Asia Wine and Spirits – Alberto Antonini
Italian wine expert Alberto Antonini is the Guest VIP Judge at this year’s Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition. This latest edition of what’s billed as the world’s first truly Asian wine competition, was for the first time, opened to spirit categories. The winners of the 37 trophies up for grabs will be announced during the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair, 3-5 November.
A consultant for wineries around the world, Mr Antonini is also a winemaker and wine producer in his home of Tuscany, as well as running wineries in Argentina and Australia. In Six Questions, the Italian oenologist expert explains why wine is an exciting way to learn about the world.
What is your impression of the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition?
We went through many different wines from all the world’s wine regions, which was very exciting. I enjoyed tasting these wines, but also sharing my thoughts with other judges from all the major Asian countries. It was very interesting to exchange ideas, which I think was very good. I believe every wine producer is interested in the Asian market in general because it’s a growing market.
How is this different from other wine competitions in the West?
As far as I know, this is the best competition because we have a lot of entries from around the world. We have the chance to evaluate wines from different countries with different styles and approaches to making wine. So I think it really has the whole world in front of us. I think that’s what that makes the competition very special.
What is unique about the Asian wine market? I don’t think there’s a lot of discussion about this growing market. Some producers want to make wines for this market, which I think is wrong. We need to keep making our wines and educating people to understand what we do. Wine has to be an expression of a place and an expression of a culture and tradition. When you approach a new emerging market, you have to teach people and educate people to understand what the wine is about, why this wine is more tannic and why another wine is softer. But that’s the challenge, to educate Asian people to understand what wine is about.
Do you think there are certain wines particularly suited to the Asian palate or with Asian cuisine?
It’s difficult to say what the Asian palate is, because in my experience during this three-day tasting, I have shared many of my comments with many people and not all of them agreed (with me). So there are different views even among different judges from Asian countries. What I see in general, is a part of the world (Asia) where wine is something new, so basically they need to understand and be introduced to the world of wine.
There are so many different types of food and obviously some of them match better with wine, others not so well. But that’s normal and you never can tell. So it’s difficult to tell what the Asian palate is. What I’ve seen during these few days and before is that Asia means many things; different views, different perceptions; it just varies in this wide complicated part of the world. Italy is the Partner Country of this year’s HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair.
Do you think there’s enough awareness in this part of the world about Italian wines?
Italy is a very exciting country when it comes to wine. In the olden days, Italy was called Enotri, which means “the land of wine.” It’s the only country in the world where wine is made in every single region and corner of the country. It’s good because it offers a wide range of wines. But it’s not so good because it’s difficult to explain since we have so many different appellations, different wine regions, so you really need to educate people to understand Italian wines.
Italian wines are not as easy to understand as New World wines, which basically sell a very easy concept, which is the grape variety. So it’s a lot easier to sell Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah, rather than to sell the origins, the appellations. So we need to encourage people to approach Italian wines with a bit more knowledge. We can do it, but it requires time. I think it’s very exciting.
The world of wine is great because apart from the pleasure of drinking, it’s a great learning experience. If you follow the wine, the wine takes you to know the world, to know beautiful regions, different climates, different cultures, different people, different traditions. That’s what’s great about wine, it’s a learning experience. If you don’t approach wine that way, you miss the most important part of the wine itself.
Commercially speaking, it’s more difficult because it requires more time and knowledge, but that’s the way to go. Everybody approaching wine initially may want something simple and easy. But after a while, you get tired of drinking the grape variety. You want to drink the region, you want to drink the history, you want to drink something that teaches you something.
Why do you think it’s important to have a uniquely Asian wine competition?
It’s important because it’s giving the Asian consumers the opportunity of experiencing wines from all over the world. Obviously the presence of wine here in Asia is very much related to the strengths of different wine industries. There are some countries that are a lot stronger, with a bigger presence here for many reasons. But this competition is great because it allows everybody from every single corner of the world to be here and show what they are doing. So we’ve tasted wines not just from the main wine countries, but from unknown countries, which are very exciting and very important for this market because, again, it gives the local consumer the opportunity of experiencing something that is not well known, but is still very good.