The concept of food and wine pairing in Asia is “a waste of time” due to the banqueting culture there, according to Hong Kong based Master of Wine Sarah Heller.
Speaking at the second International Sauvignon Blanc celebration in Marlborough last month, Heller told attendees:
“Food and wine pairing is a waste of time in Asia as there is a lot of eating off a Lazy Susan in a banquet setting involving lots of courses that are only on a table for a bit. Sommeliers should think more holistically about the style of cuisine being served and how certain wines pair with the sweetness and acidity levels in the food.”
During her talk, Heller also pointed out that Asian consumers tend to prefer more evocative descriptions when it comes to a wine’s character, rather than specific flavours that may be present in the wine.
“Producers need to be using more evocative terms and abstract images in China when it comes to wine. People think the more specific you get the easier the wine will be to understand, but Chinese people prefer terms like ‘mellow’, ‘rounded’ and ‘soft’ to describe wine,” she said.
According to Heller, producers should be targeting millennial consumers in China, as “50% of wine consumers in China are under 30”.
She also spoke of the importance of premium packaging in order to lure new consumers into the wine category. “In China it’s important for wine to be seen as classy. Cartoon and critter labels will have a hard time selling there. People go for heavier glass bottles in Asia and they like a deep punt – there’s something oddly Freudian going on there,” Heller joked.
She also advised that gold was good when it comes to wine labels in China, but to steer clear of green. “Green is not a lucky colour in China – the phrase ‘to wear a green hat’ means being a cuckold,” she said.
Asia is a dynamic market for wine. According to Debra Meiburg there are 819 billionaires and counting in Asia. In terms of making inroads with Sauvignon Blanc in Asia, Meiberg said it will be difficult as there isn’t a culture of serving cold drinks at a meal.
“Most Asians find it strange to serve steaming hot fish with ice cold wine – they think it’s bad for your health and teeth,” she said, pointing out that fish is usually served at the end of a meal in Asia.
However, she stressed the importance of winning listings at fine dining restaurants as a way of increasing visibility. “Get into the top Michelin starred restaurants in Asia if you want to establish yourself as a luxury brand,” Meiburg said.
She also stressed the need for strong Sauvignon Blanc brands to emerge in New Zealand to compete with Cloudy Bay, as “all the labels look the same at the moment”.
Meiburg advised producers to engage with “key opinion leaders” in Asia as a way of reaching new consumers. “To do well you have to have a presence in the e-commerce market and on social media. Influencers are super powerful in Asia, there are even people who train them,” she said.