Most novice wine drinkers opt for French, in particular Bordeaux, when they choose wine. In some cases, they even go for the more expensive classed-growth Bordeaux, believing that the higher the price, the better the quality. But when asked if they like the taste of the wine, most are not very enthusiastic.
I believe this is one of the reasons why wine in Hong Kong and China is not as popular as in the West. It is because we drink the wrong wine or, to be more precise, we drink wine in the wrong order.
Wine, like coffee, can be an acquired taste. We probably didn’t like coffee when we were younger because of its bitter taste. Our first coffee was likely cappuccino with lots of milk and chocolate powder. We slowly reduced the amount of sugar and milk we added to our coffee until we finally drank espresso. The bitterness in the coffee we didn’t like became bittersweet in the espresso that we crave today.
Well-made Bordeaux is like espresso. It requires experience to appreciate the subtle aromas and tannin structure; otherwise it tastes bitter. To truly enjoy and appreciate wine, we should start with “cappuccino” – fruity, easy-drinking wines, with smooth tannin in the case of red wine. Most New World wines with ripe fruit aromas fit the bill, such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Australian Shiraz and Argentine Malbec. Moreover, New World wine usually has a more varietal focus, so it is easier for us to understand the differences between grape varieties. Riesling is citrus and peach, Chardonnay is apple and apricot, Cabernet Sauvignon is blackcurrant with a firm mouthfeel, Pinot Noir is red cherry with a silky texture… the list goes on. These wines are by no means lesser quality; they are just different styles (espresso drinkers also love a cup of hot chocolate sometimes!).
We can also compare wine drinking to eating. Children may only eat the foods with which they are familiar and reject the delicacies that adults love. When they are older, they will then explore other flavours and foods. I bet most of the dishes you love now are those you disliked when you were younger.
So to all the novice and curious wine drinkers out there, don’t feel pressured to like or even drink Bordeaux. Start with an easy-drinking wine that you feel comfortable with, like enjoying a Frappuccino or latte at Starbucks with a friend. Be open-minded to trying different grape varieties from different countries and explore the world of wine at your own pace. One day, you’ll truly appreciate and enjoy Bordeaux and other equally subtle but complex wines – just like you can now tell the difference between espressos made using Guatemalan and Ethiopian beans!