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March 28, 2010

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Italian banquet food meets French match

FRENCH wine importer Thibaut de la Haye was almost nostalgic when talking before dinner in Shanghai recently of the mid-1990s when he and a small band of traders were trying to rustle up interest in wine in China.

"My first business trip was 1996 when we started producing wine here, bottling bulk in Xiamen, and with Don St Pierre we were the beginners in the Chinese market," said de la Haye, now director of Antoine Moueix wines in Bordeaux.

"But in 2010, I look at the speed of this market and how quickly the Chinese learn. Look what we are drinking tonight with the menu, the way they have educated the consumers, it has gone so fast."

The food and wine matching dinner is a set piece in the wine marketing trade and back in the 1990s de la Haye said he could only tempt foreigners to taste his wines in China.

That has changed as Chinese drinkers become increasingly more interested in imported wines and French producers, such as first growths like Chateau Lafite, are overwhelmed by the rapid shift in demand that is stressing supplies to traditional markets.

"We can feel there is a trend toward connoisseurs, not only drinkers, and this is something completely different to what we encountered when we started," de la Haye said.

"Now we have a wine boom in China and people drink the wine, it's not just kept in storage. The more they drink, the more they learn. The more they discover, the more they want to choose different things."

Moueix wines are marketed in China through COFCO's Fine Wine division and were served to Chinese wine aficionados, retailers and restaurant and hotel F&B managers at Leonardo's, the Hilton Shanghai's upscale restaurant.

Executive chef Emmanuel Souliere prepared a five-course connoisseurs' banquet of dazzling Italian cuisine matched with three Moueix wines.

The appetizer salmon and green apple tartar terrine with sea scallop and dill spaghetti was served with the A. Moueix Bordeaux White 2007, a two-year-old semillon and sauvignon blend with smooth elegance and soft aromas thanks to the semillon. The balance of grapes created a bed of velvet for the succulent salmon and tartar.

This wine was served again with the soup but was discreetly treated as an optional sip by diners given the combative spices in the duck and mushroom consomme that was poured over a carpaccio of duck breast.

The morsel-sized medallions of cod fish were almost innocuous in the sea spider emulsion and white bean puree entree. In their diminutive state on the big plate they seemed to be ill-matched to any drink that was not white.

Yet the A. Moueix Bordeaux Reference 2006, oak aged and consisting of 60 percent merlot and 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, was a suitably soft, mild wine with medium body and no strong tannic taste.

The combination of red wine with fish is often tricky but is generally a safe choice with cod fish which is usually salty, fatty and with distinctive flavors. While a Medoc or a St Emilion certainly would be too big for this dish, the subtle, elegant Reference just made the grade on the night because the flesh of this cod was sweeter and more succulent than expected. Full points to Souliere.

De la Haye pulled out the big guns, the A. Moueix St Emilion 2006, for the main course of grilled Australian Wagyu beef rump with smoked mashed potato and beef marrow. The wine °?-- a blend of 80 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet franc -- was perfectly matched to the succulent, perfectly fired beef, the merlot rounding off the fragrant intensity of the cabernet franc and the meat matching it pound-for-pound in flavor.

Souliere's "killer app" for the night was a rich, lemongrass infused parcel of liquid chocolate cashew nut cake served with a Pommery Brut NV, there being no Champagne in the A. Moueix portfolio.

While the salmon appetizer was a brilliant start to the meal the different reds matched with the cod fish and beef brought out the sublime qualities of the kitchen's skills and the grand cru wine maker's ageless art. The restaurant and wines are highly recommended.


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