One of only two wineries where frozen grapes are imported from around the world to make premium wine is based in Hong Kong. The other is in Bali in Indonesia. These are examples of innovation in the wine-making process of which Asia should be proud.
Foreign companies exporting wine to China pay a range of taxes that add almost 48 per cent to the original cost of each bottle. The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, abbreviated as CEPA, between mainland China and Hong Kong means that all goods exported to the mainland from Hong Kong enjoy lower taxes, typically about half of the costs.
Lysanne Tusar founded 8th Estate Winery in October 2007 with CEPA in mind. She conceived the idea over the family dining table in her hometown, Vancouver in Canada, and spent much of 2007 researching the idea. CEPA requires a three-year waiting period before goods qualify, so Tusar had to wait until early 2011 before the benefits started to show.
Staff from 8th Estate travel the world to source the best grapes: Shiraz and Grenache from McLaren Vale in Australia, Sangiovese from Tuscany and Nebbiolo from Piedmont in Italy, and Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux.
Grapes are frozen after being harvested and shipped to Hong Kong. Tusar said flash freezing preserved grapes in peak condition. The frozen grapes thaw at the winery as a winemaker arrives from the same region as the fruit. Production begins as it would in any boutique winery in the world, and the wine then ages in French and American oak barriques.
“Our concept is simple,” says Ms Tusar, “source the best ingredients and make the best wine. We have done this by creating something no one else has in Asia – a fully functional urban winery. By importing international wine making talent along with exceptional grapes, our formula produces spectacular wine,” she said.
Buying grapes also has the advantage that if a vintage fails, the winery sources grapes elsewhere.
The grapes thaw in three to five days once they arrive, depending on the temperature at the time of year.
To date, the 8th Estate Winery has created a dozen wines, designed to “fit a range of taste buds”. Nine are red, with two whites and a rose. The winery makes between 30,000 and 45,000 bottles a year.
The 2011 rosé is a blend of merlot and cabernet franc from Bordeaux. It offers aromas of boiled sweets and candied fruit, combined with the scent of roses on a hot summer’s day. It tastes like a mouthful of maraschino cherries. The zingy acidity and sense of fun the wine suggests means it would make a refreshing summer tipple.
The 2010 shiraz comes from McLaren Vale in Australia. This wine won a bronze medal at the 2011 Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition. It was made from 25-year-old vines and has a floral and spicy nose with a hint of leather and black olive. In the mouth it tastes of ripe plums and black cherries. This wine was matured in American oak for 10 months, which explains the spicy nature and the sweet tannins.
Grapes for the 2008 Nebbiolo come from Piedmonte in northern Italy. The nebbiolo grape is known for making full-bodied and powerful wines. Yet this is a delicious wine, drinking beautifully now but capable of being cellared for up to a decade. The subtle oak influence gives a nose of violets, toasted bread, hints of tobacco and spices like cinnamon. The tannins are supple and lean like a greyhound, and the wine has a vibrant acidity that provides a harmonious sense of structure and elegance. Especially delicious if served chilled in summer.
The 2010 riesling comes from the Australia’s Clare Valley. The nose has the classic “kerosene” hint that comes after some years in bottle, and the wine is a lovely golden colour. In the mouth the wine tastes of green apples and ripe citrus. It has a slightly austere character on the palate, with texture and structure suggesting this wine has great potential for cellaring. A wine to enjoy in about half a decade from now.
* China boasts another wine innovation, where wine is produced for specific clients as part of a marketing plan. An example is the Naku Company in Hong Kong, which makes the FCBarcelona range of red wines. I tasted two bottles of the 2008 FCBarcelona Reserva players’ collection, part of what the back label describes as “an exclusive limited edition” named after key players in the football team.
This is a Spanish red, from the Rioja region. The first bottle was corked so the company supplied a second, which was most pleasant. It has aromas of stewed ripe plums and black cherries with a touch of cinnamon. It is a smooth wine with only hints of tannin and good acidity, unusual for a rioja, meaning it can be consumed now but would last a decade.
A friend who tasted with me said the wine tasted of dark chocolate and coffee, though we both noticed it had faded by the end of the bottle. It should be served chilled in summer.