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A week to get spirited away

By Rebecca Lo | China Daily | Updated: 2014-06-07 14:09

Reporter's Log | Rebecca Lo

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'Give me your hand," says Ruslan Bragin, the marketing and sales representative of a Russian distiller.

What magic trick was the dapper East European gentleman up to? He poured onto my palm a small amount of polugar, a clear spirit dubbed "the father of vodka", made by Rodionov & Sons.

"Now rub your hands together quickly for about 30 seconds before cupping them to smell," he continues. I did. Surprisingly, it was like inhaling the smell of a loaf of fresh bread.

"That's polugar," Bragin says. He explains that prior to modern distillation methods, what was known as bread wine in Russia was produced for the upper class. Distilled from select grains, such as rye and wheat, it was banned in 1895.

A few years ago, vodka historian Boris Rodinov unearthed the 18th-century recipe books for polugar and resurrected the spirit. Now made in Poland, Bragin was eager to show that his products are suitable for enjoying straight in shots or as cocktails. He was one of eight spirit suppliers featured in master classes held at Vinexpo 2014, his first time exhibiting at the fair.

The focus on spirits as well as wine give this year's show an exciting vibe. It also attracts a number of new exhibitors keen to find fresh markets for products they are certain will make it big.

Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor is represented by a quartet of very keen Chinese who grew up enjoying the 38- to 58-proof alcohol spirit distilled from sorghum on an island between Taiwan and Xiamen. "Our liquor is the number-one brand in Taiwan, but we hope to expand into greater China," says Vivi Chen with Kinmen's department of sales.

Marco Savio, an Italian spirits importer, explains how his spirit genepi is conducive to health and digestion. "Genepi is a small plant from the Alps," he says. "Our product is made in Turin and I believe would appeal to the Chinese market."

I took a sip and agreed that it was intoxicating, with a slightly minty taste dominated by anise. Savio also imports oak-aged barrel rum from Panama, absinthe and grappa. He currently has distribution on the Chinese mainland but is seeking representation in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, at the Vinexpo Academy, British wine expert and writer Robert Joseph leads an informative master class showcasing wines from Argentina, Chile and South Africa. The same grapes grown in those countries were compared in their respective chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and syrah wines, to highlight the difference sunlight, altitude and proximity to the sea makes on the resulting vintage.

At Sogevinus' premium port-wine master class, international business manager Joao Monteiro tells us what to look out for as we taste flights of six ports ranging from rubies to tawnies. We traveled back in time, starting with Barros Vintage 2011 all the way to a deliciously elegant Kopke Porto Colheita 1938.

Despite the massive investment involving in aging some of his fortified wines, Monteiro admits that a French Bordeaux will always steal the limelight. "People are much more willing to pay for French products rather than Portuguese."

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