Talking Wine with...

Talking Wine with...

Richard Ekkebus, Michelin Chef

In our interview series Talking Wine with..., we are talking with interesting people from the international world of wine about their love of wine.

How did they become wine lovers? What are their favorite wines? And what was the most disappointing bottle ever?

Today we are Talking Wine with Chef Richard Ekkebus, director of culinary operations and food and beverage at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and Culinary Director at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Amber.

We spoke to Chef Ekkebus about Dutch 'maatjesharing', a tasting of eleven great vintages of Château Latour and his views on Chinese wine. He also takes us on a (virtual) food tour through his city, Hong Kong!

WINE PASSPORT RICHARD EKKEBUS

favorite producer: Domaine Marquis D'Angerville

Favorite regions: Ultimately Burgundy, Rhone, Piemonte & Tuscany 

Best music to drink wine to: Miles Davis; Kind of Blue

BEST OF WINES FAVORITES:

A.F. Gros, ECHEZEAUX 2015
*
Armand Rousseau, CHAMBERTIN 2010 
*
 Chateau de Beaucastel, CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE 'HOMMAGE JACQUES PERRIN' 2013

You are originally from the Netherlands, but you have lived abroad for many years now. What are Dutch dishes and products that you love and miss?

I miss mussels cooked in beer, 'maatjesharing' (Dutch new herring) and genuine very old Gouda cheese is amongst the first things I will eat when I arrive in Holland. But I am living outside of Holland for 35 years, so it is not like I ship these items. It's mostly when I am in Holland and the nostalgy takes over, that I want to eat these things.

We know that you are a wine aficionado and connoisseur. Can you tell us how you became a wine lover? Do you remember that first ‘wow- moment’?

It started when I worked in Chateau Neercanne. The amazing cellars in the caves behind the chateau where a constant attraction to me. In this time, I also started to travel to France to discover Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire regions! After that, I worked for Robert Kranenborg in restaurant Corona. We had a very passionate sommelier team. Wine suppliers always came to the restaurant with amazing wines and discoveries and that was the moment that I started to become a true geek. I would read a monthly German magazine called Gourmet and a large part of it was dedicated to wine.

With a group of chefs, we saved up collectively to buy amazing bottles of wine that was featured in the magazine (otherwise we would not have been able to afford them) and shared the bottles. This was when I discovered some really amazing wines for the first time, like Barbaresco’s from Gaja which made me a lifelong fan of the Gaja family. I have been lucky to have a great relationship with Angelo and Gaia Gaja. He taught me to also love young Barbaresco and to drink them with seafood. When Angelo showed me his property in Tuscany, Ca Marcanda, and on our way to lunch in his favourite seafood restaurant at the seaside, he told me we would stop in Bolgheri to say hi to a friend. All of a sudden we stood in front of Mr Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta of the legendary Sassicaia. He was all covered in horse hair as he just brushed his horses. I realized I was in the presence of two of the most legendary Italian wine makers who put Italy in the wine stratosphere; a highly unusual situation!

Hong Kong is very wine-minded. Do you see differences in the wine culture in Hong Kong restaurants compared to restaurants in Europe or the USA?

When I arrived in Hong Kong sixteen years ago, the city was predominantly Bordeaux-driven and I was told: "If you want a successful restaurant, you need to have a strong Bordeaux focused wine list". As my true loves are Burgundy, Rhone, Piemonte and Super Tuscans, I had trouble listening to this advice. I wanted the wine list to reflect what I love. Being a chef and how I operate is purely out of self-indulgence; I cook what I love to eat and wine should not stay behind. It should reflect my likes. Our wine list was therefore not the usual one. As I followed my heart, we had even (and still have) a very strong sake selection that was unheard of in French restaurants. We developed a logistic to manage the wine list on a tablet PC, the front runner of the Ipad. We were way ahead of our time!

But I think I can say that, with Amber, we shifted the focus from Bordeaux to a way broader drinking pattern in Hong Kong. We are proud that we have contributed to a more adventurous drinking habit. Burgundy and Rhone are both huge in Hong Kong now, both reds and whites. Wine pairings as we traditionally know them are not super popular in this city and to be fair, personally I feel that the concept is terrible. I dislike to have ten courses with ten different wines; it is exhausting! We do focus on offering wines in decanters by using the Vin emotion and Coravin systems. Also, we offer 100 different wines in 250 and 500 ml and this enables us to offer great options. We also have an exceptionally broad half-bottle selection; a size that I love.

"personally I feel that the concept OF WINE PAIRINGS is terrible. I dislike to have ten courses with ten different wines; it is exhausting!"

It’s clear that the quality and popularity of wines from China is rising. According to you, what are good Chinese wines and what is your opinion in general about wine production in China? Do you have any on the wine list of Amber?

We operate in a very mature wine market and there is no demand for wines from China. We have still a long way to go in China, but there are some interesting things happening. I believe China will need to find its own terroir and DNA instead of trying to copy wine styles. At this moment in our restaurant Amber, we only feature Ao Yun (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, produced in the foothills of the Himalayas).

As a chef you have travelled the world. What are some of your favorite culinary destinations in the world?

I am very fortunate, my family and I are truly culinary gypsies. We lived with our children in four continents and as a result of that globetrotter life style, my daughter settled down in Mauritius and my son studies in New York; we are a global family. Our favorite places to travel for food remain the old-world countries France, Italy, Spain.

If we would visit you in Hong Kong and we would have the opportunity to spend a day together, where would you take us to eat and drink well locally? (except for Amber of course!)

A perfect day would start with a visit to the Aberdeen wet market to be followed by a great congee breakfast. I would bring you to Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan. We shall take the opportunity to visit some of the traditional dried seafood stores, crash a Tai Chi lesson in the park, followed by a yum cha lunch in Luk Yu Tea House located on Stanley Street in the Central District of Hong Kong. As a long-time favourite of many famous writers, Luk Yu is Hong Kong's oldest (est. 1933) and one of its most famous tea houses and has been frequently featured in movies and literature. We'll burn the calories with a nice hike in the afternoon, followed by a few drinks in one of Hong Kong’s finest bars before enjoying a great meal in Xin Rong Ji Restaurant that is known for its seafood. Unlike a typical Cantonese menu, there are very little meat or poultry dishes; instead the focus is on fish and seafood. One of the signature fish here is the wild yellow croaker which can fetch over HK$10,000 per catty. Having said that, their Roasted Peking Duck is probably one of the very best in Hong Kong and their home style dishes are extremely delicious too. By now I think you will be in a food coma and ready for a sleep!

Do you remember the best wine/food pairing you ever had?

Definitely that moment with Angelo Gaja, drinking young Barbaresco with seafood!

We have been told that at home, your wife is the chef and that you are mainly responsible for the wine pairings. Which wines do you prefer to drink at home?

I am very sportive and only drink on my day off, so when we open wine we more often open a red wine or occasionally a sake. It is true that I rarely cook at home and my wife does the cooking even when we have guests. I am the sommelier! I have two EuroCaves that are well stocked and I make sure to keep it that way. In general, my director of wine John Chan keeps me posted on what is hot and what is not and alongside I read various magazines that keep me updated. When we entertain, we love to drink from magnums, when it is just my wife and I, we drink the smaller formats. So, we do not drink a lot but when we do it is a truly little feast. I love to open a Sine Qua Non by the amazing winemaker Manfred Krankl, a great Burgundy, Rhone or great Italian bottle and sometimes a Bordeaux (as my wife loves Bordeaux) I judge if it needs decanting and then in general, we finish the bottle over the evening, sometimes tempted to open a second, which does happen occasionally as life is too short!

Have you ever witnessed a big wine faux-pas that you feel free to tell us about?

Yes, a guest ordering our best beluga caviar Huso Huso from Petrossian and ordered a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1982 to be enjoyed with it. We explained that the tannins would bring the worse out in the caviar but he insisted. Well, guest is king! After a few minutes the guest told us the caviar was too fishy. We opened an amazing vintage Champagne and fixed the damage.

"After a few minutes the guest told us the caviar was too fishy. We opened an amazing vintage Champagne and fixed the damage"

Could you tell us about your most memorable wine moment of all time? 

It is hard to pick the most memorable as Hong Kong is an exceptional tax free wine hub and a very wealthy city. A city where the world’s most prestigious wine auctions are taking place. We are the only city besides Bordeaux to have a bi-yearly VinExpo. So what we daily experience in Hong Kong and in our restaurants is rarely seen anywhere in the world. Being the chef of Amber, guests are often very generous in sharing their experiences with me and I have been extremely fortunate and have tasted many exceptional wines. If I had to pick one it has to be a dinner I cooked for a great Amber supporter; Mr Frédéric Engerer from Château Latour together with Christie's. The dinner served eleven vintages of Château Latour, with the majority of the wines served from magnum. The youngest vintage was 1964 and the oldest 1898 (magnum). The preparations of the wines by our team and Frederic and Anthony Hanson from Christie's was legendary, all wines being double decanted.

And the most disappointing bottle ever?

The most disappointing has to be a bottle of - what turned out to be - a non-existing 'Romanée-Conti' vintage that was without a doubt a refill or a fake. Opening this type of wines come with huge expectations, so to see a vivid bright color being poured into a decanter raises eye brows immediately. And to find expressions of young, bright red fruits in an old vintage bottle, well that just is a real bummer… It showed the importance of buying from reliable sources and where feasible directly from the estate/château. 

Every wine lover is always trying to find new wineries to love. Could you think of wine producers that you have recently discovered and that you want to share with our readers?

I am a huge fan of Sami-Odi; a very small organic producer from Barossa Valley in Australia (they produce around 1500 bottles per year). With obscure names like MCMXII they make very small batch Syrah from 16 to max 27 hectoliters per hectare. They're absolute geek wines that mature exceptionally well. I opened 2010 Sami-Odi ‘Hoffmann Dallwitz” MCMXII Syrah (that was assembled during the descending moon of October 2010) a few weeks ago and was again blown away. You have to be listed to get their wines and it's hard to squeeze in, but when you can please do get whatever you can get your hands on!

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