Wine Book of the Year 2011
I always approach the Wandering Palate ‘Wine Book of the Year’ with trepidation, partly because wine books can be rather dull for the average reader or even wine consumer, notwithstanding the fact that research-style works are indeed useful.
At the same time I think of the painstaking work and inordinate amount of time and effort that the author or authors have undertaken in accomplishing such a tome. And yet publishing is a tough business and readers are merciless, with many titles undeservedly ending up in the bargain bins before their time.
The fact is that wine titles have a limited audience and are very much a niche market. That said, every now and there is a work or topic that has a much wider audience and relevance to a growing market sector, trend or fashion that is undergoing exponential growth.
One such bourgeoning market and topical subject is China: the new wine frontier.
In co-authoring ‘Cool Climate Wines’, Michael Thurner and Susie Wu boldly go where few wine writers have ventured in conceiving a book not only exclusively published in Mandarin but challenging the conventional wisdom that the Chinese will only drink red wine. The book is centered predominantly on white cool climate wines from Austria, Alsace and Germany.
There is an underpinning theme in their prose that ultimately white wines will in fact be more popular than red in Mainland China and eventually all Chinese culture around the world.
Their assumptions are based on the realism or pragmatism that the Chinese, no matter where they are living, are totally obsessed with food. The adage “The Chinese do not eat to live, rather they live to eat” rings true and this fixation with food's authenticity and regionalism has no less fervor and dedication than say for comparison, Italians, and one would expect this eventually extends to wine.
Many people are unaware that wine culture has existed in China since the beginning of civilization and the patronizing tones that I sense from the west are clearly the assumptions of the ignorant.
In a society that has undergone a tumultuous evolution and now fast-evolving capitalism and bourgeoning cosmopolitan growth, there is perhaps too many comparatives to western culture and clearly Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy has no place.
The induction of wine into our daily lives is rarely a question of erudition; rather an issue of poverty or prosperity and simply many people cannot afford such a luxury. And yet wine has played a pivotal role in all classes of society over the millennia and the poor are often reliant on a daily ration of wine.
This is true of China as much as it was of the Roman Empire, althouigh it has been rice wine and fermentations of strong alcohols that have been the staple of the Chinese rural classes and lower income groups.
China is however experiencing a surge of middle-class incomes and aspirations and an urbanization and creation of metropolises and mega-cities that ferments a different kind of compotation and social lubrication more akin to the west, with vitis vinifera wines from all over the world now jockeying for position and ever-elusive market share.
No point in avoiding the blatantly obvious Chinese love affair with Château Lafite, however one needs to put this brand obsession into perspective -- that it is the super-wealthy that have been seduced by this wine porn. This vinous licentiousness is already on the wane as the more sophisticated middle class look for authenticity and a genuine wine and food (pairing) experience.
This is where Cool Climate Wines breaks new ground, in its profound statement and content that addresses what are in reality the most suitable wines and wine regions for many Chinese cuisines and dishes.
Of even more relevance is Wu's and Thurner's approach to the ultra-complex and often intimidating topic and language of (table) wine, to which they have adopted an analogy to tea, which is inherent in Chinese culture, to make it easier to understand the multiplicity of intricacies in wine.
This approach has sound logic when you consider that Chinese tea culture is much older and entrenched than western wine culture and in Chinese tea language they always talk about ‘tannins, body, flavor, etc’ in a vernacular very similar to wine. Moreover, there is a thorough understanding of what tea pairs with which precise dishes and flavors – wine, tea and food synchronicity.
Encapsulating this synthesis, all grape varieties are given Chinese tea-related names so that the reader can relate them in terms of familiar flavors and structures with Wu and Thurner tasting together in China over 100 teas to ascertain the most correct tea name and characteristics.
Cool Climate Wines is not entirely about white wine, though and while focusing on Alsace, Austria and Germany which obviously involves considerable coverage of whites, all these countries and regions produce red wines, although generally because of high altitude and cool climates they are elegant, soft-tannin wines with grape varieties such as pinot noir to the fore.
It is a monumental work; 400 pages, 800 pictures, 129 wineries and over 1,000 wines tasted and rated. And yes, it is all in Mandarin, to which I can sense apathy from the western corner, or anyone outside of Chinese culture. However, think of how many Chinese people you know yourself, and how brilliant this book would make for a gift and bridge between cultures.
As much as Cool Climates Wines is relevant to countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan or enclaves of Chinese everywhere, it is clearly aimed at the mainland China market and it has already achieved unquestionable credibility within the market as its co-author Susie Wu is the most famous writer of wine books with ten titles already published, is considered as one of the most influential wine persons in China.
Wu is a native of Shanghai and studied at the Academy in Peking and Bordeaux before she started working for a wine importer and subsequently began writing about wine. Wu also writes articles and columns in national magazines and newspapers and for many years has published her own webpage and is constantly blogging on http://blog.sina.com.con/shuxianwine
Wu’s co-author, Michael Thurner, is perhaps the master of firsthand knowledge of these wine regions in the collaboration, with his native Austrian background and extensive wine industry experience. Thurner was formally the Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board in Vienna and also Chairman of the Board of the Austrian Wine Academy. Moreover he is armed with a Wine MBA and after his successful Austrian wine marketing career he opened his own consulting company, engaging in brand building, distribution support and organizing events and congresses.
Realizing the potential in the fast-developing nations of the East, Thurner moved to Singapore to better understand the Asian wine markets and has established himself as an enterprising and charismatic wine force in the region. Indeed the The Wandering Palate awarded Thurner “The most dynamic marketer of the year in Asia” last year.
Thurner also writes for magazines and online publications on food, wine and travel along with tutoring on ‘International Wine Marketing and Wine Markets’ at Hong Kong University.
Clearly there was a wine book in Thurner. However; he is way too savvy, ambitious and visionary to have embarked on an orthodox wine book published in English or German. Testament to his pioneering spirit he sensed that collaboration with Susie Wu into a relatively untapped market craving wine knowledge would be far more rewarding and a far better use of his knowledge.
Horizon Media Co. Ltd. is a Beijing based subsidiary of the Shanghai Century Publishing Company, the biggest and leading book publisher in China. More than 800 sales people and an internet shop guarantee optimum distribution throughout this vast country. Horizon published more than 160 books last year about Wine, Lifestyle, Biography, History, Art, Science and Academic classics.
I doubt if there is a wine publication released this year anywhere on this planet that will more impact on wine evolution and enhancing the development of arguably the most important market in the world than Cool Climate Wines 媒体资料白葡萄酒经典 and is the ultimate tool for Wine Feng Shui.
Without stating the obvious, it would be THE perfect gift for Chinese New Year, January 22nd, 2012. It is widely available in Mainland China, more information at www.wenjingbook.com. The book is only available direct through him at a retail price of SGD $85 per copy. Email; firstname.lastname@example.org www.austriasfinebrands.com
(The website domain and copyright for “Wine Feng Shui” are the property of The Wandering Palate. Curtis Marsh, the Wandering Palate, has been involved in the wine and food industry for three decades. He blogs at http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/.)