Mrs Gioia Morena Gatti, Trade Commissioner of the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) in Hong Kong, knows a thing or two about Italian wines, to say it lightly.
Having worked with ITA for over 16 years, Mrs Morena was charged with promoting Italian wine and food in the US. Judging by Italian wine’s popularity in the US market, which till today remains its biggest export market, one can conclude easily that Mrs. Morena more than delivered what is expected.
Last year, Gioia embarked on a new journey in Hong Kong, as the Trade Commissioner for ITA to champion all things Italian. We are very honored to catch up with her to get an insight on her favorite Italian food and wine, matching Cantonese cuisine with Italian wine, and what she considers the most important advice on promoting Italian food and wine in Asia. Also, she offered some value-for-money Italian sparkling wines that can give Champagne a run for the money, just in time for the upcoming holiday season.
When you miss flavors of home, where would you go in Hong Kong to sate that craving?
A: Every time I miss my familiar flavors, I would go to retail stores or specialty stores in Hong Kong and get the ingredients for cooking at home. Most of the Italian products that I need can be easily found in Hong Kong, I am impressed with the wide selection of Italian food and wine available here, which confirms how much Hong Kong loves Italy. Leonardo Da Vinci is quoted saying “Simplicity is the ultimate form of Sophistication.” Less is really More with Products of Italy. All one needs is a few authentic ingredients to create an outstanding dish. Our products are truly versatile and user friendly. These are qualities that chefs and foodies appreciate and seek out.
What are your favorite Italian restaurants in Hong Kong?
A: Honestly, it would be quite challenging for me to pick the Italian restaurants I like the most, since there are so many great ones in Hong Kong, some with superb ambiance for aperitivo, some with outdoor terrace, some with a fantastic selection of Italian food & wine. In addition, Italian cuisine is known for its variety, connected to regional traditions and very different ingredients and flavors from North to South. Besides, Hong Kong is one of the food capitals of the world and in the last four months I heard about at least nine new Italian restaurants opening in the city. In addition, it is interesting to highlight that most of them are supported by local investors, as Italian hospitality is also considered a profitable business in Hong Kong.
What is your go-to Italian wine after a long day at work?
A: We are priviledged to have access to a wide variety of denominations from North to South. On a hot summer evening, you may feel refreshed after a glass of Prosecco or a chilled white wine .
With Cantonese food, what Italian wines would you recommend for pairing?
A: The Italian Trade Commission recently organized an Italian Wine Training Course with the Hong Kong Sommelier Association for 30 professionals and wine experts. The certification award ceremony was recently held in a Cantonese restaurant, where Mr Nelson Chow – President of HKSA conducted a guided tasting of Italian wines paired with Cantonese Food. I remember his selection as listed in the menu: a Rose’ Terre Siciliane IGP from Sicily (Southern Italy) was paired with the Sauteed Diced Beef Tenderloin, a white Collio DOC from Friuli (Northern Italy) with Fried King Prawns and Sauteed Scallops, a red Chianti Classico DOCG from Tuscany (Center Italy) was paired with Deep-fried crispy chicken, a red Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (Northeastern Italy) with Smoked Duck and, finally, a Sicilian Passito Terre Siciliane IGT with dessert. It was an incredible journey through diverse, rich and complex flavors of Cantonese food, meeting the excellent variety of Italian wine from all over the country.
What are your thoughts on the preferences of Hong Kong consumers toward the various types of Italian wines?
Since I was appointed in Hong Kong one year ago I was surprised going through Hong Kong import data. Although a portion of what is imported is supposed to be re-exported in nearby countries, most of it is to be consumed locally. It was surprising to see that, by value, 87% of imported wine is red. When it comes to Italy, ranking 5th biggest wine supplier by value and 4th by quantity, 81% of the Italian wine import by value is made of red wine, while 10% is sparkling wine and 7% is white wine. These data tell a lot about local preferences and stimulate us to focus on professionals training, in order to reach the consumer with our rich variety.
Most Italian wine lovers heard about Barolos and Brunellos. Can you highlight a few under-valued gems that are worth discovering?
A: Italy has 20 wine-producing regions, and its cultivation is extremely diverse: on record there are approximately 600 indigenous grape varieties. Although not all of them make wine in commercially significant volume, that number totals more native grape varieties than France, Spain and Greece combined. There are many underrated Italian wines waiting for you to explore, and after years I am still learning day by day!
In the sparkling wine category, what would you recommend as a better-value option from Italy for Champagne?
A: I would suggest Italian sparkling wine such as Franciacorta DOCG from Lombardy and Trento DOC from Trentino-Alto Adige. Like Champagne, Franciacorta DOCG and Trento DOC are produced using the traditional method and can only be produced in specific geographic regions, and with particular grape varietals. The differences in their growing regions provide distinctive characters and flavors to the wine, which would be interesting for wine lovers to explore.
If you can invite anyone in the world for dinner, who would it be and why? What wines will you serve?
Anthony Bourdain. He would be the consummate foodie: he traveled the world many times over and ate his way through almost all the countries. I would make him a typical Italian dish (there’s an infinity of them, I’d have to think hard). I would serve him a medley of wines as representative as possible of the bounty offered by Italy.
If you can only drink one wine for the rest of your life, which wine would it be?
A: To be honest with you, I really can’t imagine or don’t want to imagine drinking only one wine for the rest of my life. First, drinking the same type of wine with all kinds of meals is not Italian. Also, there are far too many great wines in this world. But I can tell you if I can only drink wines from a particular country, that would be Italy for sure.
What advice can you give to best promote Italian food, wine and culture to people in Asia?
A: The Italian Trade Commission has been working as a platform to promote Italian products including but not limited to food and wine internationally. It is essential to give people the opportunity to taste authentic Italian products, in which case I think the quality and taste speaks for themselves. Since in the Asian market it is common to find “Italian sounding” food and wine, my advice is to promote and educate the public on the authenticity of products, for example how to read the geographical indications of Italian food and the designations of origins of Italian wine. I am sure people will never look back after getting immersed in the true Italian taste!