Ronny Lau’s first encounter with wine goes back to his childhood, when his father liked to share a bottle of wine with him at dinner, though he had little to do with wine until he started working for a magazine as a graphic designer. His then boss invited him to write a column in which talked about wine when no one else was writing about the topic.
If the world is filled with too much information today, the 1980s was the opposite. The only way for Lau to research wine was to buy books, which were always at a discount since interest was low. There was not a big selection of wines in the market either, unlike today when even supermarkets stock wines from all over the world.
However, too much information and too many choices also make it hard for the general public to differentiate and make good judgements. This is where critics like Lau can bridge the gap and narrow the choices for consumers.
“I have always been fascinated by taste and wanted to study the tastes of wine, and understand the reasons for the differing tastes,” says Lau. “The problem for critics was that we could only rely on second hand information such as books. But I preferred to visit the wine regions and see things first hand.”
In 2008, opportunities arose when Hong Kong removed all wine duties, and international wine merchants began to see the potential of the Hong Kong market. Wine critics such as Lau began to receive vineyard invitations so they could write more in-depth, comprehensive reviews.
“Wine is a great general education subject as it is related to history, geography, gastronomy and culture. A good wine can always reflect the local culture because even the same type of grape variety planted using the same techniques can result in very different wines in different places. Drinking wine is the cheapest way to travel the world,” Lau argues.
Wine and music
Music is another passion of Lau’s, as he once worked in the music industry, and he likes to listen to music while drinking wine. He realised long ago how the palate can change with the influence of music, but research from a Scottish university confirmed it for him.
“The study shows that some music can affect the palate, and some wines taste better after you listen to music. For example, if you pair cabernet sauvignon with rock ’n’ roll, 60 percent more people will like the wine better”
He has since released two albums with Warner on music and wine pairing based on texture and structure. Full-bodied wines go best with thick textured music, such as traditional jazz, while sparkling wines suit mid-tempo chill-out music because of the rhythmic bubbling. Rosé is best paired with bossa nova, a hybrid of jazz and pop.
To share his unique insight on wine and music pairing, Lau periodically organises dinners or events, which sometimes feature live bands.
From critic to wine maker
A chance encounter with Mario Ercolino led Lau to try his hand at winemaking. After accompanying the master wine maker on a consultation tour to Tuscany, Lau was challenged by Ercolino to make a wine because he was so picky. Surprised with the result, Ercolino said he had never tasted anything like it before and decided to commercialise it. Lau then made a series of five wines in 2009, which has since sold out. The 2012 vintage will be launched later this year. Not surprisingly, Lau designs his own labels, complete with music pairing suggestions.
Find your own taste
Taste is very personal but good judgement also comes with experience. Lau suggests starting by tasting the same grape variety from different regions in high and low price ranges to get an understanding of the international standard.
Wine making technologies are ever evolving, along with the wines made by new techniques. Stainless steel barrels lower the risk of germs but they also alter the tastes of wines traditionally stored in oak barrels. Recently Lau visited the Podere Forte winery in Tuscany, whose owner is also an engineer who builds his own machinery to perfect every step of the process. The resulting wines have no weakness but it is still up to every individual to decide whether they like it or not.
For more expensive wines, Lau usually orders directly from official dealers or suggests going to a reputable wine shop where the owner selects wines for the quality and not for profit margins. Rare & Fine Wines and Ponti Wine Cellars get his nod for their fine selections and reasonable pricing.