Thursday, 16 June 2011

That Elusive Asian Spice

pic from

I've noticed the term "Asian spice" cropping up regularly in tasting notes recently. Which is rather like saying, a wine has minerality. It's an imprecise word that can mean a variety of scents and flavours. Szechuan peppercorns, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, basil and lemongrass are all spices used in Asian cooking, but they taste very different from one another. When "Asian spice" is used to describe a wine, does it smell of lemongrass then? Surely an odd scent to find in Cabernet Sauvignon wouldn't you think?

Out of curiosity, I made used of Google's date range function to find out how many web pages had the word "Asian spice" and "tasting notes" in them within a certain time frame. Up to the year 2005, there were 47 hits on these search terms. Extending the date range to the current date resulted in around 12,000 hits. Ok, I thought, maybe more tasting notes have been put online over the past six years. So I put in the terms "blackcurrant" and "tasting notes" and repeated the experiment. This time, there were 11,500 results up to 2005, and 149,000 up to today. So that means that there are now 255 times more tasting notes with the words "Asian spice" compared with an increase of 13 times for "blackcurrant".

Perhaps this growth of wines tasting like "Asian spice" has something to do with what a major player Asia (in particular China) has become in the wine trade. Hong Kong is already the largest market for wine auctions, and Asia is expected to account for a third of en primeur sales this year. With Europe and the United States still in economic doldrums, it is Asia which is setting new records for the price of fine wine. Maybe it follows, that if you are marketing to Asia, you should use terms that are more familiar to Asians? Just like Chateau Lafite adding the Chinese symbol for 8 to their 2008 bottles, is "Asian spice" a marketing gimmick?

I have no qualms about tasting notes featuring more descriptors that are easier to understand in the local context, such as litchi, mango and star fruit. Jeannie Cho Lee MW wrote an excellent article in the July 2009 issue of Decanter which examines the difference between Western and Asian palates. Such descriptors allow locals to identify better with the flavours of the wine, which is an important consideration when buying wines. Yet I can't help feeling that "Asian spice" is a catch-all phrase that doesn't really add value to a tasting note.

No comments:

Post a Comment