t so complicated? So many labels, hard to pronounce names and then the general cost in Hong Kong - yikes! We need a drink just to manage the ‘what to buy’ decisions… Sassy to the rescue! In this article we’ll help you sort out the bordeaux from your clarets, the pinot noir from your gris and generally help turn you into somewhat of a vino connoisseur. Discover how to navigate the challenges you may face in the confusing and intimidating world of wine and for tips on what to drink and with what! So, let’s get started with a basic introduction to grapes.
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Red Wine = Red Grapes
Here I’ve listed the top five red grapes found on most restaurant menus. Each grape has a unique flavour.
1. Cabernet Sauvignon – The Red Grape King
Known as the king of red wines, it is a mouthful of black currants, sweet plums, tangy cherries, cool mint, spicy bell peppers, aromatic cedar, sweet vanilla and the rather unlikely, stinky wet dog. Cabernet Sauvignons (or cabs as they are often called) are rich, intense, complex and full-bodied. Their high tannin content might give us a headache, but it also improves its flavour with aging.
Try from: Bordeaux (France). Napa, Sonoma (USA). Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley (Australia).
Drink with: Red meat, pork, pasta, pizza, Rogan Josh and Balti, tangy and salty cheeses.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: Turn up the air con… and chill the bottle down a bit for the best drinking year round.
2. Merlot – The Painless Fruitcake
Merlot is often known for its plummy and black cherry Christmas cake flavour. It is less tannic, rounder, and more medium-bodied than its Cabernet Sauvignon cousin. Commonly associated aromas are black cherries and plums.
Try from: Pomerol, St Emilion (Bordeaux, France). Napa, Sonoma (USA)
Drink with: Red meat, pork, salmon, pizza, pasta, tangy and salty cheeses.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: A good one for a typical Hong Kong hot and humid evening – especially if you are inside or under a shady terrace.
3. Pinot Noir – The Iron Hand in a Velvet Glove
The movie “Sideways” showed us Pinot Noir is heavenly: fruity and floral, silky in texture, delicate and aromatic with a lingering raspberry aftertaste. It is ruby and translucent in colour with hints of raspberries, cherries, and violets.
Try from: America’s tends to be fruitier; France’s are earthier and spicier, New Zealand’s can be oaky with a sweet spice aroma.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: Crank up the air con but skip the chilling, as it tends to make the wine too woody tasting.
4. Syrah (or Shiraz) – Pepper! Pepper! Pepper!
Intense, spicy, mouth filling, and did we mention pepper! Deep, dark red in colour with a tannic nature. As it ages, like us, it gets better and becomes smoother and more perfumed.
Try from: Northern Rhone (France). Barossa Valley, Adelaide Valley, Margaret River, Hunter Valley (Australia)
Drink with: Red meat, pork, poultry, paella, Asian ribs with hoisin glaze and salty cheeses.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: When the weather is good enough (ie: not a scorcher of a day!) to throw a steak on the barbie is the time to break out this bottle. Chill down the bottle for the best drinking in this hot climate.
5. Zinfandel – California’s Gift to You
Zinfandel’s are a tantalising dry red wine filled with thick jammy blackberry and plummy fruit. They are notorious for staining (temporarily) your teeth the colour of cherry Kool-Aid!
Try from: California (USA), Italy (known as Primitivo).
Drink with: Italian sausage, bouillabaisse, beef stew, pizza, pasta, red meat and salty cheeses.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: Great for a mild evening by the barbecue or dinner on the patio.
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1. Chardonnay – Your Oaken Kiss
Chardonnay is the king of white wines giving you a mouthful of vanilla and yes oak! It is full-bodied, rich, and complex in taste and flavour. The oak in Chardonnay like a real kiss, keeps on gaining in intensity with a seductively long finish.
Try from: California Sonoma Valley, Carneros (USA), MargaretRiver (Australia). Chablis, Cote de Beaune (Burgundy, France).
Drink with: Poultry, fish/seafood, pasta with white sauce, creamy cheeses.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: One of my favourites on a cloudy, rainy day.
2. Sauvignon Blanc – Zesty and Herbaceous
Delightfully aromatic with distinctly grassy, peach, and melon scents. Dry, acidic, and crispy with a long finish. French Sauvignon Blanc, also called Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, are more acidic, grassy and tangy. New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are more aromatic with hints of melons and elderflowers.
Try from: Marlborough (New Zealand). Napa Valley (USA). Loire Valley (France). Casablanca Valley (Chile).
Drink with: Pork, poultry, seafood, fish, quiche, hummus and fresh creamy or salty cheeses.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: This is the quintessential drink-anytime wine in this climate! Yum!
3. Riesling – Not as Sweet as you Think
This versatile wine is often thought a sweet wine, but not all Rieslings are sweet or even German. Best described as steely but fruity, Rieslings are light-bodied, clean, crispy and surprisingly low in alcohol (good for avoiding those headaches!). Riesling’s bouquet could include apple, peaches, lime, or honeysuckle.
Try from: Mosel (Germany), Alsace (France). Eden Valley, Clare Valley (Australia).
Drink with: Rieslings are highly acidic in nature, which means they are great food partners and age well. Rieslings love Asian food. Sesame chicken salad, fish tacos, pork, aged salty cheeses are also excellent pairings.
Best climate/weather for drinking in Hong Kong: Year round, so throw a bottle in the ice bucket and head to the pool!
This is only a starting point on your journey of wine discovery. Cheers!