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Winning words' prize moment

IT'S taken me nearly a fortnight to recover but the memories of my 24 hours in Verona in Italy are as fresh as an acidic young white wine. I flew across the great Eurasian continent to attend a black-tie gala ball where our wine guide had been nominated for one of the world's most prestigious wine book awards. Even at my embarkation point, Taipei's Taoyuan Airport, I was already quite fatigued as the preceding four days were a tiring mix of wine and media events in Taipei, Shanghai, Dalian and Hong Kong. I can assure you that being a wine writer has its rewards, but it can also be quite exhausting.

Flying nearly halfway around the world to attend a gala ball may sound excessive but having the chance to win such a prestigious award made the distance seem insignificant. Soon after arriving in Verona I was hectically steaming my suit, trying like mad to get all the wrinkles out. With a modicum of success and my bow tie properly fastened I was out the door and rushing to the dinner. What unfolded over the course of the evening was truly ineffable, but as a writer I'm professionally obliged to try to put the experience into written word.

Verona is certainly one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in the world and the site for Vinitaly which is the most important wine event in Italy and the second biggest wine exhibition in the world. In my opinion, it's also the best organized wine fair in the world. I've attended Vinitaly twice before as a guest of the Italian government but this time I was on my own with the sole purpose of attending the gala ball held on a Friday night. My "ISACS Wine Guide Best 100 Wines in China" had been nominated for the "Best International Wine Guide 2011" by the Grandi Cru d'Italia who are also the organizers of the evening event. This elite organization consists of 120 of the highest-rated and most prestigious wine producers in Italy.

Arriving at the elegant Palazzo della Ragione, an ornate Renaissance hall where the ball is held, I was immediately impressed by the synergistic mix of the striking architecture and elegantly attired crowd. The hundreds of gentlemen in their black-tie suits and women in their evening gowns added to the elegance of this special evening. The evening comprised the crme-de-la-crme of Italian wine society replete with princesses, dukes, barons, viscounts and other nobility as well as renowned international wine media. I was lucky to run into two old friends, Jessie Fang, the CEO of top Taiwan importer Leading Brands Wines and Spirits, and Francisco Ricasoli, the 32nd Baron Ricasoli and the owner of one of Italy's best and most historic wineries. The evening was yet another reminder that in matters of elegance, style and presentation, few people can compete with the Italians.

My table number 39 initially meant little to me until I walked to the front of the room near the stage and realized I was seated with Marchese Vittorio Frescobaldi, chairman of Grandi cru d'Italia and Paolo Panerai, vice chairman of the committee. In China, we respect and value feng shui, and believe me this table had the best feng shui in the place. Frescobaldi and Panerai are dignified gentlemen who walk in the most rarified air of Italian winemaking. I deemed this a good omen for my chances of winning until the evening wore on and doubts began to surface.

The carefully arranged stack of awards dwindled as the fortunate winners of the "Best Italian Wine Store", "Best International Wine Store" and "Best Italian Wine Writer" all luckily won their Florentine silver grape vine trophies. My trepidation grew. Did I really fly this distance to go home empty handed? To comfort myself I thought being nominated is honor enough and in light of the prominent competition not winning would be no embarrassment at all. But I still had a burning desire to win.

Finally as dessert was served, Frescobaldi and Panerai once again mounted the stage along with the Italian hostess to announce the next prizes. My time of judgment was upon me. The culmination of my evening unfolded, "and now for the best international wine guide of 2011, the nominees are…" was read as our pictures popped up on a giant screen a la Oscars style. Then suddenly as our wine guide was announced as the winner, the trepidations, the doubts and the distance of my travel evaporated into an exhilaration of pride and appreciation. I had my own silver grape leaf!

Accepting a prestigious award on stage in front of many of the wine world's most important people is certainly a heady experience but as proud and honored as I was about receiving this important and prestigious award, in my heart I realized that winning this prize was just as much about the importance and potential of China as it was about the recognition and professionalism of our guide. In fact, this realization made me even happier as I have always known that my future and the future of our ISACS Guides is one with the future of China. This prize was an acknowledgement and victory for us all of us who love wine in China.


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