I'll Have What She's Having: 11 Wine Experts On Their Favourite Bottles
After a decade of breathless infatuation with influencer marketing and its promise of tighter brand-to-consumer contact, anyone could be excused for asking just how different the results have been from the campaigns of yesteryear that featured more straightforward celebrity endorsements.
The wine industry, though relatively slow to get in on the act, has actually created some interesting partnerships that may serve as case studies for how a fairly conservative industry can reach new audiences through fresh online voices (take the brash wine entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, known as Gary Vee and considered an online influencer OG, who got his start pairing wine with Froot Loops on YouTube). Now the web is awash with would be wine influencers, but just who are they really influencing?
Meanwhile, the perpetually imminent demise of that genteel relic, the professional wine critic, seems to have come and gone somewhat anticlimactically, with every scribe who hasn’t simply retired having joined the legions of digital “content creators”. A lucky few have even successfully rebranded themselves as “wine personalities”. And the old hierarchy of all-knowing elites and their blindly following masses has become that much more smudgy, and in some cases inverted.
Thus, it becomes ever harder to determine who genuinely has influence. By that I mean not page views, Weibo followers or Instagram likes, but rather the ability to move bottles off shelves. Influence takes on a whole new level of complexity when we consider markets like our own in Asia, far removed from most traditional authorities of wine taste in Europe, the US and Australia. The call for local voices, who would at least ostensibly have a greater understanding of local tastes, is seemingly hindered by a subconscious bias towards “authentic” foreign experts (think just how much easier it is for a French sommelier to upsell you on a bottle of “Bourgogne” than a Yorkshireman).
One could argue that the retired Robert Parker, whipping boy of virtually every article about the downsides of a perhaps excessive concentration of influence in the hands of a small number of players, still reigns supreme because his 100-point system remains dominant. However, in my own research into the online wine purchasing habits of our region’s millennials, virtually none of the countless websites surveyed used any critics’ scores at all, relying instead on user reviews.
While travelling Asia, I’ve also frequently noted that restaurants with wine lists featuring critics’ scores tend not to be too fussy about whose scores they are: RP (Robert Parker), WS (Wine Spectator) and AG (Antonio Galloni) are commonplace, but so too more dubious two-letter combos like WX or VW, not attributable to any critics I know of.
The thing is, reluctant as we may be to hand over our trust to just anyone, unless we’re content to drink the same few brands we’ve always chosen year in and year out, we have to put it somewhere. As someone who’s built a career around wine in Asia for almost 12 years, I obviously have my own cadre of local friends and insiders I trust far more than scores from a pair of unidentifiable letters, plus a few international voices I rely on to surface brands and regions I might not encounter locally.
And so, on the following pages, you will find a far from exhaustive list of some of the wine professionals who influence me personally, along with some of their best finds (since I wanted you, too, to be able to benefit from the wisdom of those listed, I have excluded my equally trusted squad of non-professionals—and have saved my list of trusted sommeliers for another time).
A good friend who grew up enmeshed in the fabric of Bordeaux thanks to the role of her dad, Agustin V Que, as le maître of the Hong Kong then Jakarta chapters of wine society Commanderie de Bordeaux, Que now peddles Burgundy to some of Asia’s most voracious collectors. There are few people whose take on en primeur (Bordeaux or Burgundy) I trust more than this lady’s. She’s also a closet Napa girl, so those who prefer their wines rich and luscious can confidently turn to her for advice, too.
Château Le Tertre Roteboeuf 2017
Que’s 2017 Bordeaux review was more generous than most, declaring some great value interspersed with gorgeous gems. Roteboeuf was her top pick for its pristine, brilliant fruit expression and delightful freshness.
Discover more at goedhuis.com
Linden Wilkie, Alexandria Cubbage and Tina Xie
Renowned for its lavish events throughout China, the Fine Wine Experience trades in the crème de la crème of Burgundy and Bordeaux—plus an impressive amount of German riesling. Wilkie and his team sometimes make bold choices to foreground brands that push just beyond the comfort zone of their blue-chip collector clientele, and their personal tastes are wonderfully diverse.
Wilkie's Choice: The Antipodean (whatever vintage you can find)
As a Kiwi who discovered wine when he was a university student in Christchurch, Linden is likely Asia’s leading expert on the woefully underexplored, culty Bordeaux blends of New Zealand’s north island. The 1993 vintage was an ethereal, gossamer delight with the earthy savour of pimento on rye bread.
Cubbage's Choice: Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Brézé ‘Clos Tue-Loup’ 2016
Cabernet franc is the Bordeaux variety that sets my pulse racing fastest and this one is just so quintessentially franc: sultry, with seductive notes of cedar, black cherry and camphor, like an expensive Parisian apothecary.
Xie's Choice: Weingut Dr Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewächs Reserve 2013
The most aggressive advocate of riesling I know, Xie will literally strong-arm you into trying (and loving) the great Teutonic grape. Luckily this sensuous, creamy, but bone-dry version is easy to love.
Discover more at finewineexperience.com
An alumnus of Christie’s and Zachy’s in New York and Hong Kong, Wainwright has worked with fine wine globally for more than 20 years and he’s one of the first people I would call if I needed to move a million dollars of wine either into or out of my cellar. He has an impeccable eye for questionable bottles and impeccable taste in real ones. His own cellar is stocked with old world classics plus a healthy dose of mature Californian beauties.
Philipponat Clos des Goisses 2004
Wainwright has confided that this is one of the only vintage champagnes of which he will buy every single release. Exquisitely rich and sensuous, it’s a real wine lover’s champagne rather than a dainty aperitif.
Discover more at wainwrightadvisors.com
Dai is my go-to for understanding what’s trending in China’s wine scene, especially domestic wine now that he is one of its pioneers. XiaoPu, a brand he started with fellow millennial wine dynamo Wu Fang, features wine from Ningxia and Shangri-La and is redefining Chinese wine as the forward-looking choice for those in the know.
XiaoLing Estate 2014
Using cabernet sauvignon, carménère and merlot from a high-altitude site in Yunnan’s Tibetan Marches, this elegant blend is Dai’s pick among red-hot Chinese releases (besides his own glorious XiaoPu Marselan, which is at once ineffably exotic but refined).
See also: The Best Wine Apps In Asia
As well as being an indefatigable Italian wine advocate, Viens is a top talent spotter within Asia’s Italian wine scene, having worked with Marino Braccu, formerly of famed Hong Kong restaurant Otto e Mezzo and now relocated to Bangkok. He has also spotlighted high achievers like Francesco Marchio of Vinoveritas, Simone Sammuri of Francis and Mr Brown, and the beverage team from Yardbird Hong Kong through his annual Italian Wine Celebration and Vino Condiviso events.
Bellavista Teatro Alla Scala Franciacorta 2013
One of Viens’ many gigs is representing Italian sparkling wine Franciacorta, and he recently turned my attention to this special release from Franciacorta icon Bellavista. It’s a worthy tribute to the iconic opera house La Scala, lilting and honeyed as Montserrat Caballé’s centennial Turandot.
Discover more at grandepassione.com
The unassuming Kwok, a longstanding Hong Kong Wine Society buddy of mine who finally joined the wine industry full-time a few years ago, is doing more for edgy, outsider brands than a wine bar-full of bearded hipster sommeliers. He’s a true treasure hunter of Beaujolais, Etna, champagne, gloriously aged Nebbiolo and all things riesling.
Scarpa 80s Barbaresco and Barolo
Impeccably preserved bottles are sadly rare in Italy but Kwok has tapped into a wonderful cache. Refined, still a little austere but beginning to unfurl into a perfumed, enticing state, the packages he’s assembled are well worth exploring.
Discover more at decowines.com
A Kiwi friend who moved to Melbourne from Hong Kong a few years ago, educator and writer Madden-Grey has wasted no time making herself a fixture on the avant-garde Aussie wine scene (I’ve heard industry heavyweights refer to her as their “greatest advocate”). I turn to her to hear about the sexy side projects my favourite winemakers are cooking up in their garages.
Salo Chardonnay 2017
From Giant Steps’ Steve Flamsteed and Arfion’s Dave Mackintosh, this takes your now-standard flinty Aussie chardonnay, retains its vibrant essence and builds on layers of addictively textural grip and enticing hints of smut.
Discover more at happywinewoman.com
Always a jovial presence on the international conference scene and provocateur par excellence on Twitter, Goode is a no-BS scientist at heart whose writing gets to the heart of virtually any complicated wine topic. I look to Goode’s site and social media for quirky, interesting European brands driving change in their regions.
Martin’s Lane Naramata Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015
Although I’d previously underrated the charms of Okanagan Valley pinot, Goode’s seal of approval made me take another look at this finely wrought, silky example.
Discover more at wineanorak.com
Seattle-based Rimmerman has one of the most impressively low-tech internet wine businesses that will likely outlive legions of its graphically superior competitors. With daily offers written in wallet-wringingly compelling prose, this man could sell me cases of Yellow Tail Moscato with his words. Luckily, his taste runs more to little-known Washingtonian delights, exotic Italian finds and packages of “Mystery Bottles” (sometimes including illustrious names like Clerico, Conterno and Fèlsina).
Monteversa Animaversa Rosso Colli Euganei 2015
A complete sleeper hit that I can’t even remember ordering and a reminder of Garagiste’s total trustworthiness, this was a white-peppery, chiffon veil over a bed of dried cherries, iris and violets, settling gradually into coffee and red bean.
Discover more at garagiste.com