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A Dialogue About Wine Trends

Inspired by the wine region in the south of France, where I once called home, I talk to sommeliers Ken Hasegawa and Vanessa Masse about wine trends today.

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This is one-eighth of Andre Chiang’s How I See the World.


The south of France – where a young Andre Chiang learnt the ropes of the trade and which is a place dear to him – brings to mind the comforting Mediterranean sun, the intoxicating opulence of the Riviera, and wine. Naturally so, for it is also home to the Languedoc-Roussillon – an extraordinarily diverse wine region rich with 19 Appellation Controlee areas and some 15,000 vin de pays winemakers.

As a fitting tribute to this region where he once called home, Chiang leads his team of sommeliers to discuss the changing needs and expectations of the consumer, the rising importance of the individual in winemaking, and other developments in the international wine scene.

AC: Andre Chiang, Chef
KH: Ken Hasegawa, Sommelier
VM: Vanessa Masse, Sommelier
GT: Gourmet & Travel

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AC: What are the wine trends of the moment?

KH: When I arrived in Singapore eight years ago, drinking wine was still largely limited to special occasions. Rich people spent money on high-end labels and not many others drank wine. But this is quickly changing. In supermarkets now, we have lots of wines that are cheap, and also in the last five to six years, we’ve had a new category – natural wines. It’s very exciting to observe the wine market in Singapore. It is changing quickly.

VM: I think people still continue to think about Bordeaux and Burgundy, though. To me, the appellation is unimportant as these are just labels. What is most important is the winemaker and what he does with the terroir.

AC: I think it’s just like in cuisine. Twenty years ago, we would have categorised food broadly in terms of Eastern and Western. But we are slowly differentiating between the cuisine types, be it Japanese, Chinese or French, and then further into regional distinctions. Nowadays, we don’t even talk about regions but about the styles of chefs as individuals. Similarly with wines, we will get more personal and start considering the winemaker and his individual style.

GT: Will winemakers become the next celebrities, just like how it is for chefs now?

VM: That would be cool! It’d be interesting to see if it starts from the big stars in the winemaking world, or the small unknowns. AC: I think it’s not easy as there is an immediacy to cuisine that winemaking lacks. For example, a chef can demonstrate something on the spot. He can go to the market and whip up a dish in three minutes. Television needs that. I’m curious, though, to know who your latest discovery is and who you think is going to be the next “rock star”?

KH: I think the champagnes from David Leclapart are still very underrated. I thought he would be a big star really quickly, but still he is relatively under the radar. I’m surprised, but I’m certain he will be big, just like Jacques-Selosse. He should be. But at the same time, I don’t want him to be big so soon, so we can continue to enjoy his wines at a good price.

VM: For me, it would be Raphael Monnier. He is not famous. And he started producing wine only about four years ago for his own pleasure. I had the opportunity to visit Jura to try his wines last year. I was almost in tears because all his wines were amazing. I can drink his wines every day. It’s the terroir, it’s his sensibilities, and the way he makes the wines. This guy just lets the wines happen. He doesn’t try to interfere with the natural winemaking process like most people. It’s incredible. You get the minerality, and you get so much emotion when you taste his wines. He could be more famous if he had more wine to sell, but he has nothing left. He was scared at first to dedicate too much to his winemaking, but now that he sees what is happening, he’s left his job and is focusing on winemaking.

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AC: I definitely notice that France is producing many new winemakers who are leading the pack. A new generation is coming out with a new philosophy. I see comparatively less of this phenomenon in other countries. But I’m not sure. What do you think?

KH: It is true that many young winemakers are getting independent in France but, in Spain and Italy, there is also a wave of producers focusing on natural winemaking – not to mention many who are still undiscovered. Also, Japanese wine is very hot in Japan. When I left Japan eight years ago, there was nothing. Nobody talked about Japanese wine. But, now, it is a big market. Top French restaurants and Michelin-star restaurants in Japan have Japanese wines on their list. A little of this might have to do with patriotism but people are appreciating the quality. So, if you ask me what could happen in the next five years, maybe Japanese wines will come to Singapore.

AC: I’m quite a sentimental person. I’m not that into technique and other details about winemaking. I guess food and wine are the same – there’s no such thing as the best. When I get home from work, all I want is a beer. I don’t need a bottle of red, even if it’s very good. The moment, the timing and the context are all very important. So, most of the time, I just focus on whether I like the wine. More than 90 per cent of the time, our guests come in not knowing what wines to choose because nothing is familiar. But for me, that’s good. What is important is that we help them select something suitable. And that they get to really taste what’s in the bottle. I am curious though, about the other considerations that guide people’s choices and how these will change in the next five years.

VM: I would love to see progress in organic, biodynamic and natural winemaking. Because some people ask me, do you have organic wines – but what does one mean by “organic”? Something without sulphites, made without commercial yeast? A wine made without mechanical harvesting? Sometimes people see “organic” as a label as well, because they think it’s better. But organic isn’t always better, as with everything else.

GT: I guess it’s also part of marketing.

VM: Exactly. Sometimes, being certified organic is little more than marketing but, when you want to sell a truly well-made organic wine, people will just say, “Oh, this is just marketing.” This is what’s making some growers in France reject being certified as organic. Yet, they are the ones who are working on making the most natural wines possible.

AC: I think this progress is definitely something we’ll see, just as we have observed changing attitudes towards food. People are now concerned with not just the taste of food, but also its provenance. It’s exactly the same for wines.

GT: We talked a lot about the artisan in quality winemaking. But surely there is a place for the big producers?

AC: We need farmers’ markets as much as Costco or Carrefour – when smaller producers become more visible and people start seeing value in them. With more representation from the smaller, more conscientious producers, the big boys will have to rethink their strategies, and hopefully produce something better.

KH: I also think it is important that people have more categories to choose from. Beyond Bordeaux and Burgundy, there are so many other regions and many other countries. Yes, people will continue to spend a lot of money on wines like Romanee-Conti, but they can also buy very affordable wines in supermarkets for $18. Besides that, we also have the natural wine market, which is growing now. With the availability of choices, a person can drink Dom Perignon on one occasion, and Tiger Beer on another. Depending on the occasion, budget and the situation, they can choose differently.

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