Hong Kong: Red obsession

SEEING RED

Following London and New York’s lead rather than setting trends, Hong Kong remains a red-obsessed city, with Bordeaux and Burgundy continuing to steal headlines and win hearts. “There’s a big market for Burgundy and California Cabernet in Hong Kong. The city is still red-focused but things are changing. The Chinese drink more Champagne than white wine – the big names like Krug and Dom Pérignon are gaining recognition, but it’s only a matter of time before we get Chinese people drinking white wine,” believes Jousselin, who sources a lot of his wines, including Petrus, direct in order to save money and list them for less.

Handily, the owner of the Shangri-La, Robert Kuok, also owns Hong Kong- based importer Kerry Wines, which makes most wines relatively easy to source. “The exciting thing is that the Hong Kong market is evolving all the time, so you have the ability to influence it and change it quickly. The only problem is that the wines can take up to three months to arrive,” Jousselin admits.

Yvonne Cheung

Yvonne Cheung

Yvonne Cheung, director of wine for the Swire Hotels group, which includes The Upper House and East in Hong Kong, believes the breadth of the wine offering in the city has improved immeasurably since the removal of wine duty in 2008.

“There’s so much more variety to the Hong Kong wine scene now. A lot of restaurants have upped their game and are offering labels from Greece, New York and Slovenia. People are thinking through their lists more and offerings have become much more focused,” she says, adding, “Restaurant-goers are a lot savvier here than they used to be – you’ll often find people Googling wines on a list to see if they are fairly priced or not.”

Cheung is sorry to report that an interest in her beloved Rhône has yet to take off in the city despite the quality of the wines on offer. Like Jousselin, she has yet to witness drinkers embracing white wines in the same way as reds. “The Hong Kong on-trade remains incredibly red driven, reflected in the fact that there is still no word for “white wine” in Chinese. People do drink white but they don’t really take it seriously – even white Burgundy – it’s viewed more as an apéritif than something to drink during a meal,” she says. On the red front, Cheung finds Burgundy “prohibitively expensive” in HK restaurants, with village wines now costing upwards of HK$1,000 (£85) a bottle on a list.

Nicolas Deneux

Nicolas Deneux

“Bordeaux at least has the volume for us to be able to offer good vintages of lesser châteaux, which can be a great deal for diners. The price of Burgundy is forcing consumers to be more adventurous in their wine choices, which is a good thing,” she says. But while diners may be venturing outside of Bordeaux and Burgundy to Italy and Spain, the majority have yet to explore New World countries like New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, preferring instead to put their trust in traditional Old World wine regions. In a bid to lure them out of their comfort zone, Cheung has started offering a selection of wines by the glass from all over the world, allowing for experimentation without the commitment of a full bottle purchase. “I don’t mark them up too much as the whole point is to encourage consumers to try things they wouldn’t usually go for and open their eyes to different regions,” she insists.

ATTRACTING ATTENTION

Spanish wines are finding their place in the Hong Kong on-trade, fuelled by the Spanish restaurant boom that swept through the city a few years ago, bringing fountains of Iberian wine with it. Led by the likes of Jason Atherton’s Ham & Sherry and 22 Ships, Iberico, Catalyuna and new fine dining venue Vasco, this trendy troop are helping to flag up Spain’s velvety reds and zippy whites to clued up, curious Hong Kong diners keen to free themselves from the Bordeaux bubble. “The on-trade push has raised opportunities for Spanish brands and importers,” believes James Rowell, corporate & VIP sales director at Altaya Wines. “You can’t move for people selling ham sliced off the leg; it’s become very popular in Hong Kong. There’s a lot of mileage to be gained in promoting Spanish wine with Spanish cuisine.”

2 Responses to “Hong Kong: Red obsession”

  1. timothy feather says:

    Actually Macau has been coming out of the “bordeaux bubble” for some time already.
    Whilst certainly not at the level of Hong Kong, I would in no way describe Macau wine scene as “backwards”. I think Yohann only saw a certain side of the market at Robuchon au Dome where he was (not L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon).
    A wide variety of wines are available here, with Burgundy on a massive upswing,
    May be interesting to speak with some Macau Sommeliers and wine industry people for more insights..

  2. James Swann says:

    Drinking grain spirit is China’s tradition, as it is in many places, one cannot describe a market as backwards just for continuing tradition.

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