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SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - A Chilean winemaker whose products tied for third place in a blind tasting of top-flight wines in Singapore expects growing Asian appetite for his wines to fuel a doubling of sales in the region within five years.
"Usually we get three wines in the top five. Here we got two in the top three, which is very good, so we are happy," said Felipe de la Jara, managing director of winery Errazuriz, after two of his wines, Vinedo Chadwick and Don Maximiano, ceded the top two spots to California's Opus One and Italy's Ornellaia from among a line-up that included French reds from Bordeaux.
"The challenge here is, looking at the palate, people are looking for something that is more ready to drink and more friendly right now, rather than in the future," he added.
As young Asians increasingly take to wine-drinking, the region holds out tremendous opportunities for growth, said De La Jara, who estimates his firm sells about 20 percent of its total current production of 1.2 million cases in Asia.
"We have a mission to double sales in 5 years, so by 2015 we should be selling nearly half-a-million cases," he added.
Jose Ignacio Saez, Errazuriz's area manager for Asia, said the estate's wines were reasonably priced and their high scores from wine guru Robert Parker were a key draw for many Asians.
"I think people will see that they are getting good quality at one-third the price and the market will go ballistic -- it will grow exponentially," he said.
While markets such as Singapore, Japan and Korea are now mature, De La Jara said, most of that growth promises to come from countries such as China, Vietnam and surprisingly, even Malaysia, despite it being a predominantly Muslim nation.
"There is potential for growth in Malaysia, but it will take longer, because it is not just a capacity of spending, a capacity of income, but there is also some religious barrier," he said.
Successfully finding ways to pair wine with Asian food will be a key strategy to achieving that success, he added.
"The entry to that consumer I would say is through gastronomy, and that is good for us, because we are more high-quality wines, we are not selling alcohol, we are selling the wine experience tied to gastronomy," De La Jara told Reuters.
Still, picking wines to accompany Asian food, which is often highly-spiced, is not an easy task, although Chilean whites made from the sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes go with seafood.
"I would say there is a lot of potential for the white wines, because it goes very well with seafood and there is a lot of seafood in Asian cuisine," said De La Jara, who was in Singapore to attend the tasting designed to showcase the Errazuriz wines.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown, a wine expert who led the blind tasting, which also featured a range of 2006 French reds from Haut-Brion to Latour, said Asian food involved a medley of flavours that presents a challenge for wine drinkers.
"Even if you know an Asian dish really well, everybody has their own version of it, and just a slight difference in the intensity of flavours, or the spices they use, makes a difference between whether it will go with a particular wine or not," she said. "So I think there's a lot of experimenting needed."
Chile is able to turn out wines of consistent quality thanks to its stable weather and the diversity of its soils, watered by the melting snows of the Andes, which allow winemakers to finetune their wines for specific tastes, said De La Jara.
"There are very few places on the planet that can produce really special wines and there are parts of Chile amongst those," said Perrotti-Brown, adding that some Chilean cabernets were worth seeking out because they were bargains.
Editing by Miral Fahmy