Hong Kong: Red obsession

While whites are starting to be taken seriously in Hong Kong restaurants, the city is still seeing red, with Bordeaux continuing to steal hearts.

Petrus-Bottle-ShotTHE HONG wine scene is where London was 10-15 years ago,” declares Master Sommelier Yohann Jousselin over lunch at Petrus restaurant up in the clouds on the 56th floor of the Island Shangri-La hotel in HK’s business district, Pacific Place. Jousselin has been head sommelier at the hotel for the last year, having moved from gambling Mecca Macau where he was in charge of wine at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. He makes insightful comparisons between Hong Kong and Macau, describing the former as light-years ahead of the latter in terms of wine buying habits and education.

“Macau is still in a Bordeaux bubble. I was selling €10,000 bottles of wine every three weeks there. It’s a very different market to Hong Kong. People in Macau have crazy spending power. It’s still very French driven there and diners go for the big names,” he reveals, adding that mainland China is even more backwards than Macau, with drinkers favouring grain spirit Maotai to wine. Having worked for a decade in the UK, Jousselin found the Bordeaux obsession and unwillingness to experiment in Macau a source of frustration. “The market is very polarised; it’s all or nothing, there’s no middle ground,” he laments.

EDUCATING HK

Back in Hong Kong, tastes are moving beyond Bordeaux. Having swotted up on wine, consumers are increasingly keen to explore lesser known French regions and varieties. “People are starting to discover the smaller wine regions. Consumers are on a learning curve and are seeking out better value, lesser known wineries and experimenting with grapes like Grüner Veltliner,” says Jousselin, who is keen to stamp his signature on the Shangri-La’s wine offering at the hotel’s eight restaurants in order to “make a name” for himself in the city.

Quick to make an impression, Jousselin helped Petrus scoop the Best Wine List prize at the Hong Kong Tatler Restaurant Awards earlier this year.

At 2,000 bins, Petrus boasts one of the largest wine lists in the city, which includes 30 different vintages of each of the five first growths. Jousselin has expanded its namesake Petrus offering to 50 vintages spanning from 1928 to 2007, with 15 available by-the-glass via Coravin. “We were the first restaurant in Hong Kong to use Coravin. I offer 30 wines by-the-glass on it, including Talbot 1989 and Cos d’Estournel 1986,” he enthuses. “It adds a lovely element of theatre. While we have a big list, the wines do move as we offer fair mark-ups – just last night I sold a bottle of Latour 1990 and Cheval Blanc 1955.”

Realising that wine critic Robert Parker still has a huge influence over buying decisions in Hong Kong, Jousselin created the “Parker” list at the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant Summer Palace featuring a selection of wines that scored 96-100 Parker points. “It works really well as a reference point, particularly with Chinese men,” says Jousselin, who admits that the role of the sommelier as wine advisor is less important and impactful in Hong Kong than other key international cities as the majority of diners, particularly male guests, have a fixed idea of what they want to order, largely fuelled by a desire to save face. Seeking a sommelier’s advice is akin to demonstrating a lack of knowledge in Hong Kong, so the practice is largely avoided, much to Jousselin’s frustration. Another challenge he has encountered is how to successfully pair wine with Cantonese food. “Traditionally with Cantonese cuisine, a load of different dishes arrive at the same time and there are so many aromas and flavours going on it’s incredibly hard to find a wine that suits them all,” he says.

New fine dining Spanish restaurant Vasco shines a light on top Spanish drops

New fine dining Spanish restaurant Vasco shines a light on top Spanish drops

Keen to use the “safety net” of Coravin to its full advantage, Jousselin offers a flight of 50ml measures of various vintages of the five first growths for HK$3,500 (£295) which is already proving popular. He has also launched a series of fine wine dinners at Petrus for the lucky few that can afford them. With places laid out for just ten guests, Jousselin’s “icon” wine nights cost HK$18,000 (£1,520) a pop and feature 10 wines from different châteaux and vintages from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“If you’re ambitious in Hong Kong and experiment with new ideas, then they tend to work. At one of the dinners we served La Tâche 1978, at another we poured Mouton ’82, Latour ’82 and ’94 Petrus. There’s nothing else like it in Hong Kong. The tickets sell out in hours. We limit it to 10 guests as we want to keep it exclusive,” he reveals.

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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