Hokkaido Wines at Park90 Niseko

  • By Tsuyuki

In conversation with Park90 group wine director and Best Sommelier in Asia, Mason Ng.

Park90 is working in collaboration with the Hokkaido Government to showcase a carefully curated selection of Hokkaido wines at their wine bars in Niseko, Singapore and Taiwan. Park90 Group wine director and Best Sommelier in Asia, Mason Ng, recently toured the region to select a bespoke list of Hokkaido’s finest wines. Whilst in Niseko, he held an intimate Masterclass in Hokkaido wines at the Park90 wine bar, with a tasting of eight varieties. We caught up with Mason to learn more about Park90, his recent Masterclass, being a sommelier, and his take on how to best enjoy wines from the Hokkaido region.

Park90 opened their first outlet in Singapore. Can you tell us more about the team behind Park90 and how the company started?  

I was the first Sommelier for the Park90 project. We started with a wine program which was very much focused on French wine. Now we are moving towards International, with wines from Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, China and Japan as well. So we are trying to expand that segment a bit more. And recently we have this collaboration with the Hokkaido Government to bring Hokkaido wines into Singapore and Park90 in Niseko. The team is very diverse, we have teams coming from Taiwan, Malaysia - I myself am Malaysian - and Japan, China, Singapore. The team are all highly skilled, with a big focus on ongoing training and development.

You were crowned best sommelier in Asia ? Can you tell us more about this impressive title and what it takes to become a sommelier?

I was not expecting to win this title, so it was a very big shock. It is actually one of the tougher competitions for sommeliers. It’s like an Olympic competition. They select the world's best sommelier, through an internal selection process to determine who will represent the country. We went to Tokyo for this competition, and it was quite intense. It includes coffee, sake, cigar, water, beer, wine, spirits, cocktails and anything that is beverage related. The toughest part was the semi finals. They gave us three plates of coffee beans and asked us to identify the variety, country of origin, roasting, and then create three different types of coffee beverages and a food pairing. That was just one component, but it was very memorable for me. We will be competing in Paris in February for the World’s Best title.

Hokkaido wines are relatively unknown outside of Japan. As a professional who has tasted some of the finest wines across the world, how do wines from Hokkaido compare in terms of quality and finish?

I think it’s definitely improving since I first tried Hokkaido wines about three years ago. The quality has improved a lot with more technology. And Japanese sommeliers are getting exposure for Japanese winemaking across the world. A few that you tasted were Hirakawa and Le Reve, which are my favourites. In terms of comparing, I think they are quite similar, to a certain extent Germany and France, in terms of style. The pinot noir and chardonnay are exciting to taste here. Domaine Takahiko and there's one more which is Yamazaki Winery. Very high quality wines are being produced here. 

If you were going to compare Hokkaido wines to another region in the world in terms of grapes, soil, acidity etc, which region would best compare? Is Hokkaido a special place for wine?

I think it's definitely a very unique place. It is covered in a very thick layer of snow. It is unique to an extent where the grape varieties, a lot of it we don’t usually drink, even from Germany and Austria. The grapes used in Hokkaido are generally not really treated as serious grapes. It is great to see them in Hokkaido. I feel Hokkaido wines have a certain romance to them as well. It is a cool climate, so you have good acidity. It is not too warm, so it's not too full bodied. I think the general trend of people drinking wines is towards this direction. Not too much the full bodied, powerful wines. So in terms of the flavour profile it is very understandable, very likeable.

What tips do you have for someone wanting to try our Hokkaido wines, but unsure where to start?

The best way to try Hokkaido wines is to go to restaurants or bars with a sommelier. That will mean the wines are more handpicked for the place. Not just drinking Hokkaido wines for the sake of drinking Hokkaido wines. Go to places that have a reputation for having sommeliers curating the wine list to showcase the best Hokkaido wines, not buying random Hokkaido wines off the shelf. Ask the local estates or sommeliers about their preferences. 

What is your personal favourite of all the wines you have tasted this week and why? 

Hirakawa and Le Reve. These two are probably my favourites. Le Reve Miyabi.I really liked this particular wine because it was a small production and the quality of the fruit was right. It has great acidity and it is very balanced in style. And if I were to compare the style of how it tastes, it almost tastes like an Italian wine. It is very juicy, very vibrant, with fresh dark fruits, and it’s not too tannin, not too sweet or simple. It has nice depth and minerality.

Many people love wine, but can find it intimidating when they see so many different wines to choose from and so they go for their mainstay grape? What advice would you give?

I think first off you need to know what kind of wines you like. Be able to identify what style of grape variety you like. I recommend you take photos of wine that you have enjoyed. When you’d like to try a new wine, take that photo or the name of the wine and speak to a sommelier about what you liked about the wine. The sommelier will take something from the wine list that can match. When you want to try something new, it can be very intimidating because you are committing to a bottle. It's not like cocktails where you can try just one. You are committing to a bottle price and you don’t know what it tastes like. So just speak with a sommelier and if they are experienced enough, they will know what kind of profile will match your preferences. 

Do you have a favourite wine that is your go to wine when you are drinking at home for pleasure?

Beaujolais. A cool beaujolais from France would be my favourite after work wine. 

Can we expect to see more wine masterclasses in the future? Perhaps tours of the local vineyards?

Definitely, we were discussing it as a team. We would like to have some more masterclasses in future. We have had some good responses from people that they really like the Hokkaido wine flights. So definitely more masterclasses and wine flights so people can sample some of Hokkaido’s fine wines.

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