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November 26, 2009

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Wines to pair with Asian tastes

Fresh from rubbing shoulders with Austria's president last month, Elizabeth Kamper was espousing the virtues of her wine company Esterhazy's products at Shanghai's food and wine fair, FHC China 2009, last week.

With other Austrian wine companies, Kamper took an audience of about 100 Chinese food and beverage managers, importers and journalists through the relatively new but distinctive delights of the country's vine products.

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board led a delegation of about 50 wine producers and marketers to the Shanghai New International Expo Center fair for its first organized foray into the China market.

Kamper helms the rejuvenated Esterhazy brand whose tradition dates back to the 17th century but was only revived in 2006 after being dormant since World War II.

It was at the company's winery at Trausdorf in Eisenstadt that Kamper hosted Austrian President, Dr Heinz Fischer, through a guided tour and tasting of varieties such as the Pinot Blanc Cru Single Tatschler and the top cuvee Tesoor.

The business is in the Burgenland wine-growing district in the state of Lower Austria and yields a variety of Pannonian region styles, including pinot blanc, chardonnay, big reds, noble pinot noir and a chardonnay ice wine.

Kamper is upfront about the task ahead of the Austrian wine industry in breaking into the Chinese market.

"In China, Austrian wines have to start from zero. We don't compare ourselves to the bigger exporting nations already doing business in China, we are a boutique wine country," she says.

"We have very small quantities but there is a very high level of quality."

Enthused by finding Austrian wine sold by the glass at a restaurant in Xintiandi, Kamper espouses the suitability of the sweet and pinot noir styles with spicy Chinese food and cites a recent tasting in Singapore.

"It consisted of a first round open tasting of wines, then a second round blind tasting and out of five tastings with Asian food, the Austrian wines won," she says.

The wine board's marketing manager Christian Dworan is optimistic about the knowledge of Austrian wines that already exists with sommeliers, the wine professionals working in restaurants in the China market.

"I was surprised about what they know of Austrian wines - I didn't have to introduce the wines to them, they were coming to my booth and asking for the varieties," he says.

"These guys are really good tasters who love our wines because they are high in acidity and are really good with some of the Asian foods."

Acknowledging Austria is only just scratching the surface of the Chinese wine market, Dworan says about eight companies were exporting only "some cases" at present although an importer ordered a container of wine during the fair.

With a predominance of mostly dry whites made from the gruner veltliner grape and luscious sweet styles, the country's wine-making history dates back about 4,000 years so it is relatively late in starting its China journey.

But Dworan, Kamper and their food fair colleagues are committed to the future.

"It's the first time we've taken part in this show and we just want to get an impression of what wines the Chinese people like, what wines they focus on and what kind of people are attending to see where we should start working, because it's a completely new market for us," Kamper says.


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