A Wine Writers View on the World of Wine. Formerly Magics Wine Guide and Reviews for Newbies
Debra Meiburg MW was gracious enough to allow me to interrupt her busy schedule to answer some questions for me.
As well as being an authority in the Asian wine market, Debra was also on the judging panel for this years IWC awards.
Here’s what she had to say.
Haha, I think I’m described as:
“Based in Hong Kong, Debra Meiburg is a celebrated wine journalist, TV personality, wine educator and in-demand speaker who holds the top honour in the wine world – Master of Wine.
Area of Specialism?
I’m having so much fun right now, but – aiyeah – I have too many projects on my plate! We’ve just completed production of a wine television show, Taste the Wine that will be airing on Cathay Pacific Airways as of 1st October (six episodes). We are compiling the first-ever Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade, which contains a directory of all things wine in Hong Kong plus market research. We’ll be highlighting special portfolios, provide insights about our market dynamics and have a little fun with industry quotes and caricatures. Our tasting book, Tasting Wine with Debra,
has been translated into simplified and traditional characters and is at the printers. We’ve assembled a range of wine quiz cards Grape Cues for wine study that we are releasing in packs of 100 each (by region) or a 2,000 cards mega-pack – everything you could possibly want to learn about wine (and prepare for wine exams). We’ve also produced wine bottle tags and wine bags for small gifts at our corporate events. All of these products are set to launch in November at the Hong Kong Wine & Spirits Fair and WineFuture 2011. In the meantime, we are gearing up for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition (HK IWSC), which is the large wine competition in Asia and features judges from 18 Asian cities (12 countries). The judges must be both Asian-born and Asian-based as we hope to get a true reflection of the region’s current tastes and opinions. Otherwise, lots of presentations, speeches and show judging around the world at conferences and corporate gatherings. Social media is one of my favourite activities, so I’m very active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Via my website we host Meet-the-Winemaker a weekly three minute video series on winemakers. Oh, and I almost forgot, I have wine columns with the South China Morning Post and other magazines and papers in the Asian region.
How did you get into wine?
Though I’ve spent almost half my life in Hong Kong, I’m originally from California’s Sonoma County, one of the state’s major wine regions, and have always had a passion for wine (my family has a small hobby-vineyard). Since getting involved professionally with wine, I’ve worked harvest in Chile, pruned vines in Bordeaux, ran a crusher-destemmer in South Africa and worked as a cellar-hand in the Finger Lakes region (New York). For me, wine is about history, culture, geography, science and, above all, pleasure.
What is your favourite wine?
I’m a red Burgundy girl! The perfumed, ethereal subtlety of the Pinot Noir variety never fails to bring me pleasure. Burgundy is a highly intellectual wine, and yet it’s so versatile it can be matched to a wide range of cuisines. Its tannins are firm, but never obtrusive, so you can serve red Burgundy with fatty fish, such as salmon with roasted chicken or duck and even roasted suckling pig or roast lamb. Pinot Noir’s delicacy gets lost when paired with heavily spiced dishes, so the key is to serve Burgundy with simple flavours – even pasta. If I’m not sure which wine to serve with a meal, I always serve Burgundy.
What is your favourite grape?
As above, but I also love Nebbiolo (Barolo) and array of crisp whites and a whiff of Zinfandel brings back memories of my childhood (sniffing Dad’s glass!).
Do you have a country of preference?
I’m interested in all wine regions. Some people take up wine because they see it as an aspirational luxury product, but that limits their sensory experiences as they rarely stray out of the Bordeaux ‘first growth’ box. Because of my love of language, history, travel and flavours, I’m intrigued to wines of all origins, which is what attracted me to the Master of Wine program.
How do you enjoy wine? With food, on it’s own, social etc.
All of the above, but most of all I love drinking wine with friends. I’m definitely a social drinker – that’s when I forget to spit!
It’s great to see lesser known wine drinking nations embrace the grape but, how do you see the current development with wines in Asia, from production, education and to general consumerism?
It is the wild-west in the east! Wine is hip and trendy, and the eagerness to learn about and discuss wine is astounding. I’m having a blast! My only frustration is that too often people are focused on fine wine only.
For the health of the wine market, to really grow wine culture in Asia, we must be able to sip and learn about wines from all regions of the world, not just one or two! My dissertation topic for my Master of Wine title was a comparison of wine education needs in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. There’s no doubt that people are eager to learn more about our favourite beverage, which is why we are launching Tasting Wine with Debra, Taste the Wine (TV) and our Grape Cues study card series as well as our Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade, though which we hope consumers will discover new suppliers and a range of exotic wine origins on the market.
What influence does, or will, the Asian market have in the future? We’ve already seen how the wealthy are buying up as much of the classical wines as they can.
Asia has certainly turned the fine wine world upside down! There’s a perception in the west that Asians are unsophisticated bozos mixing their Petrus with Coca-Cola. This simply isn’t true! Asian collectors are highly knowledgeable and would never do something so foolish. Everyday consumers are still very new to wine, however, so we have much work to do, to ensure they have the opportunity to try many wines styles.
Asians will become increasingly knowledgeable and caring wine consumers. China’s domestic production will improve each year until it truly competes on the global stage. With this growth and improved quality of China’s production, we’ll see an increased interest in a broad array of wines throughout China. I’ve seen this happen in the USA and Australia.
Maybe, from this, will we see a shift in drinking styles/private purchasing from the rest of the more recognised wine nations?
So, from California to Hong Kong, how did this come about?
Asia is my home and as most of my adult life I’ve lived here simply because I had wanted a ‘one year adventure’ living outside the States. It is now hard to imagine living anywhere else. I love the excitement, sophisticated vibe and ‘can-do’ attitude of Hong Kong. I love that I can hike on peaceful green hills in the morning, pop by the fish market on the way home, sip Lafite at a wine luncheon two hours later, and then join a Gucci party that evening. There’s no city like it in the world!
What inspired you to become an MW?
How could I resist? The Master of Wine exam was conceived to recognize the pinnacle in the wine trade and is a title that unlocks cellar doors around the world, but it is principally an intellectual exercise, not a career move. And while there is plenty of global support, the program is largely a solo trek. If you have a passion for wine, the stomach for repeated failure and the soul to keep trudging, this program is for you. As Sir Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
What tips do you have to anyone looking at getting into the wine trade?
Stay with your day job and retain wine as a hobby! Just kidding, but keep in mind that not all wines are glamorous and there are times when looking at the stacks of bottles to be reviewed, I just wish I could open a bottle once again simply for fun!
Thank you Debra for taking the time to answer my questions, and in great detail too.
I am intrigued though by the concept of Petrus and Coke. Must be lined with gold
To find out more about Debra’s educational products, articles and watch online videos then please take a wee look at her website.
In the meantime here’s a video from Debra’s Meet the Winemaker series, dated 17/10/11
Meet the Winemaker (Episode 96): Miri Nachmias ,Rimon Winery, by Debra Meiburg MW
Also in homage to Honk Kong, couldn’t resist putting this little guy in.