Bacchus in Hong Kong: postcard from 40 000 feet above Madagascar

Neil Pendock February 15, 2009 1

Hurtling over Madagascar in a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 reading Lucia van der Post on the subject of sniffa blogs in the How To Spend It supplement of the FT, I realized that winespeak has room for expansion. Sniffas, anoraques of the perfume counter, are perhaps the most etiolated expressions of a global cult that cut its teeth on garagistes and willfully obscure cuvées (pronounced coo-ves) from Napa before moving on to bespoke scent.

View from my 43rd floor hotel room

“Sniffas mostly love the small and the esoteric: it’s too obvious and unadventurous to smell like everybody else, no matter how lovely the scent” notes La Lucia. So too with wine, where the frisson of single vineyards and individual barrels is a sine qua non for membership of Club Iconos.

Like Grace Vineyard Deep Blue 2006 offered with lunch, of which only 3000 cases were produced. While SA may wear togas and pat itself on the back for 350 years of winemaking well done, the Bacchanalian tradition of Tai Yuan in the Shanxi Province of China (home to Grace Vineyard) can be traced back to the 7th century.

Not that these Deep Blue vines were that old. 200 ha of Grace vineyards were planted in 1997 by that French viticulturalist from a Peter Sellers movie, Professor Denis Bubals.

Bubals planted Bordeaux stalwarts and Deep Blue is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, which came as a bit of a disappointment to this disciple of Bacchus. If I’d wanted a Bordeaux-style blend, I could have stayed in Stellenbosch. Who else will make a blend of Zuoshan No 1 and Shuangyou or a single varietal bottling of Gongliang No 1?

Also the menu tasting note was far too restrained, although it did explain the origin of the brand. “Deep Blue exhibits a deep-purple colour, with enticing aromas of dark berry fruits, tobacco and subtle oak.” Since Deep Purple was the name of a famous heavy metal band from the 70s with big hair, purple was clearly not available, even if Smoke on the Water (their biggest hit) would have been very apropos. So hence Deep Blue, even if that was an IBM chess-playing supercomputer that chewed-up grandmaster Gary Kasparov and expectorated him like Vergelegen winemaker André van Rensburg would a Swartland Pinotage at the Young Wine Show.

The tasting note continues: “the palate shows very good fruit, and is both elegant and complex. It has soft ripe tannins, a long finish, and is best enjoyed with meat and games dishes.” Which on flight CX 748 was a choice of Cape Malay chicken curry, deep fried hake with pineapple sauce or Penne pasta w. cheese and spinach.

My own (sighted) tasting note: “too cold. Lavender and crushed sea shells on the nose, delicate floral palate, powdery tannins with sour cherry blossom finish. Quite kimono.”

Cathay should hire Pete Goffe-Wood to do their catering and some sniffas as wine consultants instead of the Ray Moorfield listed on the menu, whoever he is. Or better still, La Lucia, for she has the killer instincts of her dad, famous fabulist Sir Laurens vd Pump. For proof, take Bettina d’Onofrio blogging on www.sniffapalooza.com: “beauty has a name and the name is Ramon MolvizarOriental Goldskin. Hat’s off to the man who created this beauty: the Spaniard Ramon Béjar.”

I’m off to Hong Kong for a week, along with wine all-rounder Michael Fridjhon. Conspicuous by his absence is WINE editor Christian Eedes who is tied to his La-Z-Boy recliner in Pinelands, howling at the financial maelstrom worse than an Ancient Mariner in the Deep Blue. I told him there was better copy in the East after the man from Hong Kong vouchsafed some Trade Development Council research figures and if that didn’t boost circulation figures, there was always Kung-Fu Fighting.

“The total market for wine in Asia, including Japan, is expected to grow at between 10 percent and 20 percent per annum over the next five years, to a probable consumption value of US$17 billion by 2012, rising to US$27 billion by 2017. By that year, it is believed that the China market alone will be importing wine to the value of US$570 million. Within the first six weeks since the wine tax was dropped in late February 2008, the value and volume of wine imported to Hong Kong increased by 78 per cent and 215 per cent respectively.”

One Comment »

  1. jim boyce February 23, 2009 at 3:39 pm -

    Hi Neil,

    Deep Blue is a fairly new offering from Grace and the winery also produces Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc, among others. Grace wines are considered the best in China by many, and I would agree, based on trying the offerings of several dozen operations here. In any case, I received the winery’s 2008 vintage report today and posted it to Grape Wall of China blog (link below). It sounds like Grace got a good crop this year, with drier and warmer weather than usual, so hopefully the next Deep Blue goes to another level.

    Cheers, Jim Boyce

    http://www.grapewallofchina.com/2009/02/23/a-good-crop-grace-vineyard-2008-vintage-report/

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