A two day trip to Taiwan from San Francisco should not seem like an everyday thing. It should be planned, scheduled out, worried over, even debated as to why make the trip. however I do this once a month, and two days is just a lot of plane time. Aside from the inevitable jet lag that kicks in at 5pm Taiwan time (and will kick in again at 10am California time when I get to work tomorrow), and of course the time I have to spend away from home and my wife, there isn't much difference with this trip versus, say, a trip to Austin.
That is, except for the food, the wine, the people, the culture, the weather, the driving, the meetings, and the language.
Taiwan, like many countries throughout Asia, is said to be improving its wine appreciation as its global interdependence progresses. Not that I really find much of it in Hsin Chu. A university town that is home to its famous Science Based Industrial Park, the city also houses the country's oldest (and largest) temple, and regional Taiwanese fare of noodles, steamed meatballs, and soups fill the stalls surrounding the central shopping area. The hotels cater mostly to engineers and high tech executives who shuttle in and out of Science Park or up and back to Taipei to the North. I travel to HsinChu pretty much every month, and have adopted the habit of bringing a decent bottle of wine with me, so that I am not suffering too much on my trip. The hotels where I stay have a mediocre selection of medocs and bourdeaux superior, some chilean and aussie selections, but not much in the way of variety or quality. Eating out and seeking for fine wines I did find a Montrachet in a restaurant for $60 US, but was deeply disappointed to find that it was cooked by being stored in the open air (probably next to a window or near the stove). My one find was a teppanyaki restaurant called the Red Door which had a better selection, and we enjoyed a very decent bourdeaux blend from an argentinian joint venture of ch. lafite.
But these are, unfortunately, the great exceptions. I heard that Taiwan has something like a 100% markup due to import duties, taxes, and shipping costs, and that (coupled with the still minority status of premium wine lovers) means that most places will, frankly, just get something red and white on their list, preferably with a french (or french sounding) name, and keep it listed for as long as they can, 'just in cases.'
There are many wine lovers in Taiwan -- I have many friends at my company who collect fine wines and love to explore the world of wine, both in varietals as well as style. Their bias still tends toward the Opus one or chateau lafites (not a bad place to start), with occasional appreciation for the great burgundies. Italians outside of chianti and barolo would be fairly obscure for them, and the world of Spain, Bandol, Alsace etc. are new and uncharted territories.
I recently heard that americans are now drinking more wine per capita than beer -- a significant milestone that has occurred just over the past decade. The people in their 20s and 30s are driving this change, as greater exploration and appreciation become part of the emerging national culture. the impact of venues like winelibrary.tv to energize people to explore different wines and different things is having an impact and getting people to branch out, try new things. We have met so many people in their 20s and 30s who are, not just enthusiasts, but people who are incredibly passionate about wine that they will travel to Seattle or Rome or Paris, just to attend a tasting dinner. these people make wine exciting, an exploration that is endlessly surprising and educational. No matter how much these people taste and learn (and there are so many of these in their 30s who have an incredibly broad knowledge base of wines -- far more than I can ever recall!) and for them, the universe is constantly expanding, as each new vintage and each new winery expands from the 'big bang' of their discovery of wine!
And we all benefit: more wine appreciation means more great wines which will get noticed, be sought after, get established. More choice means even the 'standards' will have to keep working hard to keep making the best wines they can, as more and more people get more comfortable with wandering off of the well-worn cabernet aisles at your local beltramo's. God bless 'em all.