Hong Kong: Red obsession

SAY CHEESE

Another niche area attracting attention is grower Champagne in a battle being fought almost single handedly by passionate French sommelier Nicolas Deneux of ON Dining Kitchen & Lounge in Hong Kong’s Central district. In addition to pairing wines to head chef Philippe Orrico’s Mediterranean cuisine, Deneux works closely with general manager Jeremy Evrard on grower Champagne and cheese pairings, which sounds perfectly pedestrian to a London audience but is nothing short of radical in Hong Kong, as the concept of a cheese board is alien to many Chinese diners.

Yohann Jousselin

Yohann Jousselin

“We’ve managed to change people’s perceptions about cheese. Our Chinese diners used to hate it so much it gave them goose bumps as it’s not in their culture to eat it and they don’t like the strong smell. Now we have people coming in for cheese and Champagne at 1am and they love it,” Deneux reveals.

Keen to champion the small players, 65% of Deneux’s 400-bin list is French, with regions like the Loire, Alsace, Jura, the Rhône and Provence given equal airtime as Bordeaux and Burgundy. The restaurant also boasts the most comprehensive selection of grower Champagnes in Hong Kong. “We’ve carved a niche for our more unusual wines – it’s the same with our cheeses. Hong Kong needed somewhere like this. I like drinking a place not a cellar,” says Deneux. Like Jousselin, he sources a large number of his wines direct from the châteaux in order to cut out the middle man and lists the wines at a fair mark-up, which is often less than double the retail price for the top wines – a bottle of 1984 La Tâche recently sold at the restaurant for HK$24,000 (£2,025); cheaper than you’ll find it at a lot of retailers.

Deneux also goes direct when he can in order to guarantee both provenance and mint condition. “Buying well in Hong Kong isn’t easy. There’s a temptation to buy everything that’s put in front of you but many of the wines that end up in the city have been around the world five times. It’s a circus here – you have to pick the right people to work with as the grey market is very powerful,” he warns.

He is however, hugely optimistic about the future of the Hong Kong wine market, predicting that it will mature at a rapid rate. “The market is as exciting as San Francisco and Melbourne now. The interest in grower Champagne is just starting, but will need another five years to really take off,” he admits, adding, “It’s a duty of restaurants to create their own niches – we need to be setting the trends, not following them.”

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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