Thursday 26 April 2012

Presenting Her Majesty, The German Wine Queen!

German Wine Queen - Annika Strebel
The message has oft been repeated; German wine has changed. The sweet, fruity whites of yore have been replaced by delicate, bone dry styles with steely acidity and complex flavours. Serious reds, based on the Pinot Noir varietal, are being crafted in regions such as Ahr and Baden. The buzzword now is quality rather than quantity. 

Caviar canapés. An excellent start at BLU.
Admittedly, the message gets through far more effectively when presented by the lovely Annika Strebel (Germany’s newly anointed Wine Queen) than by a stuffy wine writer. I had the pleasure of meeting this poised and articulate woman during a wine dinner jointly hosted by the German Wine Institute (DWI) and local wine merchant Wein & Vin. The latter has been instrumental in bringing top German wine producers such as Dönnhoff and Meyer Näkel to our sunny shores. 

Feminists may express outrage at the idea of using a beauty pageant to promote an industry, but the road to becoming a German Wine Queen involves more than just looks. The contestants, who hail from each of Germany’s 13 wine-growing regions, must speak on a multitude of wine-related issues in front of a jury of 80 professionals from the wine industry, politics and the press. This helps them to prepare for the ambassadorial role of a German Wine Queen. The ability to answer questions about German wines confidently and competently is a necessary skill for the winner, who will be speaking at over 200 engagements around the world during her reign. 

These engagements will bring Annika to many locations around the world. Singapore is in fact her first international stop before going on to Beijing. While she was here, she participated in numerous events as part of the first ever “Riesling Week” held from the 14th to 22nd of April and gave a talk at the Wine & Spirits Asia exhibition. She tells me of one of her more unusual events, involving an underwater wine tasting in Germany. Weighed down by a heavy belt and surrounded by photographers, she confided that she had a slight worry about choking as the belt would have prevented her from quickly ascending to the surface. But like a true professional, she handled the event with ease and her trademark vivacity (for a glimpse of this surreal setting, search for “unterwasser weinprobe Annika” on Youtube). 
Annika charming the audience

Annika’s favourite varietal is naturally Riesling, a grape that has naturally high acidity and ages well. She is also partial to Silvaner, a little-known German varietal that finds its best expression in Annika’s home region of Rheinhessen. As befits her royal title, Annika is a staunch nationalist and believes that the native varietals of Germany should be promoted over international ones such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. “We should concentrate on our competencies,” she asserts. “If we make Cabernet Sauvignon like the French, we can be as good as them but not better.”

Besides having a sharp palate when it comes to wines, Annika displays a keen interest in food as well, frequently enquiring on the ingredients of our dinner menu. She was excited about trying out Singapore’s local specialities such as chilli crab and laksa, although I was confused when she admitted a distaste for “organics” (I later realised she was talking about organs). Her opinions of the food and wine pairings during the dinner were precise and succinct, displaying an in-depth experience that belied her youthful 24 years. The German Wine Queen competition has been around for a long time (since 1949 in fact), but Annika will be setting a precedent as the first wine queen to engage Asia in a big way. 

Her Majesty's ring representing the German wine regions
Her travelling schedule means that she has had to put her viticultural studies at Geisenheim on hold this year, but once her duties as the German Wine Queen are over, she intends to complete her studies and join the family winery, Weingut Strebel. I ask her what qualities she would look for in a German Wine Prince to aid her work. There is only the briefest of pauses before she replies with a twinkle in her eye, “He’d better be able to help me carry my bags!”

The throne only has room for one. Long live the Queen.

Monday 23 April 2012

Exploring Wine & Spirits Asia

In 2010 when I went to Wine & Spirits Asia (WSA) I was struck by how lacklustre the event was. Lingering concerns over the economy, coupled with travel issues due to the volcanic ash put a dampener over the exhibition. It still proved to be a fruitful outing for me personally as I made several new friends during that day whom I still keep in contact with. 

This year could not have been more different. There was a palpable excitement in the air and a horde of visitors. Long jams were seen at the entrance to the Expo, and come closing time, the number of people seen at the MRT station would have been enough to make one wonder if the train system had broken down again. Try as I might, I could visit a fraction of the booths during the two days I attended. 

Michael turns part time promoter for Amedei
It was my luck and pleasure to bump into renowned pastry chef Michael Lau while I was there. All I can say is, freebies start appearing when you are accompanied by a person as keen on his craft as Michael is. Listening to him rattle on about complicated production methods is alien to me, but at least I know there's a technical reason why good stuff tastes good.

The wine talks were worthwhile, and I wish that I had time to attend more of them. Local wine expert Lim Hwee Peng, in conjunction with Sopexa, gave a detailed breakdown on the Languedoc-Roussillon region that went into wine styles, terroir and the assorted AOPs (Appellation d'Origine Protegée). Sopexa has long been active in Singapore and I am glad that they are continuing to promote French wine. They were not the only generic body at WSA though. The Deutsches Weininstitut or German Wine Institute were also actively promoting German wines. They had a powerful weapon in their arsenal in the form of Annika Strebel, the attractive 24-yr old German Wine Queen. 

When associating an alcoholic beverage with Singapore, you can't get more iconic than the Singapore Sling, a cocktail created by barman Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel around the beginning of the last century. What I didn't know was that the drink was apparently created for a British colonial to assist in his wooing of a woman at the bar. A fanciful story perhaps, but it adds to the allure surrounding the cocktail. The ingredients for this drink are gin, Cointreau, Grenadine syrup, Dom Benedictine, cherry brandy, Angostura bitters and pineapple juice. Soda water may be added for froth. Nowadays, the cocktail can be found in pre-mix bottles, needing only pineapple juice to complete the drink.

The food and wine events calendar continues to be packed. Next up is the World Gourmet Summit which runs from 23rd April to 3rd May. 

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Apple and Grapes: A review of iPad Wine Magazines

In the realm of technological gadgets, I would be considered a laggard. I use my devices for years until they give out and then suffer panic attacks trying to transfer my data into new, unfamiliar devices. You know it's bad when your parents ask if you've got WhatsApp and you have no idea what they're talking about. Last year, I was happily tapping on my Palm PDA (does anyone remember what a PDA is? Or Palm?) when the tech gods, fed up at my slow pace of adoption, caused it to slip out my hand (and its casing), subsequently landing face first onto the tarmac. And then a car ran over it.

Cursing (under my breath, as in my pocket was an ancient phone I hoped they hadn't yet noticed), I was forced to queue in line for the then newly released iPad 2. Fortunately, it is a joy to use. A wealth of applications means that the iPad possesses great versatility (although my niece is somewhat disappointed that she cannot find Angry Birds on it). I have found it an indispensable device for taking down wine notes and keeping tabs on appointments.

The large, clearly lit screen also means that the iPad is a great reading device. Despite initial concerns, I have not felt any eye strain from reading articles on it for an extended period. Wine magazines have started to expand into this new distribution channel, with varying degrees of success. Here's a list of some of the magazines available in the App Store.  

1. Decanter Magazine International

Official blurb
Decanter is Europe's leading wine magazine and is read by experts and enthusiasts alike. It has an exciting mix of news, interviews with leading wine personalities, regional profiles, plus recommendations from classic regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy to the new wine stars of the New World and beyond.

App is free to download, each issue costs US$7.99.  

Decanter is probably the best wine magazine out there, with insightful articles and just the right amount of depth that will appeal to wine novices and experts alike. The iPad version is a straight copy of the print edition, which means that you have to zoom in to read the tiny font. The user interface could be improved. It took me a few tries before I found out that I had to tap on the bottom of the screen to bring up the menu, and if you want to e-mail an article, you have to go through the troublesome process of selecting the part of the article you want to send. There are also a few bugs with the application, for example, sometimes I was unable to scroll down to view all the issues available under the Store page. A sample issue is available. The iPad version is a surprising let-down considering the high quality of the magazine.

2. Wines and Vines

Official blurb
The Wines & Vines App is the one-stop for wine industry news, articles and wine sales channel data and analysis.


A well written, in-depth look at winemaking. This magazine will appeal to hard-core wine geeks. Each issue is broken into several sections that are easily accessed via the Navigator button on the top left. The magazine makes use of digital features by embedding videos and providing a search function. Articles can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and via e-mail. Technicality of articles can be daunting for the wine novice. A recent issue focused on the use of oak to set tannin structure, improve colour through co-pigmentation and mask the vegetal characteristics of pyrazines. If that last statement didn't cause your eyes to glaze over, this mag's for you.

3. Palate Press

Official blurb
Palate Press is a modern electronic wine magazine, providing the most exciting and interesting wine content available today. Columnists, sommeliers, wine growers and wine lovers all contribute to the magazine, producing weekly feature stories from around the world, along with daily tasting notes, wine advice, and more.  

App is free to download, each issue costs US$0.99

The strength of this magazine lies in its diversity. There are articles on wine science, food pairing, health, wine trends, cocktails, regional reports and a book review, all in one issue. This tends to make the magazine less focused than others reviewed here. The iPad version contains additional content not found on the online version of the magazine. In terms of visual appeal, the magazine looks as though someone pasted everything in a word processor, added a few images and links, and converted it into a pdf. Interesting reads, but not enough value-add compared to just reading off the website.

4. Uncorked

Official blurb
Wine from Grape to Glass. Engaging and accessible coverage of the world of wine from an editor who's actually a vintner himself. Uncorked brings you wine news, discerning reviews, taste tests, and unexpected but delicious food pairings. You'll also get plenty of luscious photos and behind-the-scenes stories from vineyards and winemakers around the world.

App is free to download. Subscription plans cost US$0.99 a month or $9.99 a year (for 48 issues).

Beautiful, vivid photographs and accessible articles make this magazine a joy to browse through. The display is optimised for the iPad and is thus easy on the eyes. The content is well-organised; divided into news, human interest and tasting notes. It makes nifty use of the iPad features by embedding videos and slideshows, making reading a truly interactive experience. With several free issues available and a wallet-friendly subscription plan, this is a worthwhile addition to the wine lover's digital library. 

5. James Halliday's Wine Companion

Official blurb
The NEW James Halliday’s Wine Companion ipad magazine is essential reading for both new and established Australian wine lovers. The magazine features articles by James Halliday (who better to explain how to taste wine than the great man himself?), the most sought-after wine reviews, travel through the great wine regions of the world, wine and food news, lunch interviews with winemakers, cheese makers, cider makers, coffee roasters and even brewers.

App is free to download, each issue costs US$6.99.

James Halliday is Australia's best known wine writer and the leading authority on Australian wines. So when he decides to put out a magazine, you can be sure it's going to be well-written and informative. I love the ease of navigation, interactive displays and array of fun and interesting articles. The magazine makes full use of the iPad's capabilities. For example, you can tap on a gorgeously detailed picture of a steak to reveal the recipe, cooking method and wine match. It's a magazine that will appeal to anyone who has an interest in food and wine. Well worth the price.