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Hong Kong’s Dynamic Wine Scene

February 11, 2014

My friend Kathy Fu who works in Hong Kong provided photographs for this post, as well as information about Hong Kong itself – basic but intriguing stuff I simply never knew. Kathy also introduced me to Roddy Ropner, interviewed below.

Hong Kong was under British rule for most of 150 years before 1997, when governance transferred to the People’s Republic of China. It then became known as a Special Administrative Region of China. A constitutional document ensures that the existing political situation in Hong Kong will exist for 50 years after this transfer.

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The famed Hong Kong night skyline (courtesy K. Fu)

The land includes Hong Kong island, as well as more than 260 outlying islands. Renowned deep water Victoria Harbour lies between Honk Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. I always imagined the place as a small pocket of highly developed land, teeming with skyscrapers. The truth is that 40 percent of the country includes parks and nature reserves. Most – over 90 percent – of all inhabitants are of Chinese descent, though English and Chinese are both official languages.

In 2008, Hong Kong’s 80 percent wine import tax was eliminated. Overnight, the location poised itself as the gateway to the growing interest for wine for Asia, particularly for wealthy Chinese buyers. The demand for more expensive wines has focused on French labels, mostly Bordeaux, although in recent years demand has grown for Burgundian wines.

Roddy Ropner from Wellspring Wines in Hong Kong provided insight into current trends in the Hong Kong wine scene.

Have you seen any noticeable difference in trends in purchasing fine wines during the past 12 – 24 months – especially for Australian / New Zealand wines in comparison to European wines? Increased or decreased attention / sales?

I don’t see much Australian and NZ wines in the auctions but it seems to me that AUZ in particular, and NZ to a lesser extent, are trying to position themselves in the Fine Wine category. Australia’s Barossa Valley master class in wine was launched in HK so they clearly see that as a key market. I think that there was a backlash against Australian Chardonnay (overoaked) and Shiraz (too alcoholic, over extracted) and both the wineries and promoting bodies have taken this on board and are now trying to promote their premier wine regions. NZ is doing something similar and trying to let consumers know that there is more to NZ wine that Sauvignon Blanc. There is a lot of interest in NZ Pinot Noir and this is probably connected to the love of Burgundy that we are seeing in HK and other parts of Asia.

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Deep water Victoria Harbour (courtesy K. Fu)

From conversations with clients, can you sense any growing interest in selecting particular wines for matching with Asian foods – such as Rieslings?

As a huge generalization you can say that people in this part of the world LOVE their food. If you sit down to a dinner with Hong Kong friends the most common topic of conversation is FOOD!  So I think it is quite normal that they will then think about food and wine pairing. Also Jeannie Cho Lee MW, first Asian Master of Wine and HK resident, is one of the most prominent wine critics / writers and she has very much promoted the pairing of wine with Asian food.  That being said when talking about pairing wine with Asian food people finally realize that there are so many styles that it is impossible to generalize. The cuisine in HK and south China is different to that in Shanghai and that in Beijing. Also, each meal comes with some many courses that its hard to pick one wine – say Riesling – that will par with everything.

On the subject of Riesling I still seldom see people drinking this although the dry styles from Clare and Eden Valleys [Australia] seem in demand in the wine shops. More traditional older wine drinkers might prefer a Mosel Kabinett but as I say I seldom see this being drunk here. What a shame! I think that many people also find that Pinot Noir / Burgundy pairs well with Hong Kong food as it does not overpower the dishes in the way that a Bordeaux might.  

Hong Kong is now considered a ‘fine wine capital’ – regarding sales / auctions. Are you aware of any particular measures / legislation that Hong Kong is actively pursuing to maintain or strengthen this reputation?

Good question. I have just been asked to join the Hong Kong Wine Merchants Association – I have not had time to reply yet. http://www.mobilogin.com/HKWMCC/

They say that one of their roles is to lobby the government but I have not yet found out which areas they are concerned about!

The government has introduced some standards for warehousing etc.http://www.investhk.gov.hk/zh-hk/files/2012/08/2012.07-wine-en.pdf

But this is a pretty “laissez-faire” society and the government on the whole does not get too involved. Of course the great coup was to drop import duty on wine – that created the conditions for the current boom in wine. And it’s probably fair to say that most of the demand for fine wine, especially at the auctions, was coming from Chinese buyers. The reality is that there are comparatively few collectors and regular drinkers of fine wine in HK. The population here is 7 million – the size of a 2nd tier city in China!

That being said when I first came to HK in the late 80’s I attended a lot of Chinese dinners and we were always served tea and beer. Now there is almost always wine on offer. Either from the wine list or guests bringing their own wine – which is very common.

Has there been any increase or notable added attention / sales related to wines made in Hong Kong using imported grapes from France / the U.S.?

I understand that there are a couple of wineries making wine in HK. I did hear that they were set up as a way of getting round the import duty when that was still in place. However now that the import duty as been dropped there is no particular reason to buy / drink them. There are so many wines and wine merchants in HK and I think wine lovers love the idea of drinking wine from a special place or region. I don’t feel particularly excited about the thought of drinking a wine made in a factory in Hong Kong from grapes grown by another party.

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Kathy Fu

Thanks for the background information on wine Roddy, and thanks Kathy for photographs and general background on Hong Kong. One day I hope to visit. Sooner rather than later.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2014 4:14 PM

    Great topic, thanks Tom. Hong Kong definitely seems like the epicentre of the Asian wine industry so your very pertinent questions and their responses provided a great insight. It’s an incredible place, I hope you get there soon.

    Like

    • February 13, 2014 9:04 AM

      Glad you enjoyed Chrissie. Yes, a sweep through that portion of Asia is something to look forward to. Hope you are enjoying 2014…

      Like

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