Saturday, October 27, 2012

Some old wine tasting notes starting with Vincent Girardin Meursault Les Charmes-Dessus Blanc 2009

Some old wine tasting notes starting with 
Vincent Girardin Meursault Les Charmes-Dessus Blanc 2009

Although my new job is an interesting turn in my wine career, (I changed my position 3 months ago), I'm not a Wine Buyer anymore (after more than 20 years of buying wines for retails and restaurants), and therefore do not get to taste as much as I used to. 

I need to admit that sometimes I miss the rapport that I used to have with my customers, but also the suppliers and more especially wineries and producers. Moreover, I felt more up-to-date with the wine market as I used to taste and average of 28-32 wines a day from all around the world, and that 6 days a week for at least the past 15 years.... that is a lot of wine. It seems a lot when you calculate it, but it is a regular thing for most dedicated wine buyers and frankly nothing compared to other wine professionals like famous wine critics that are surely tasting twice as much.

However, I'm still and always will be a Sommelier and part of my current job, that has to do with wine obviously (as I wouldn't leave the wine bubble for anything else in the world), allows me to occasionally taste some extraordinaire old vintages of hugely coveted classic producers, wineries and Chateaux from various French appellations, more specifically Burgundy and Bordeaux (Hong Kong oblige).

In short, I swapped quantity for quality, which is not bad I must say, especially when it comes to very rare wines and vintages that I will never been able to afford or even hope to taste.

Between my new job and my family life with my wife and kids, I have been slacking off on my writings and did not update this blog or even my website as often as I should. Shame because I love writing in both French and English, especially about wine.

So, searching in my back pockets where I always keep a pen and a little note book (a bit old fashion, I know, but it always comes handy and I prefer it to a voice recorder), I found a few old notes about some wines, including some tasted and drank in the last few events and dinners I participated to since I started in this new company.

Here is the first one of a long overdue list of wines that I should have posted on my blog over the past year and a half, since I came in Hong Kong.



Located in Santenay until recently, now based in Meursault, Vincent Girardin produces wines from Santenay, Maranges, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Pommard, Beaune, and Savigny-les-Beaunes.

Vincent Girardin crafts refine structured wines characterized by their distinct crisp acidity, texture and minerality. Some people may found them lean or not ripe enough, I will say that they are refreshing, vibrant, concentrated and well balanced rather than too opulent. The rich fruit and fragrant toasted notes harmoniously complement each other, creating elegant and complex Burgundies with long ageing potential.

While some Meursault can be fat, almost oily with a lot of oak influence, the ones from Girardin (Vieilles Vignes, Les Tillets, Les Narvaux Blanc, Le Poruzots Dessus, Les Genevrieres Blanc, Les Perrieres Blanc and Les Charmes Dessus) are usually more refreshing and rather discreet (or well integrated) on the wood scents and flavors.

Production represents roughly 80% white wine, with approximately 300,000 bottles produced per year from the Côte d’Or. They also produce about 200,000 bottles per year in their Beaujolais estate.

After gradually diminishing their use of herbicides and pesticides, from 1997 onwards, they implemented more natural methods, tending towards Organic, and, as a result of their continuous efforts, were certified Biodynamic in 2007. Yet, in 2010 they gave up their certification and adopted the "Lutte Raisonnée"method, a more flexible approach of vineyard management enabling them, for example, the use of systemic treatment when really needed and giving them the choice to treat each parcel or/and vineyard individually depending on the situation.

Often compared to 1999, 2009 is a great vintage in Burgundy. Maybe my "Law of the Decacdes in Wine Vintages", once again works (see my previous post at http://www.ledomduvin.com/2012/10/is-there-reliable-law-of-decades-for.html). Resulting from the ideal warm weather and overall climate during the ripening period, the grapes presented such good degrees of ripeness and complexity bringing rapidly the alcohol level between 12.5 and 13.5%, that Girardin's team decided to harvest earlier than expected to preserve the freshness and zestyness, rather than waiting to obtain sweeter, riper wines with less vibrancy. Moreover, atop of new methods, they decreased their use of new oak to favor the quality and expression of the fruit and Terroir, thus avoiding masking the true personality and character of the wines.

The fact that they become more attentive to the vineyard management, employing more natural methods and using less oak treatment, does not mean that they fell to get an interest on the technical part. On the contrary, starting with the 2009 vintage, the team used for the first time their ‘Vistalys’ optical grape-sorting machine. State of the art machinery in the cellar and natural methods in the vineyards have proven an excellent combination to elaborate stunning gems.

Since February this year, following to an official press release, it seems that the Domaine daily operation and management of the company has passed from the hands of Veronique and Vincent Girardin to those of Jean-Pierre Nié, a well-known professional in Burgundy who is also Chairman of "Compagnie des Vins d’Autrefois" in Beaune as well as being a commercial partner of Vincent Girardin for several years now. Eric Germain, Vincent Girardin’s right-hand man and house oenologist for the past ten years will keep his position to perpetuate the high quality of the company's wines.






2009 Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes-Dessus Blanc Cote d'Or Burgundy

Very light, pale yellow color with bright reflects. Rather discreet (the wine was a bit cold even just after decantation), the charming nose exhibited beautiful, delicate, floral, mineral, almost fragile notes of white zesty fruits and more mineral on a concentrated way, but rather feminine, elegant and once again discreet not restraint (still a bit cold but it was more distinct after a few minutes in the glass). Although rich and complex with very subtile oak nuances, the palate presented the same profile (as the nose) and feminine silhouette, very discreet, elegant and very mineral. Light and refreshing, with flavors of white peach, citrus, touches of apple, lychee and green almond mingling with mineral and gently toasted, buttery notes. Endowed with really good balance and overall harmony, the structured and vibrant mid-palate developed nicely in power and complexity to reach the slightly spicy-peppery mineral finish. I loved it and couldn't get enough of it. This classic Meursault is still a bit young and deserves to be decanted, yet it is already delightful and was so easy to drink. 


Enjoy, 


LeDom du Vin 


PS: to be continued soon with more wines from my back pocket note book (books should I say as I have more than one and always take notes of everything I taste....just not enough time to write them all on this blog... ).    


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Le Magasin de Stanley (Hong Kong)


Le Magasin de Stanley (Hong Kong)

Le Magasin de Stanley is a cute little French Epicerie Fine, the type of store that transports you back in France as soon as you pass the door.

Traditional and regional hand-made French recipes in glass jars and tin cans (like Cassoulet a la graisse d'oie, Petit Sale aux Lentilles, Blanquette de Veau and Langue de Boeuf, just to name a few) mingle with all sorts of Charcuterie delights (saucisse seche, saucisson, pate, terrine, etc) as well as a small but very interesting and well priced selection of organic and biodynamic wines, that includes white, red, bubbly and even sweet wines.

Amateurs and connoisseurs of carefully crafted wines (like me) will be quite enthusiastic to recognize such labels as: 



  • Clos Puy Arnaud crafting Merlot and Cabernet Franc based reds from vineyards planted atop of a hill in the Cotes de Castillon, orchestrated by Thierry Valette, a talented winemaker by passion and musician for pleasure, who has utmost respect for organic and biodynamic methods and apply them with extreme conviction on his lands. From the tower above his house, he has a unique view of the whole appellation where he contemplates Mother Nature do what she does best. Despite the fact that I was selling them for years when I was in New York, the wines of Thierry are somewhat quite sentimental to me as they were the wines I bought at the estate for my wedding (that occured in the Citadelle de Blaye).    


  • Les Trois Petiotes, a small winery recently established in the Cotes de Bourg, in the village of  Tauriac, by Valerie & Denis Godelu, producing wines from 3 small "parcelles" (vineyard lots): 1 hectare of Merlot, 1 hectare of Cabernet and 1 hectare of Malbec, which partly inspired the name "Les Trois Petiotes" ("the 3 small ones"). They also have 3 daughters, the last one being born the same year as the winery in 2008, which explain the other part of this very inspired name. Valerie and Denis are totally dedicated to their family life, their daughters and their wine adventure. These "Neo-vignerons" as they categorize themselves are making wonders in that small appellation dear to my heart, which has proudly reamined outside of the new Cotes de Bordeaux appellation and enjoy a deserved renaissance since the last 8-10 years, especially with new comers like the Godelu family to reboost and rejuvenate the appellation. This winery is also quite sentimental to me as I grew up in my grandfather vineyards only a few kilometers away in the village of Comps (the locals will know). 


  •  Domaine des Homs,  last Saturday "Le Magasin" opened a bottle of 2011 Viognier, which was really good: floral, bright, zesty, balanced, refreshing and fleshy without being heavy. I loved it. We also had the Red from this little winery located in the Minervois, a reputed appellation of the western Languedoc. This Domaine of 20 hectares belonged to the De Crozals family for the past 3 generations. Today, Jean-Marc and his wife, both graduates from the Université Internationale du Vin de Suze-la-Rousse, craft with passion and conviction their wines that are all produced under strict organic methods certified ECOCERT. Their goal is to produce wines of terroir. Complex wines with mineral structure, well balanced between richness and freshness, power and elegance. Terroir wines reflecting of the nutritive elements of the soil, grape variety, climate as well as the character and "savoir-faire" of the people crafting them. 

  • Jour de Fete, produced by Vincent et Marie Tricot located in Orcet, was also opened last Saturday: nice, gentle, easy to drink, with refine bubbles and a touch of residual sugar that add light sweetness to this excellent example of a sparkling wine made with Gamay from a lesser known region situated south of the Loire, in the heart of France: Auvergne. They possess about 5 hectares of vineyards, vinified under Organic method, certified AB (Agriculture Biologique), planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay. No website but you can always read more about them on the excellent and informative website (or blog?) of www.wineterroirs.com or if you prefer to read in French, go to Vignerons d'Orcet.
This is a small glimpse of their wine selection. More labels await you at the back of the store where the wine cellar is located.


Le Magasin is definitely the place to check out if you are tired of browsing the uninspiring shelves of your local supermarket.



Nestled in the heart of Stanley market, this discreet and slighty hard to find hole-in-the-wall store also encompasses some hand-crafted kitchen and table useful tools like artisanal table knifes (from one of the "Coutellerie(s)" of Thiers), as well as hand-made colorful pottery dipper dishes and plates (among other things) from Provence, that make excellent gift ideas.

To find it, take Stanley new main street like if you were going to the market, then turn left at the Haagen-Dazs sign, in the litlle street with the stairs, climb them and go straight, Le Magasin will appear on your left hand side shortly after, but look carefully as it is not obvious to see the first time.


Open for the past few weeks, it is run by a dynamic and friendly team, Jean-Charles, the owner, and his friend Michael, store manager, who will welcome you with open arms and smiles. And the wine tasting on week-end starting at 5pm suddenly makes this store even more sympathetic.

Along with more established French pioneer Hong Kong stores like "Monsieur Chatte" or even "Chez Patrick", "Le Magasin" is a nice addition to the Hong Kong French market scene and one more reason to go to Stanley. Their website is still under construction as they just opened, but should be available soon. 

The opening of such a store once again firmly establish and confirm (for both locals and expats) the growing interest in French culinary culture and tradition as one of the best and most appreciated in Hong Kong (and the rest of the world, if I may say, but this is my French side speaking).

Enjoy,

LeDom du Vin

PS:  If you live in Hong Kong or just happen to pass by for a visit and wonder where to go to eat some French food or retrieve some French atmosphere, you can always try Monsieur Chatte (Traditional) and Chez Patrick (more contemporary) try the following places:


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Is there a reliable law of the decades for wine vintages?

Is there a reliable law of the decades for wine vintages? 

In a recent conversation with Jeannie Cho Lee, famous South Korean journalist and author and Master of Wine (the first ethnic Asian to achieve this accreditation in 2008), while attending the 2012 Super Nations Cup Polo Tournament at Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club (surely one of, if not the best Polo Club in mainland China), I started to talk about an old idea about the law of the decades for wine vintages.

My late grandfather was the one who first enlightened me about it. Being a local winemaker from the Cotes de Bourg, spending most of his time outside in his garden combining “potager”, orchard and vineyard, he knew of the old ways about nature’s signs to anticipate the weather, the growing cycle of the vines and to certain extend the quality of the up-and-coming vintage as early as early spring.

He just had to look at the sky, observe the environment of the vines, the flora and fauna surrounding them (trees, plants, flowers, herbs, insects, mammals, birds, etc… ) and also refer to the cycle of the moon. Basically, like most people of the older generations, he still had the instinct and the knowledge for these natural things that we have forgotten.

We do not know anymore how to listen, watch and learn from nature. The trend is do things fast and efficiently, yet not anymore in depth and details. Where is the time when people still had passion, desire, instinct and craftsmanship? Nowadays, we rely more and more on computer, calculation and complicate analysis to predict and anticipate what will happen with everything; yet it is not always more accurate and often falls as a statistic or an approximate forecast rather than an old school, more traditional and verifiable fact.

The law of the decades for wine vintages is one of those facts, resulting of a lot of patience, watch-attentively-and-learn type of attitude and more especially careful attention to the various patterns and cycles of life in general. And that process can be applied to a lot different things in direct relation with nature and its various cycles, not only wine vintages.

Of course, this process of predicting or anticipating the vintages via years of experience and in-depth knowledge of the specific climate which characterize a region and its Terroir, has to be applied to a specific region where enough vintages have been recorded and tasted to really be accurate. You cannot generalize or apply it to a country for example, too many variations. It has to be done on a smaller scale.

Let’s apply it to the whole region of Bordeaux over the last 70 years. I can hear you say already: "It is too vague and general", but it will do for this example.

Why Bordeaux? Because it is where I come from and where I grew up with my grandfather, and therefore possess the most personal references. Bordeaux is also an easy target as it is known historically to only produce 3 to 4 good vintages per decades.

And the questions are: are they the same years every decades? Could it be a pattern or cycle in the climate and the weather that could explain why some years are always better than others?

The law of the decades for wine vintages consists on analyzing the past decades and see if there is a pattern between certain vintages or certain years, like a recurring result in term of quality and production of the wine characteristic to specific years; almost like an unavoidable life cycle that could not be countered or changed, but rather anticipated because of previous characteristics, signs and patterns from the studies of earlier vintages and decades.

But let me explain with a very simple table chart, which will be more visual and easier to understand at one glance. I’m partial not to base the following results on the critic’s ratings, but mostly on my memories of what my grandfather used to tell me and what I witnessed and tasted myself over the last 30 years including the past 20+ years working in the wine trade (It is based on my unique point of view and opinion, and does not reflect what critics and press may think).

Decades
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Remark
1940





Great





1950









Very good

1960
Ok
Great
Bad
Bad
Very Good
Bad
Good
ok
Bad
Bad
Ok decade
1970
Ok
Ok
Bad
Bad
Bad
Ok
Bad
Bad
Good
Ok
Bad decade
1980
Bad
Bad
Great
Very Good
Bad
Great
Very good
Bad
Ok
Great
Very Good Decade
1990
Very Good
Bad
Bad
Bad
Bad
Very Good
Very Good
Ok
Good
Ok
Ok to Good Decade
2000
Great
Bad
Good
Bad
OK
Great
Very Good
OK
Good
Great
Very Good to Great decade
2010
Very Good
Bad








Will see
Average
Good
Bad
Good
Bad
Bad
Very Good
Very Good
Ok
Good
Very Good




Some people will not see it or admit it, but there is somewhat of a pattern in the results presented in the above table. People may also say that it is difficult to say because of the climatic changes that occurred over the last 30 years and that this table is too generic and should be applied to a smaller region than the whole region of Bordeaux. And I will say yes, you are right, it definitely should be applied to a more specific region to be more accurate. However, this is just an example for the people that never really thought of doing such an analysis or comparison before.

Most things in life happen in cycles and patterns that have been traced, recorded and studied for years by scientists, including climate and microclimate, weather, geography, topography, historic and work of the land, etc… Things usually evolve around similar axes and patterns that come back or reappear as a recurring factor by cycle of a certain amount of years. For this example, we are talking about decades, basically what happen every 10 years in terms of climatology to a certain designated area.

For this example, we have to take in consideration all the factors that affect this particular area. Bordeaux is greatly influenced by an oceanic climate and temperature are rather moderate yet with heavy rain fall throughout the year. Also numerous microclimates in various appellations depend of their proximity with the Gironde estuary and the two rivers flowing into it La Garonne and La Dordogne. We also have to take in consideration the fact that the left bank is rather flat with isolated small hills and gentle slopes, while the right bank rests on a limestone bedrock plateau extending from the Cotes de Blaye to the north and descending all the way to the Cotes de Castillon, undulating all along with rounded hills creating a totally different attractive landscape. Consequently, all these factors create numerous microclimates and niches where temperature and humidity may differ from places next to each other. We also have to take in consideration the tremendous work in the vineyards and the cellars from the Chateaux owners and winemakers in addition to new techniques and technology to produce better wine that have been deployed over the last 15-20 years, increasing the quality. 

However, this last point is a bit controversial; because some of the best wines of Bordeaux are now produced by people that leaves Mother Nature do her job in the vineyards and adopt a minimalist attitude in terms of interference with the wine evolution in the cellar. Stay tune for one of my next post on that fascinating subject that deserve a post in itself (you can also read some of the previous ones that I wrote on the subject).

However, going back to the above table and looking at the average results, we can conclude that over the last 60-70 years, Bordeaux vintages ending with:

 (0) are usually Good to Very Good; 
 (1) are Bad; 
 (2) are Ok to Good; 
 (3) are Bad; 
 (4) are Bad to OK; 
 (5) are Very Good to Great; 
 (6) are Good to Very Good; 
 (7) are Bad to Ok; 
 (8) are Good; 
 (9) are very Good to Great. 

Somewhat, it seems that the vintages ending with 0, 5, 6, 8 and 9 are pretty reliable in general, while the ones ending with 1, 3, 4 and 7 tend to be less reliable and of lesser quality. The ones ending with 2 are mixed, and despite 1982 which was a great vintage, and 2002 which offered great bargains for the quality, the rest were not that good. We will see what 2012 has to give.

Some of you may be surprised that I said that 2003 was a bad vintage. Well, in my opinion, despite a few distinguished effort from a few Chateaux, and I was there for the en Primeur campaign for 8 days of tasting more than 1000 wines from both banks (some 3 or 4 times over the week in various tastings), and I can surely say that 2003 was the less homogeneous vintage I ever tasted in my whole career. It was all over the place, no consistency and no charm, with combined overripe fruit, weird acidity and green tannins. I already wrote many times over my views in various previous posts and the reasons why this vintage tasted the way it did. You can read some of my views at http://www.ledomduvin.com/2010/04/bordeaux-they-did-it-again-sigh-or.html and http://www.ledomduvin.com/2009/06/coup-de-gueule-follow-wine-press-or-not.html 

Obviously, as I was saying earlier, this is very general and can easily be discussed and disputed; however, there is a pattern, and that you cannot say the opposite. And I found that fascinating. It makes you think I’m sure. Try to apply it to a more specific region, and not necessarily Bordeaux, but also Burgundy, Loire, Rhone, Languedoc, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Piedmont, Tuscany, Napa and everywhere else. You will see it is very interesting.

Of course, mountainous vineyards and regions where the weather is less homogenous with overall climate, temperature and humidity changing rapidly and drastically, are less likely to show this type of patterns. This type of decades table vintage quality chart is definitely more adaptable to regions where the climate is rather temperate (in both continental and oceanic) roughly the same and do not present too many extreme differences from one year to the next.

Jeannie Cho Lee was even expressing the very interesting idea to see if it could apply to the Chinese calendar, which is not calculated by decade but by dozen of years. The use of 12-year animal cycles for recording the years in China dates back to 100 A.D. Each year is symbolized by an animal and the 12 animals are mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. We could even push the idea to apply it to the biodynamic calendar and moon cycle to see if instead of days, there could be a root, fruit or leaf years.

As I was saying, it is just an idea, a concept and ancient way the older generations used to have, when computer where not there to do the job. Climatologist and meteorologist are surely very interested in this type of experience. And Oenologists and Winemakers must also have a sense of it and even reminiscences of this lost instinct; more especially the ones working with Biodynamic, Organic, Biologique, “Lutte Raisonnee” and other natural methods.

But I wrote this little post in memory of my late grandfather and his way of doing things, which is for me the old way, the old school way, the way that I personally would like to go back to, especially now with my kids. When things were important and had a purpose and sentimental value. Because our generation should take and make the time to understand, watch and learn nature, the environment and our everyday surrounding, rather than not paying attention anymore and pass by without seeing or even thinking about these important things that are still all around us and on which we relied on for centuries, but we do not know how to see or feel anymore. Let’s retrieve this lost instinct.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hong Kong: Hub of wine buying, Yes! But is it really the hub of wine selling and drinking?

Hong Kong: Hub of wine buying, yes! But is it really the hub of wine selling and drinking?

Over the last 2-3 years, Hong Kong has become the new world hub of luxury goods and more especially high-end wines. Auction houses like Acker Merrall and Condit followed by Christie's and Sotheby's (HK branches) are breaking world records of sales, now predominantely selling to richer middle class and corporate companies from mainland China rather than Hong Kong customers and consumers.

Even foreign connoisseurs and collectors from Europe, USA, Russia and a few more countries, who continue to occasionally attend some of London and New York auctions, are now coming to Hong Kong. Yet, due to the economy, the amount of foreign buyers has tremendously depleted, compared to the ever increasing new wave of rich mainland Chinese and Hong kong buyers.

Evidently, due to the rapid Chinese economic growth over the last 4 years, a touch of occidental influence as well as the amount of potential customers in China (due to the population density) and the young state of this juvenile market, Hong Kong has become the world's hub of wine buying and the Chinese gate to a booming wine market.

Rich Hong Kong and mainland Chinese connoisseurs, amateurs, buyers and consumers are undeniably concerned and careful about the brands and the names, but also how and where they buy their wines. They usually buy mostly from expert specialized merchants, private owners and auction houses enabling them to verify quality and provenance, rather than buying in uncertain main street wine stores.

However, my concern, which is also the reason behind this little article, is that most of these wines (once again) are bought for speculation, investment and lucrative activities and businesses, rather than consumption. Especially the old vintages of top growth Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, which instead of delighting the palates of convives gathered at a table sharing dinner and laughers, spend more time travelling in containers all around the world from a city and auction to the next, without even seeing the rim of a glass, to end up in a warehouse or a private cellar until the next sale.

If you have any interest (or even worst, refuse to believe in that fact), take a few minutes of your precious time spend mostly on social network and chat zone to do a market analysis of some of these wines. The internet gives you all the tools you need to come up with a precise idea. Vinopedia, Wine Searcher, Liv-Ex, Vinfolio's Wine Prices, Wine Market Journal,  Wine Decider, Snooth, CellarTracker, Idealwine, and a few more (among others) represent some of the most powerful and recognized search engines on the market. Wine Prices and Wine Market Journal, for example, even give you the date of previous auction sales, which could help you to realized that certain wines have gone around the planet more than once over the last 10-20 years(+) between London, Paris, Geneva, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Rio, Tokyo, Singapore and Shanghai before landing in Hong Kong (and maybe go for another round...).

Speculation on wine is not new and has always been very active at least for the last 30 years, yet it has never really reached such nonsense, craze and disputable pricing until 2000. The last decade saw the biggest inflation of price ever recorded in Bordeaux top growth, the En Primeur prices nearly multiplied by 10 in 10 years. A 1st growth En Primeur 2000 went in first tranche in the market for about $125-150 a bottle; while the same label 2009 vintage, went between $875-950 a bottle.

Therefore, their again, the wines seem sold from a buyer to another buyer to make money rather than being sold, then consumed and appreciated as it should be. The ever rising prices also scare the mundane consumers. 

Expensive wines have become a casual commodities that even the rich and famous seem to really appreciate more for the return they could make out of them rather than the aromas, flavors, sensations and pleasure they could procure instead. Everything is about business nowadays, fast efficiency and results and money making deals, no time anymore to enjoy life and even less for a good bottle of wine.  

That said, one question come to mind: Hong Kong, Hub of wine buying, yes! But is it really also the hub of wine selling and drinking?

In my opinion, not really, but before jumping too hastily to conclusion, let me try to explain my point of view, based on my years of experience as Sommelier and Wine buyer for retails and restaurants in various market such as Bordeaux, Paris, London, New York and now Hong Kong. In fact, let's talk about the few factors that will explain why sales are not booming in HK.  

First, wine consumption has never been a cultural thing in Hong Kong where people are more concerned by their health, their cloths and job title. HK culture is more incline to hot water, tea, beer, cocktail and hard alcohol rather than wine. Certain acohol and more especially wine in general can have secondary effects that surprisingly, compared to any other etnies and races, really affect a big part of the Asian population.

"Alcohol can only be oxidized in the liver, where enzymes are found to initiate the process. The enzyme Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH) metabolises alcohol into acetic acid (vinegar) a product from which the body can obtain some energy.  Some people have an alteration, called a polymorphism, in the ALDH gene which renders the enzyme inactive and makes it impossible for them to convert alcohol into acetic acid. Such persons should avoid alcohol, although they can enjoy the benefit of the antioxidants found in non-alcoholic red wine. This leads to allergy-like symptoms including most notably nasal congestion and mild flushing of the skin within minutes of ingesting alcohol. The commonest abnormal reaction to alcohol is seen in persons from an oriental background, who get flushing, increased heart rate, and symptoms of reduced blood pressure. This is sometimes referred to as 'oriental flushing syndrome'. Approximately 50% of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are deficient in ALDH, and this has been reported to be protective against the development of alcoholism." - courtesy of www.foodreactions.org (http://www.foodreactions.org/intolerance/alcohol/index.html)

But also because people are always working, doing longer hours than before to show that they are dedicated to their job, showing how important and dependable they are (understandable in such economy) to always obtain better results, and more of this and more of that, while not taking the time to really enjoy life, family, friends, food and wine. They usually end up stress and nervous, always on their smartphone, busier than ever due to the amount of texts, chats, emails and social network updates and comments they have to post minutely, yet it is part of their work...not their life they said... But this is another subject. 

The other things is surely due to lack of knowledge, education and interest on the subject. Altough, it is changing slowly, and despite the ever growing numbers of certified and uncertified wine courses and wine school around town, I can not help to notice how empty average main street wine stores are and how narrow their wine selection is. Probably one of the reasons why that they have a huge lack of pedstrians traffic, despite maybe a few tourists.

Peering at the shelves of most Hong Kong wine retailers, it is not difficult to realize that some of the greatest Bordeaux and Burgundy wines are more predominantly represented than any other wine regions in the world, led by the First Growths and DRC of course.

It is actually quite amazing to see the line up of all of these expensive bottles and larger formats, waiting patiently standing up, in full light behind the windows or on the shelves, while nobody in Hong Kong really buys their wines in these mostly-empty-of-customers main street wine retail stores.



Understandably, they usually source their wines elsewhere, surely because standing up bottles are an acceptable common concept for small retailers and supermarket chains offering an interesting wine selection with more attractive and competitive prices generating cash flow and quick turnover (i.e. Mark & Spencer, etc...).

Therefore, it is folly, for these small main street wine stores, to expect a quick turnover and successful business returns, when mainly offering expensive bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundies, lots in large format too, especially if they have been standing up in the light for weeks or even months, with the cork drying and the wine turning, without seeing a soul.

HK small community of real connoisseurs and amateurs are looking at the conditions in which the bottles rest, hence it is not surprising these kind of stores don't inspire much sell (add the hefty prices and the counterfeits, and now you have a clearer picture of why these stores are often empty). The selection has also something to do with it. 

In fact, most Hong Kong wine retailers don't offer much of any else aside of Bordeaux and Burgundies, despite a few usual suspects and high end wines from Australia, New Zealand and Italy and a rare few from the US.

Rarely or scarcely represented are the beautiful and less expensive gems from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Argentina, Chile and South Africa just to name some of the most recognized world wine countries, and strangely enough barely no Chinese wines either (but this is more a question of locale culture..., it is not my place to talk about this on this blog, so just ask someone from Hong Kong, they usually are pretty explicit when describing people from mainland China). However, let's get back to wine.

In fact, being the world references of wine, fetching astronomical prices (and god knows the Hong Kong people love the luxury brands), Bordeaux and Burgundy have been crowding the shelves of most Hong Kong retail stores and the wine lists of most HK restaurants for years, especially those with more occidental influenced food.

Unfortunately, these beautiful Burgundian and Bordeaux gems are not really selling, rather taking the dust more than anything else, due to some of the multiple reasons and factors cited above, including hefty prices, crumbling economy, bad storage conditions and, even triggering more concerns lately, fake bottles. 

I know, I'm repeating myself, but I would like to stress the point that lack of interest due to the economy and genuine fear from the customers about the wine quality, are especially true for the wine retail stores where shelves seem overcrowded with countless amount of unsold bottles, magnums and even larger size bottles of some of the most expensive French wines standing up in full light and poor air conditioning system.

Moreover, the ever increasing number of counterfeit bottles discovered over the last few years had huge consequences on the market, consequently sales have been declining deeply over the past year-or-so. The recent growth of the Chinese economy is also slightly slowing down. 

The last quarter of 2011 was the worst with sales in retails and restaurants depleting dramatically (despite a little surge around Christmas and New Year celebration, yet usually representing a higher percentage of the year sales). Also, the last two quarter of 2012 didn't bring back the spike of hope eagerly awaited by most importers, suppliers and distributors.

All the above combined with a slowing down economy, the prices going up and the customers being rather cautious with an easy-on-the-wallet attitude, put the Hong Kong wine buying mood on a down slope.

It has been happening everywhere else, more especially in Europe and the US; and even if until now HK has managed to remain slightly above the water as the door to an emerging and rapidly growing market in China with enormous potential, the wine buying market has far exceeded the wine selling market. 

Although China and more especially Hong Kong remain full of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Rolls Royce, Bentley as well as privately owned yachts and jets, wine warehouses and stores alike are full of unsold stocks of expensive and exciting wines, but interested customers are not as numerous as expected and attitudes have changed regarding buying and consuming high end bottles.

Also, although wine has been produced in this part of the world for centuries and the Brits brought a bit of their knowledge and wine drinking culture, the Hong Kong and to a certain extend the Chinese wine market consumption is a fairly new market (15-20 years maximum) compared to the rest of the western world, where drinking and consuming wines have always been fully integrated parts of centuries-old culture and traditions. Therefore, the Chinese and Hong Kong wine connoisseurs and amateurs constitute only a small minority of the population, which also explain the sales not being as good as expected.

Most importers, suppliers and distributors, probably thought that it will be an easy thing for them to sell their stocks, even the bad vintages (young uneducated market tend to fall easily for this kind of thing at the beginning. However, my personal experience working in two Hong Kong restaurants and quite a few wine events in various places, enable me to say that not many people drink wines in restaurant. Most of the time, it was the foreigners, expats and tourists, who will order a glass of wine for the lunch or a bottle for dinner, rarely the Chinese customers. In fact, the latter were ordering more hot water, tea, fruit juice and beers than wine. But there again, things are slightly changing and more wine is getting consumed, yet we are far from Europe and the Americas in general in terms of wine consumption.

In any case, let's not forget that China wine production place them in the top 5 largest producers in the world. That position does not yet reflect the Chinese wine consumption yet, but, a surge of wine education and wine consumption in the last few years put the Chinese within the the top 10 wine consumer in the world. Things are also changing in Hong Kong too.     

In fact, and more especially since 2008 when Hong Kong decided to take off the tax on wine, everybody realized the birth of a very lucrative business, importing and distributing wines. Suddenly, corporate companies as well as small investors all in the same time had the same idea, and the word spread very quickly. In less than 2 years, more than 1000 importers and distributors were fighting for their respective piece of the Hong Kong wine market. By september 2011, more than 3000 importers, suppliers and distributors were overcrowding and overflowing the market with wines. A year later, probably only 10-15% are really making a good living, the rest of them are struggling to sell their stocks.

Moreover, small innovative retailers are now even importing directly their wines for their boutiques, finding a niche and new ways to attract customers and being different. The last two years have pushed most of them to turn their head and business towards mainland China, but then again, things are not are easy as they seemed they will be at the beginning.      

As for the available wine selection, even thought it is slightly changing, it remains mainly French based. The rest of the world wines are more wildly found now, while barely nonexistent still 2-3 years ago. Wines from Spain, USA, Germany, Austria, Chile, Argentina and even South Africa, and not only the big appellations or big brands, are currently more represented in more specialized stores, which help diversify the shelves and wine-list around the proud Asia's World City. Being also better value for money, they make for a better and more adequate choice for most consumers.

Consequently, and in my opinion, it seems that the Hong Kong market is the hub of wine buyers and wine buiying for sure; yet the buying market doesn't reflect the selling marketing which is still struggling, suffering from being overcrowded and over-flooded with an insane amount of unsold and snail-moving-speed wine stocks.

The recent exodus of expats to Hong Kong, especially from France and Europe in general, in addition to the locals who, over the last few years, opened countless wine import-export and distribution companies as well as small retail stores, submerged the market with thousands of wines from all over.

They were first thinking that selling wines in HK was lucrative and profitable enough to make a better living, yet they didn't realized how fierce the competition will be. The most successful businesses were established about 4-5 years ago when the movement started after the abolition of import duties and other taxation on wine, but it has faded tremendously since then and the market is now somewhat out of breath with new comers facing a very difficult market in Hong Kong.

Just to compare, New York encompasses about 1,000 importers and distributors of wine & spirits for about 8+ millions inhabitants, while Hong Kong counts about 3,000 wine importers and distributors for about 7+ inhabitants

While mainland China market  is still booming and growing, some of the most fortunate and wealthy mainland Chinese continue to come and shop in some of Hong Kong well established and reputed wine Auction houses and specialized retailers and private cellars. Yet, the selling numbers and statistics, compared to the continuous flux of wine palettes constantly arriving in Hong Kong, are way under what they should be, even if a good part of it is sold to mainland China.

Therefore and in conclusion, and after all of the above factors and reasons, (I could still talk about it but it would be too long), I can confidentally say that Yes, Hong Kong is surely the new hub of wine buying, like New York was 6-7 years ago and London still has been over the last 15 years, but no it is not the hub of wine selling and even less the hub of wine drinking. There is still a long way to go to reach that point. 

To be continued... as this blog is my hub to the endless wine debates and discussions that daily crowd my head.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin