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Dinner Party 101: How to pick the best wines at your local supermarket

By Localiiz Branded | 17 June 2024

Header image courtesy of Market Place

Ever find yourself stuck in front of the wine aisle of your local supermarket, incapable of deciding what to bring to the dinner party you are invited to? Us too, and on too many occasions to count.

Enter Market Place with an effective solution—the lifestyle supermarket is announcing the Market Place Wine Awards 2024, with a panel of professional judges selecting the best wines fit for every occasion. By marking the awarded wines with a golden stamp as a token of quality, Market Place is taking away the stress of picking out a bottle, becoming your new personal sommelier!

Photo: Market Place

We talked with Derek Li, head judge of the wine awards, about this exciting programme. As the group sommelier of dining magnate Jia Group (the hospitality outfit behind acclaimed restaurants Estro, Ando, Duddell’s, Louise, and Leela, to name a few) and the first Hongkonger to obtain the prestigious Advanced Sommelier status, Li knows quite bit about picking a good bottle of wine!

We also spoke with Andy Lau, the senior wine category manager for Market Place and Wellcome, about the Wine Awards. Experienced in judging wine award ceremonies and proud holder of the WSET 3 wine qualification, Lau has been working in the wine industry for over 11 years. Here’s what they had to say.

Photo: Market Place

How do you feel about being one of the judges for the wine awards?

Derek Li: I’m very honoured to be one of the judges. I have experience as a wine judge for the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition as well. But it’s actually my first time judging for a supermarket, and I think it’s very impressive that it is doing something so unusual.

What are the differences between the wine awards and traditional wine contests?

Derek Li: International wine awards don’t need to concern themselves with sales, so they can pay attention to countries where wine production is growing like maybe Bulgaria or Romania. But in a supermarket-organised competition, you need to think about the consumers, and about what type of wine they would like to purchase. Holding a wine competition is a good strategy to keep only the good wines in supermarkets such as Market Place and get rid of wines of lesser quality. I think it’s good for the consumer.

Will you have different judging criteria?

Derek Li: The judging criteria are similar. As a wine judge, it’s all blind as we are not able to see the labels, so everything becomes fair and honest. We judge from our tasting experience only. We judge a wine’s quality, capacity, depth, and balance. There’s always room for improvement. It’s the very first time Market Place is doing this kind of competition, but we have given a lot of fair and positive comments.

Did you encounter any challenges when choosing the winners for the wine awards?

Derek Li: I think the biggest challenge for every single competition is not taking into account personal feelings about the wine. As a professional judge, we always need to be objective, to see the whole picture, as personal feelings can trap you into making the wrong decision. That’s why it’s so important to have a discussion with the other judges. Some wines come out very close! They are all exceptional, but you always need to decide which one is better.

Photo: Market Place

As a wine lover yourself, how would you rate the wines awarded? How can the award help people to choose from a wide variety of wine and understand more about the product?

Derek Li: I found that there were a lot of good surprises, and the people who selected the wines did a very good job. We find that with some good-quality producers who don’t do a lot of marketing, you sometimes have to go through a blind tasting to realise how good the wine is. On the contrary, with some producers who spend a lot of money on marketing, sometimes the quality is not really there, and it’s not fair to the consumer. Good wines can come from less popular producers, too. The most important thing about this award is that we take out all the commercial factors. When you see the gold award on a bottle, you know that we just focused on the quality of the wine. I can guarantee that the award can give customers some guidelines, like if you want to find the best Bordeaux and you see the gold award, you can definitely go for that, as we have tried it.

Most Hongkongers search for good-value-for-money wines. Do you think the types and quality of wines from the awards can satisfy this demand?

Derek Li: Sometimes, you pay so much money for wine which turns out to be disappointing. On this list, you can find wine priced between $100 and $200, which is what I think everyone can invest for a bottle of wine. We’re talking about something reasonable that you can drink daily and easily grab a bottle of from the supermarket. Most of the wines in this competition are not expensive at all, like a few hundred dollars, but will still give you a good surprise, so it is definitely worth giving them a try.

Can you tell us about how the demand for wine from a Hong Kong audience has grown in the last years? Any numbers or statistics to share with us?

Derek Li: I don’t have the exact numbers but the pandemic really helped supermarkets sales a lot. Our drinking habits have changed since the pandemic, with at-home dinner parties having become just as frequent as going out to restaurant. The consumption for entry-level wine in supermarkets and wine shops is definitely increasing.

With sales increasing, supermarkets have a bright future in wine sales and that’s why Market Place is trying to up the quality. Consumers’ knowledge is developing, and expectations are much higher than 10 years ago, which is why it’s kind of healthy for everyone, especially the industry, to push for improvements. I think it’s a good thing for all consumers in Hong Kong to have access to very good wine.

Photo: Market Place

How has the local consumer opinion towards wine developed over the years?

Andy Lau: Overall in Hong Kong, the wine trend for the past few years is that e-commerce is growing, likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Customers have changed their beliefs and are spending more money shopping online. The online wine case orders have expanded, with more than 100 items available online.

How do you source wine products for a local supermarket? What are the criteria? How does it differ from your past experiences in the wine industry?

Andy Lau: The main criteria for selecting wines is quality. We definitely need to have wines of great quality to meet our customers’ needs. The second criteria is variety. Market Place has a huge range of different kinds of wine—red wine, white wine, champagne, sparkling, sweet, et cetera—that suits the diverse customer base.

We also consider different price points to cater to customers with different budgets. We aim to strike a balance between value for money and quality, selecting high-quality wines at different price points that are great value for money. Customers can also choose their wine easily at our stores for different occasions like parties or gatherings.

Photo: Market Place

Based on your experience as a wine judge, how does this retailer-organised wine awards differ from more traditional wine competitions?

Andy Lau: Previously, I worked in retail wine shops in Singapore and Hong Kong, where we focused on premium wines. Now, at the supermarket, we can reach a different, broader customer base, so the product mix is quite different.

We had to taste over 200 wines in a blind tasting for this competition. We have partnered with a third party to find the tasting panel and judges, making the process more valid and trustworthy from the customer’s perspective. This provides customers with professional recommendations and guidelines when shopping.

The competition covers a wide range of wine types and origins, including Australia, France, and international wines, as well as different categories like rosé, sparkling, and champagne.

How can Market Place customers benefit from the wine awards?

Andy Lau: These wine awards can help customers have better trust and quality assurance, similar to the Q-Mark scheme in Hong Kong. Customers can shop for wines more easily and discover new wines they haven’t tried before while expanding their knowledge.

What type of wine has really grown in popularity among consumers?

Andy Lau: Over the past two to three years, sparkling wines and champagne have been growing a lot in popularity, and Australia and France are the two main countries of origin sold.

Photo: Market Place

Derek Li’s wine recommendations

Künstler Weiß Erd Riesling GG VDP

The first one is Riesling from Weingarten, Germany. This producer is iconic in the Weingarten region. I really like Riesling and I was surprised we could find it in Market Place. I really like the flavour, and the acidity is really refreshing. It’s 100 percent Riesling, dry, with less sugar. It’s really delicious. I was so happy we could award this wine through the blind test. This is one of the bottles I would buy for myself, even when I see it in the supermarket.

Grosse Lage & Torbreck The Struie Shiraz

The second wine is from an iconic producer from South Australia. It is very strong on Shiraz—a grape which usually creates jammy, heavy wines. This is much lighter, elegant, showing a lot of thinness, with a fruity and minty background.

Andy Lau’s wine recommendation

Motif Cabernet Sauvignon

Choosing wine is a personal preference, but for certain occasions like parties or celebrations, I would typically recommend white wines. Market Place also provides food-pairing recommendations, with a wine list of 44 wines matched with specific dishes, to help customers navigate their choices.

Stay tuned for the upcoming months and next year, as we plan to hold this wine competition annually. We will continue to introduce new trends and invite industry experts to discuss and taste the wines!


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