As we head into cooler sweater weather in Hong Kong (finally!) and start planning for holiday festivities, it’s time to think about what kinds of reds to pair and share with guests. While most will make a beeline for the aisles with Bordeaux and Burgundy for those fancy dinners, it’s worthwhile at this price point to consider mixing it up at the dinner table with some exquisite wines from Napa and Sonoma.

To help HK foodies with some options when it comes to selecting premium wines for the holidays, we recently attended an approachable tasting masterclass moderated by super-knowledgable native Californian wine doyenne Debrah Meiburg, who brought a playful yet fun perspective to tasting the 2014 vintages from Jackson Family Wines’ ultra-premium Californian wineries Vérité and Cardinale. This included a vertical tasting of previous Vérité and Cardinale vintages to highlight the differences between the various years.

 Panelists: James Tookey, VP of Jackson Family Wines for Asia, Europe and Middle East; Dimitri Mesnard MS, International Brand Ambassador at Jackson Family Wines; Darius Allyn MS; Debra Meiburg MW and Tan Ying Hsien MW

With pre-eminent wine authorities leading a guided tasting, we enjoyed the 360 approach to learning and appreciating the wines, with the traditional method of swirling, smelling and sipping while listening to notes about the winemaker, terroir and climate for that year of release. Comments and views from a knowledgable audience of somms, distributors, négociants and media helped to balance out the tasting.

We loved the story behind Vérité. Born from a challenge from Jackson Family Wines founder Jess Jackson to winemaker Pierre Seillan to create a California Merlot as good as a Petrus, Pierre’s response of, “Why not better?” and subsequent move to Sonoma to create the first vintage Vérité in 1998 has resulted in 13 100-point wines – not bad for a wine that originally stemmed from a challenge (probably over a glass of wine)!

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Made in the style of the famous Bordeaux region as a twist on Old World with New World fruits, we skipped merrily through Right and Left Banks as we sipped Vérité Wines’ release of its three signature blends: La Muse (Merlot based) in the style of Pomerol, La Joie (Cabernet Sauvignon based) à la Medoc and Le Désir (Cabernet Franc based), which is reminiscent of St Emillion.

For us, the Merlot-based 2014 La Muse from Vérité was the winner, a throwback to a Pomerol and St Emillon region rightly indistinguishable from a Right Bank Bordeaux in a blind tasting (try it at home!). Smoky, peppery, with hints of vanilla, violet, oak and fresh young cherries, it’s a showstopper with a balanced yet long finish and nearly perfectly integrated tannins – which will forever change how you view a good California wine.

The best way of looking at it was with winemaker Pierre Seillan’s analogy for oak: “Oak is like a ghost – it can be seen but never tasted.” Oh, and it also happens to be a 100-point wine from leading wine critic Robert Parker Jr. But we also couldn’t help but to linger over the crowd-pleaser 2014 vintage of Cabernet-Franc La Désir, an elegant yet bright bouquet of blackberries, rose petals with herbaceous notes and earthiness and a long finish. It will mellow with time as we tasted with the 2008 vintage, but the balance of floral and iron-rich minerality will change how even the snobbiest of Francophile wine lover views premium California wines.

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For those who appreciate top-end Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and want to take a virtual trip to Napa Valley, we can heartily recommend Cardinale, a signature all-Californian Cabernet Sauvignon from winemaker and music lover Christopher Carpenter who “views vineyards in Napa Valley as his orchestra”.

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Those who don’t like Napa Cab, be forewarned – Cardinale is a true reflection of the Napa Valley terrior and blend of land from Napa Valley’s most celebrated mountain appellations: Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder and Spring Mountain. The 2007 vintage celebrates the American winemaker at its best, and as part of the masterclass, we were treated to a 1995 vintage from Barbara Banke’s personal library – a treat with soft, mellow fruits and notes of cherry and chocolate that lingered on the tongue and helped to bring a bit of California to the table.

Big thanks to Jackson Family Wines for the masterclass invitation. Note that the 2014 vintages from Vérité and Cardinale are distributed through a select group of Bordeaux négociants. For distribution enquiries, please contact Rachel Meisner at

Working 9 to wine. Follow my wine & spirits adventures on Instagram @madame_toasst

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