Wine Masters: Debra Meiburg

Red wine for meats, white wine for fish. Champagne for toasts and fruity wines for beginners.

These are the notions Debra Meiburg would like you to forget. “Who is to say that a fish dish is best served with white wine? It could be a Malaysian curry fish, it could be a steamed garoupa served with garlic and spring onions, the focus now really needs to be on the sauces and seasonings of the dish.”

Debra MeiburgMeiburg was a wine professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She has been living in Hong Kong since the 1980s, and is founder and director of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition. One might say her efforts played a large part in putting Asia on the wine map.

Wine Edutainment
An author, media personality and entrepreneur, wine education is Meiburg’s mission—her passion, even. Many might think wine appreciation is chiefly concerned with knowing your wine regions, vintages and pairings, but the variety of Meiburg’s lectures will show you otherwise. In one hour, she might teach you how experts evaluate wines or lead you through blind tasting. In another she might discuss the intricacies of wine investment or the history and pedigree of champagne.

As a long-time resident of Hong Kong, Meiburg is often asked about wines that work with Cantonese cuisine. “The wonderful thing about Cantonese food, like dim sum, is that there are always lots of different flavors on the table. So if a wine doesn’t work with one dish it might with another. Because Cantonese food is generally quite delicate, I would normally direct people toward lighter wine styles like Riesling and Pinot Noir. But who knows? A big Aussie Shiraz could be just the thing with Mao Xue Wang (pig’s blood pudding).” One of her lectures focuses on the principles of food and wine pairing. And if talking and sipping wine aren’t enough, Meiburg herself leads tour groups though the vineyards and festivals of Italy’s wine regions.

Debra Meiburg, MW

But perhaps her most important qualification as a wine connoisseur is her title as Master of Wine. The London-based Institute of Masters of Wine only accepts those who pass its examinations, which are held in Europe, Australasia and North America. Of 21 candidates who took the very first examination in 1953, only six passed and became Masters of Wine. Sarah Morphew Stephen was the first woman to hold the title, in 1970. Meiburg became a member of the Institute in 2008.

Many are the experts who rest on their laurels, Meiburg’s promotion of wine awareness in Asia is tireless work. Her lectures are appreciated by beginners and fellow experts alike, but her audience extends to print through her columns, books and wine guides. She condenses years of experience into bite-sized tips and vignettes through TV and online shows like “Grape Moments,” “Meet the Winemaker” and “Taste the Wine”; and wine “edutainment” products like the Grape Cues Collectors’ Series, a set of 2000 study cards designed for wine students, collectors and lovers.

Her efforts are held in high esteem by many institutions and organizations.

  • In 2012 she was listed as the 7th Most Powerful Woman in Wine by The Drinks Business,

  • received the China Power List Award by WINE Magazine (China) and the Vinitaly International Award for her work promoting greater awareness of Italian wine culture through Greater China.

  • named one of 7 People to Watch by Decanter Magazine in 2011.

  • In 2013, she was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year (Women of Influence) by the South China Morning Post & the American Chamber of Commerce.”

Walking the Talk

Debra Meiberg 2She has worked the harvest in Chile, pruned vines in Bordeaux and was also a cellar hand in New York.” And collecting wines is a family affair, “Honestly, my husband is the main collector in our family. Like anyone else, I love to drink collectible wines, but he’s the expert buyer; the more eclectic bottles in our house come from me (Turkish wine, most recently).”

It’s truly impressive to listen to an expert opinion on French or Italian wines, and to know that she speaks with fond familiarity when she describes the regions of origin. “It’s hard to beat Burgundy and its Italian counterpart Barolo. In both regions, the focus is generally on artisanal and family producers, unlike at the grandiose properties of Bordeaux and Tuscany. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a magnificent château as much as the next person, but there is something wonderful about feeling like you’re being welcomed into somebody’s home.”

Lectures by wine masters like Meiburg will be a special feature of the newly-opened Singapore Wine Vault, located along the Fishery Port Road. It is the largest wine storage facility in Southeast Asia, designed to hold 10 million wine bottles in strict temperature-controlled conditions. It also offers the Drôme, a section dedicated to private wine cellars designed to be completely customizable to the client’s specifications. With masters like Meiburg bringing wine appreciation in Asia to new heights, Singapore Wine Vault will soon be at the center of the Asian wine scene.