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 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. 


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

LeDomduVin: "Le Magasin" de Stanley (Hong Kong)

Le Magasin de Stanley (Hong Kong)

Le Magasin de Stanley is a cute little French Epicerie Fine store that transports you back to 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 a hill in the Cotes de Castillon, orchestrated by Thierry Valette, a talented winemaker by passion and musician for pleasure, who has the 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 doing what she does best. Although I was selling them for years when I was in New York, the wines of Thierry are somewhat sentimental to me as they were the ones I bought at the estate for my wedding (that occurred 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 explains the other part of this inspired name. Valerie and Denis are dedicated to their family life, daughters, and wine adventure. These "Neo-vignerons," as they categorize themselves, are doing wonders in that small appellation dear to my heart, which has proudly remained outside of the new Cotes de Bordeaux appellation and enjoyed a deserved renaissance since the last 8-10 years, especially with newcomers like the Godelu family to reboot and rejuvenate the appellation. This winery is also quite sentimental to me as I grew up in my grandfather's 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 domain of 20 hectares has 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 their wines with passion and conviction. They are all produced under strict organic methods certified by ECOCERT. Their goal is to produce wines of terroir. Complex wines with mineral structure, good balance between richness and freshness, power and elegance. Terroir wines reflect the nutritive elements of the soil, grape variety, climate, and 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 refined bubbles and a touch of residual sugar that add a 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 the Organic method, certified AB (Agriculture Biologique), and 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, 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.

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 slightly hard-to-find hole-in-the-wall store also encompasses some hand-crafted kitchen and table useful tools like artisanal table knives (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's new main street as if you were going to the market, then turn left at the Haagen-Dazs sign in the little 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 has been run by a dynamic and friendly team: Jean-Charles, the owner, and his friend Michael, the 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 it should be available soon. 

The opening of such a store once again firmly establishes and confirms (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).


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:

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages

LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades 

for Bordeaux Vintages

LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades 
for Bordeaux Vintages by ©LeDomduVin 2019

The "Theory of the decades" or "Theory of the vintages" in Bordeaux, is a theory I have developed over the last 3 decades, resulting from the studying of the recurring "pattern" or "cycle" of the vintage's quality and conditions (for Bordeaux wines) that seems to come back nearly every decade, in very similar ways.

For example, since the 1940s, and despite a few rare exceptions, (like 1961 and 1947 for some appellations), the vintages ending in "1" and "7", in Bordeaux, have always been "fair to mediocre", (…we will see what will happen with the 2021 vintage and maybe verify this theory once again). While the vintages ending in "5" (e.g. 1945, 55, 75, 85, 95, 2005, 2015) have always been "good to great" to even "best", one decade after another. And, even those ending in "6" and "8" have always been very consistent as being "good to great" in the last 50 years.  

So, why Bordeaux? Because, it is where I was born, where I grow up, where my grandfather was making wines and where he first developed the idea of this theory, that I continued to develop based on his findings and observations, then in turn mine by reading many books, and tasting wines of course and developing an interest for what seemed to me an obvious "recurring or cycled pattern" in the weather conditions and vintage's quality in the region of Bordeaux.

I only apply this theory as a whole to the Bordeaux region, as of course, if you study, case by case, each vintage of each Bordeaux appellations, and/or even each Chateau/producer, you will find lots of differences and many exceptions. Like for anything else, the more you get into details, the more complicated it will be, and thus to prove this theory. 

Never the less, that is why this theory is interesting and verifiable, as it is not uncommon for the Bordelais to compare the similarities of certain vintages, and, more often than none, to vintages ending with the same number. However if you ask them if this could constitute a theory, they will always frown and disagree.  

The Bordelais reaction is a simple human reaction to think that nothing is or should ever be the same or similar, and patterns or cycles have more to do with hazard or coincidence than facts.... It is perfectly understandable, more especially knowing the consequences and repercussions a bad vintage can have, so, it is normal that Chateaux' owners and producers don't want "a repeat" a decade later. Better leave bad memories to the past.   

Yet, pretty much everything surrounding us evolves and revolves due to recurring patterns and cycles (e.g. earth, the moon, the waves, the current in the seas and oceans, animals behaviors, seasons, etc., etc...). You see what I 'm getting at. 

So, why not applying the same theory to vintages? Like a recurring pattern or cycle every decade? It might even help the "vignerons" to be better prepared somewhat... (unless climate changes completely change the pattern in the next 10 to 20 up and coming vintages).       

However, you may agree or disagree, or even not care at all, yet, let me still try to introduce you to my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages.     

1. Is there a reliable theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages?

During a conversation with a wine critic (or I could say a "colleague", at the time, as we were both working for the same company), Jeannie Cho Lee (*), while attending the 2012 Super Nations Cup Polo Tournament  (**) at Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club (surely one of, if not "The" best Polo Club tournament in mainland China, read about it here), I briefly started to talk about an old idea of mine, about my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages, as I thought it was an interesting subject to discuss with a Master of Wine and to have her opinion on the subject, but, I was then immediately reminded to keeping it light (prior rapidly moving to another subject), as boredom started to materialize in her facial expression.

Funny enough, every time I tried to defend my theory with producers, winemakers, Négociants, wine journalists or even wine critics for that matter, they usually were either not interested to discuss the subject (granted, it does not make for a passionate debate....) or they were totally against it, as for most of them, we can't generalize to a whole region, and it is too vast of a controversial subject to be reduced to a simple table (like the one in my illustration above).

And, I would definitely agree, Bordeaux as a region cannot be taken as a whole and thus the quality of the vintages cannot and should not be generalized to the whole region, but by appellation (at least). And we cannot even say that Bordeaux is only 2 banks: Left and Right, as I already firmly expressed myself on the subject on a previous post (read it here). Yet, I did generalize it for this theory, I admit it, but it was for the purpose of simplifying a terribly complicated subject and making it more accessible to everyone.

And, about my illustration above, it somewhat summarizes my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages based on my analysis and the combination of results (average and trends) from various vintage charts of both banks from long-established wine specialized sources (e.g. Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Decanter, Berry Brothers, Wine Enthusiast, etc...). And looking at it, you have to admit that there is somewhat of a "pattern" or "cycle" of the vintage's quality per decade. Do you see it? It is obvious to me, but maybe it is only me, maybe it is not that obvious to you.

In any case, personally, I really do believe that there is a pattern, some sort of a law of the decades in Bordeaux, like a vintage quality cycle, which, somehow, repeats itself decade after decade, no matter what... 

Climate change, global warming, pollution of the air, water and ground, as well as (on a more positive note) better and more accurate technology, better and more natural practices in the vineyard and at the cellar (Organic, Biodynamic, Natural, Lutte Raisonnée, Sustainable farming, etc...) may probably change this vintage quality pattern over the next decade (2020-2029) or two. However, when you look at my illustration, even the sceptic that you are can see what I mean. Look at the table above again, and you'll see. 

So, is my theory reliable? Well, "reliable" may not be the right word, but it might prove to be correct as it sure does seem rather peculiar to have a "similar" repetition of the superior quality of certain vintages ("years" if you prefer) decade after decade, isn't it?             

The bottle of wine and the weather by ©LeDomduVin 2019

2. My Late Grandfather and the origin of this theory

This theory came from my late grandfather. He was the one who first enlightened me about it, when I was still a young boy, (growing up in the countryside in the middle of a sea of vineyards surrounding, both, my mother's and my grandfather's house), learning about the force of Mother Nature while accompanying him in his vineyard and his vegetable garden enclosed with fruit trees.

Having lived all of his life in the countryside and being a local winemaker from the Côtes de Bourg, spending most of his time outside in his garden, where mingled a “potager”, an orchard and a vineyard, he knew of and had a savvy understanding of the old ways about Mother Nature’s signs to anticipate the weather conditions, as well as the growing cycle of the vines and, to a certain extent, 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 and the sun, to anticipate what will happen. Basically, like most people of the older generations, he still had the instinct (senses and behaviors), as well as the knowledge and the experience to comprehend Mother Nature's signs. The reading of these natural things, that my generation has nearly already forgotten, was his daily routine. And it always amazed me to see him in action. 

Eyes doubtfully scrutinizing either at the blue or the clouds in the sky, depending on the weather of the day, grasping Mother Nature's signs, I remember him well saying some classic French old timer's vine and wine-related proverbs and quotes (***), such as:

The auspicious ones:
  • "Lendemain de Saint-Vincent ensoleillé, rend le vigneron joyeux dans son cellier." (meaning "Sunny the day after Saint-Vincent day, makes the winemaker happy in his cellar" - Saint-vincent is usually celebrated January 22nd)
  • "Soleil à la Saint-Vincent, - Le vigneron s'en va en chantant." (meaning "Sun at St. Vincent, - the winemaker goes away singing.")
And the inauspicious ones:
  • "Pluie à la Saint-Bernardin, - Vigneron pleure ton vin." (meaning "Rain at Saint-Bernardin, - winegrower cries your wine." - Saint-Bernardin is usually celebrated May 20th)
  • "Gelée de Saint-Fructueux - Rend le vigneron malheureux." (meaning "Frost of Saint-Fructueux - Makes the winemaker unhappy." - Saint-Fructueux is usually celebrated April 16th)

He knew so much about the various natural cycles and signs of Mother Nature, that he could almost anticipate the results and consequences the weather will generate on the vine's life cycle, like if it was snowing, frosting, hailing or raining prior or after this day or this day (meaning prior or after this date or that date), then this or that will happen.

He was like an encyclopedia of knowledge. The vineyard was his life, but he also knew a lot about all sort of food and animals, and also had amazing recipes that I wished I could have written in a book as they were so good, yet well guarded in his mind as he rarely wrote them down. It was all about using your brain and memory and pay attention to all things in general in life, being open-minded and curious and willing to learn more. Savvy? Things that my generation X and the following one, Y, the Millenials, are not doing anymore...

The Evolution of Education over the last 30 years Mathematics by ©LeDomduVin 2019
(Inspired by and translated from a picture found on and courtesy of

3. The rise of the Machines or How Humans became stupid and brainless 

Memory is  (or "was" should I say) a thing of the old and wise from previous generations. My generation "X" (1965-1979) and the generation "Y" (Millenial - 1980-1994), (and don't even get me started on my kids generations, "Z" (1995-2010 or 2012) for my boy and "Alpha" (roughly 2010-2025) for my girl), don't have any memory anymore, as we rely too much on computers, tablets, smartphones, and other gadgets to remember things for us. Consequently, and sadly, we barely use our neurones and our brain's potential anymore.... (sigh).

Therefore, Baby-boomers and Generation "X" (understand Pre-Millenial for those who might not know or understand the concept...), I have a few questions for you.....
  • Do you remember the time when we had to memorize first and last names, birth dates, home and/or work addresses, phone numbers, and other things about people in our immediate surroundings, family and friends, but also colleagues and coworkers, etc... Remember? We used to know these things by heart... But who does that nowadays? No one... Your phone does it for you... 
  • Do you remember these long opinionated discussions and debates after a movie or even about a book or an exhibition or an event or god knows whatever else you used to be excited and passionate about?... Remember?... Who does that nowadays? Barely no one... Now instead, you only talk about it for less than a few minutes and the interest has already shifted to the next thing... No more long conversation around a drink or two or not even dinner after the movie or the show to talk about it...  You just go back to your social networks and posts with selfies and pictures of yourself in weird situations on which you struck a pose that has nothing to do with you or your everyday natural self... giving yourself and more especially others the illusion of a supposedly exiting life that in reality is far from reaching any kind of excitement.... rings the bell?   
  • Do you remember the quality time and special moments spent with your family and friends, or even with your kids, walking around, on a stroll somewhere, riding bikes or playing ball games, being outside, breathing the air, having a BBQ, smiling, laughing, sharing, enjoying these precious moments and the scenery (fixed in your brain as an unforgettable memory) without the distraction of your phone coming to life at each notification of all your social network accounts?... Remember?... I bet you don't.... as you are already too used to the bad habits you took with your smartphone over the last 15 years... too bad, these were precious personal moments that you forgot and probably won't relive ever... (if you don't let go at your phone and other gadgets).  
  • Do you remember taking the time just to take the time?... to do something that pleased you... whatever that was... read a book, listen to some music, write, draw, paint, repair small things in the house, fix the old bike or the car in the garage, go for a jog, walk on the beach or in the forest, play with your kids, look at the cloud's shapes, gardening.... feel free.... not being rushed by always having something to do for someone else or being reachable everywhere... Do you remember? Personally, I do, and I loved it...     

We do not know anymore how to listen, watch and learn from what surrounds us and more especially from Mother Nature. The trend is to rely on the machines and artificial intelligence (AI) to do things faster and supposedly more efficiently, to obtain sterile results often lacking in depth and/or details and often excluding the needed and unavoidable natural and human factors.

Everything nowadays goes way too fast to satisfy the need for immediate results and instant gratification creating an ephemeral moment of personal satisfaction, which is nothing more than an illusion, usually evaporating seconds later, as the interest as already shifted to something else supposedly even more interesting.... (sigh)...

I see it already with my kids (they are great kids and I love them both), but despite my wife and I efforts to teach them and provide them with good morals, values, manners, social behaviours, and overall a good education at all levels (at home and at school), we can only and desperately witness how fast things go, interact and influence them in their daily behaviours: lack of focus, lack of attention, change of moods, impatience, attitudes, answering back, believing they have rights for everything, and so on, and so on.... (you know what I'm trying to say... yet I still and will love them no matter what..... and, to be honest, I believe that we might have been the same with our own parents back then... but, I don't remember being to such extent....)

It seems that communication and entertainment technologies in general, TV and computers then, but more particularly smartphones, tablets and video game consoles (over the last decade), have intensified and accelerated certain bad behavioral processes in our kids and in ourselves too, (let's not deny it), which became bad habits that are more and more difficult to get rid of, as we are becoming too dependent on them, and, unconsciously, even use them as a substitute for our brain.       
So, I'm asking you, in general, where is the time when people still took the time to observe, comprehend and learn from what surrounds them? And in terms of agriculture and viticulture, where is the time when people had the instinct, skill and/or knowledge on how to pay attention to the natural cycles (the seasons, the tides, the sun, the moon, the stars, etc...) and recognize the signs of Mother Nature?

In fact, where is the time when people still had open-mind, curiosity, patience, interest, passion, desire, will, instinct, knowledge, skill and craftsmanship? Is it gone? Will it ever come back? Or would people, from now on, just be satisfied by mediocre results achieved too hastily due to too many screen distractions, as well as lack of interest, attention and/or willingness to do better?  

Smartphone Zombies Meme by ©LeDomduVin 2019

Nowadays, we cannot get our eyes out of a screen to the point that we don't even know what surrounds us anymore and we rely more and more on computers, tablets, smartphones, and extremely complicated algorithms capable of calculating, analyzing, predicting and anticipating what will happen with and for anything and everything. Yet, the results are not always more accurate and often falls as statistics or approximate forecasts rather than old school, more traditional and verifiable facts taking into consideration the unavoidable natural and human factors, and thus surely closer to the reality than an algorithm will ever be.

And I'm not a progress hater or one of those saying "It was better before" (maybe a little...), as I  fully embrace progress and new technologies, as long as they are made and used for the better, and as long as they do not compromise so much the natural part of our life and existence. Yet, we know all too well that the time spent on digital screens represent excessive distractions and affect cognitive and social development, especially memory building and interaction skill, for both children and parents.

We are basically becoming stupid, brainless, socially impaired and depressed individuals, empty of all sort of desires and wills and initiatives, solely guided by social networks only increasing our loneliness and individualism, addicted to lobotomizing games and unable to communicate with each other anymore.

All I'm trying to say is that it is saddening to realize how disconnected from reality and even more from Mother Nature we have become.

4. Better before....?

The generation of my grandfather, especially for those who lived and worked in the countryside like him, knew how to recycle and live with Mother Nature and somehow better protected the environment... I remember when I was young, back in the late 70s, and in the 80s, my grandfather already had different recycle bins: glass, metal, paper and a pit to compost the rest of vegetables and shellfish and mollusks. He had most of his vegetable and fruits coming from his garden and was buying whatever else he needed from other local farms or local artisanal Boucher/Charcutier and Boulanger/Patissier of the area. He always had a basket to do his groceries, no plastic bags (or very rarely, but he recycled them too). And I could carry on and on with many more examples.

Yet, on the other side of the coin, let's not forget that back in those days the use of harmful chemicals in the vineyard (both herbicides and insecticides) and within agriculture, in general, was common practice, as production was still about quantity, not quality, back then.

In fact, Mother Nature has been disrespected, soiled, damaged, polluted, asphyxiated, mutilated and overall disturbed in her daily work for the past 8 decades (since WWII, at least) by the unavoidable human factor (which definitely has something to do with that disturbance, despite the belief of some sceptics who still believe that humans have nothing to do with it).

Yet, I'm also trying to say that the human factor can also contribute to help Mother Nature when used the right way and for the greater good rather than to serve evil or vile interests. The recent comeback to more natural practices in agriculture, and more specifically in viticulture (Natural, Organic, Biodynamic, Lutte Raisonnée, etc....) is a proof that we are maybe witnessing a new age of reason for a small, yet ever-growing, community of concerned souls that are willing to change things to save our little planet.

Would this minority's realization be able to inspire the majority to understand that we don't have time anymore for sterile debates and inaction from the politics, lobbies and other major financial or economic institutions? Let's say that I'm really hoping so...but I doubt it will happen fast enough, unfortunately...

As, although this comeback to more natural practices is a blessing and a sign of hope, it is only done by a minority, the generation X, (my generation, roughly 1966-1980), already has difficulties to make a difference in this world and shift the trend back to more responsible behavior and more natural practices and methods, since it's people are too busy dealing with corrupt politics, greedy lobbyists, slow economic growth and development, as well as an increased living cost and more difficulties to make ends meet, etc.... than the 2 previous generation (Baby Boomers 1946-1955 and Boomers II/Generation Jones 1955-1965)

....and, despite recent protests and strikes to show and express their concerns and urge the adults (more specifically the politicians) of this world to do something and get into action to make a change, it probably will be even harder for my kid's generation (Generation Z, roughly 1995-2012) as they have inherited a messy and dilapidated world, where life is more complicated, and consequently (overall) most are not even interested (only a minority are) and like most generations before them, they will blame it on the previous one...

...and you know what? They are right !!!... by acting the way we did over the last 60-80 years (or even 150 years at least I should say) without measuring the consequences and the secondary effects of our decisions, actions and inventions, we put ourselves facing the wall against which we are pressed today (meaning in 2019).... and against which we will eventually crash into....

We have pushed overproduction, consumerism, capitalism,etc.. while worshipping the power of money and entertainments to avoid facing the ugly reality of certain things happening right in front of our eyes. We made sure to keep ourselves too busy with non-sense and smoke-screen to be able to see...

....well... let me stop there, as, once again (and as always), I'm totally derivating into another subject, and it will take me to long to fully express what I was about to loudly rant about... but I can't help it, I'm a very opinionated person and what is happening to the world makes me sad and furious at the same time... it is difficult to only be a witness and not an actor of our own fate.....

....let's go back to the main subject of my theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages, shall we? Let's keep it light and zen..... (sigh)...       

LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades
for Bordeaux Vintages by ©LeDomduVin 2019

5. The theory or "law" of the decades (as I like to call it) 

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 of different things in direct relation with nature and its various cycles, not only wine vintages.

Of course, this process of predicting or anticipating the quality of the vintages via years of experience and in-depth knowledge of the specific climate which characterize a region and its Terroir, combined with info and data collected and analysed over the years, has to be applied to a specific region where enough info and data about the vintages have been recorded and the wines 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, at "Region" or Sub-region" level to have a general idea, but better at the "Appellation" level to be more precise.

For the exercise of this post, as it will be too complex and tedious to apply this theory of the decades at appellation level, let’s just apply it to the whole region of Bordeaux over the last 80 years (1940 to Present). I can hear you say already: "It is too vague and too general"; I agree, but it will have to do for this example.

So, why Bordeaux? Well, because...

1. It is where I come from and where I grew up with my grandfather, and therefore is the place possess the most knowledge of and personal references too.

2. Bordeaux is also an easy target as it is probably one of the most (if not "The" most) coveted and documented wine regions in the world, covered by a countless amount of media on daily basis, and therefore where the most info and data about the quality of the vintages can be found.

3. It is also historically known to only produce 3 to 4 good to great vintages per decades, which comfort my theory.... 

Now, in order for that theory to be credible, some answers need to be given: 

1. Is there an obvious pattern on the quality of certain vintages when looking at the decades (on the illustration above or the table below)?

2. Could a pattern or cycle in the local climate and weather explains why or be the reason why some years are better than the others?

3. Are the best quality vintages/years the same every decade? And if yes, what are these vintages?

The Theory

The theory (or "law") of the decades for Bordeaux vintages consists on analyzing the past decades and establish if there is a pattern between certain vintages/years, like a recurring result in term of quality and production of the wine characteristic to certain specific years, decade after decade; 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.

As the idiom says: "A picture (or visual) is worth a thousand words", and that is why I created the illustration above, for, at first glance, anyone can easily see the quality of the vintages within the decades from 1900 to present.

The quality differences between the vintages (for Bordeaux wines as a whole region for the purpose of this post) have been highlighted in 4 different colors to make it more simple and easy to read and understand.

LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades - Legends
for Bordeaux Vintages by ©LeDomduVin 2019

Do you see the pattern now? No? But you have to admit that the vintages in "Bordeaux" color form (somehow) a column, and therefore form a pattern, no?

Let me explain my theory with a very simple table chart with numbers, people like numbers to verify a theory, so let's do it with numbers, which will be more visual and easier to understand at one glance.

The following results are not solely based on my observation and combination of various wine critic’s ratings. They also include memories of what my grandfather used to tell me about the quality of these vintages, as well as what I witnessed and experienced myself when in Bordeaux, mingled with all the Bordeaux wines I tasted myself over the last 28 years of my career (as a well seasoned and travelled Sommelier and Wine Buyer, working in the wine industry for restaurants and wine retail stores on 3 continents).

Consequently, these results represent more a reflection of my unique point of view and opinion about the quality of certain vintages, combined with the wine critics and press scores, rather than being, solely, specifically or exactly, an average of the critics and press scores. 

LeDomduVin's Theory of the Decades for Bordeaux Vintages
- Chart with numbers - by ©LeDomduVin 2019

Some people may still not see it or admit it, but there is somewhat of a pattern in my illustration above, a pattern clearly shown and proven by the results in the above table. Numbers don't lie, they are facts.

If we take a closer look at this table, and more specifically at the Total Averages results at the bottom, we can conclude that there is a pattern and that over the last 80 years, some vintages have been recurrently better than the others:

LeDomduVin's Theory of the Decades for Bordeaux Vintages
- Quality Rank - by ©LeDomduVin 2019

I can already hear some people saying: "Hey, wait a minute..... this vintage was better than that!" and/or "...overall this vintage ended up getting better with age..."...etc...

I also can hear other people saying that it is difficult to draft a table like this one, as the climatic changes that occurred over the last 30 years, as well as new technologies and methods in the vineyards and in the cellars, need to be taken into consideration as they have influenced the quality of the vintages too. And therefore, this table is too generic or general and shouldn't be applied to the whole region of Bordeaux but rather to specific appellation to be more accurate and consistent.

And I will say yes, I hear you and I agree with you. You are right, it definitely should be applied to a more specific appellation to be more accurate and consistent. However, this is just an example for the people that never really thought of doing such an analysis or comparison before (and it would be too long and tedious to apply it to specific appellation). 

However, going back to both above tables and looking at the average results, we can conclude that over the last 80 years, Bordeaux vintages ending with (see table below):

LeDomduVin’s Theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages
by ©LeDomduVin 2019 - By Categories

So, to somewhat resume the 3 tables above, and if we take Bordeaux as a whole and solely in terms of vintage quality, it seems that the vintages ending with 0, 5, 6, and 9 are pretty reliable and fairly consistent in general, with 5 and 9 being usually the best (despite a few exceptions); while the vintages ending with 1, 3, 4 and 7, in general, tend to be less reliable and/or consistent and to say the least of lesser quality. Thus confirming my theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages by the undeniable existence of a pattern.

The vintages 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. And 2012 confirmed it, good for some appellations, but mostly fair for the others and overall better than 2011 or 2013, but still not a great vintage.

The ones ending in "8" are also mixed, but usually better than ending "2", with good to fair vintages like 2008, or even Great to good vintage like 2018.  

Some of you may be surprised that I included 2003 as a bad vintage. Well, in my opinion, despite a few distinguished effort from a few Chateaux, and I was there in Bordeaux for the "En Primeur" campaign, tasting more than 1000 wines from both banks for 8 consecutive days (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 point of view regarding the 2003 Bordeaux Vintage on my previous post here and here.

Obviously, as I was saying earlier, this is very general and can easily be discussed and disputed; however, there is a pattern, and now you cannot say the opposite. And I found that fascinating. It makes you think twice, 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, certain mountainous vineyards and regions, where the weather is less homogenous due to fast and drastic changes in temperatures and humidity levels (and overall climate), are less likely to show this type of patterns. This type of decade's tables presenting a vintage quality chart is definitely more adaptable to regions where the climate is rather temperate, fairly homogenous and consistent, and roughly the same and not presenting too many extreme differences from one year to the next.

It is my opinion and you may have a totally different one, and that's fine. However, earth sciences (history, geography, climatology, etc...) showed us that most things in life on earth usually happen and evolve (revolve) in cycles and patterns. These cycles and patterns have been traced, recorded and studied for decades (even centuries) by scientists. They include climate and microclimate, weather, geography, topography, history, agriculture and work of the land, etc…

They show that, over a certain period of time, things usually revolve around similar axes and patterns, coming back or reappearing as a recurring factor after a cycle of a certain amount of years. For this example, we are talking about decades, basically what happens every 10 years (or so) in terms of weather conditions, climatology and the resulting quality of the vintages of a certain designated area (the whole region of Bordeaux for this example).

For this example, taking the region of Bordeaux as a whole, it is important to take into consideration all the factors that affect this particular area. Bordeaux is greatly influenced by an oceanic climate and temperatures are rather moderate. Bordeaux climate is mostly affected by Atlantic depressions generating heavy rainfall throughout the year. But it is also affected by the Azores anticyclone, due to its southwestern location, bringing a fair amount of sunny days, yet never for long periods. Relatively frequent, yet well distributed over the seasons, precipitation amounts to 930mm (up to 950mm) per year, and also greatly affect the quality of the vintages. (****)

This combination of frequent rainfall, humidity in the air and recent climatic changes and global warming brought some disastrous consequences to Bordeaux vineyards. More especially in this last 2 decades: We all still have in mind the hail storm of May 26th, 2018, the frost of April 2017, (reminding us of the frost of 1991), but also the unprecedented heat wave of 2003, etc....

6. Why taking Bordeaux as a whole region rather than by Appellation

Atop of the reasons already cited above, the other reasons why I took the region of Bordeaux as a whole, and not by appellation, are that each appellation includes numerous microclimates and other factors, within the appellation, which can greatly influence the vintages and thus could challenge this theory.

For example, the microclimates within the appellation depend mostly on their proximity with the Gironde estuary (the Haut-Medoc on the left bank and Cotes de Bourg/Blaye on the Right bank) and/or the two rivers flowing into it La Garonne (Graves, Sauternes) and La Dordogne (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and the rest of the appellations of the right bank) and the Entre-Deux-Mers in between. Therefore differ greatly from each other.

Also taking Bordeaux as a whole allows for preventing from getting too much into details, for example, the fact that the Left Bank is rather flat, with isolated small hills and gently inclined slopes, and therefore more exposed to wind and rain from the Atlantic and also subject to higher humidity into the soil. While the Right Bank rests on a limestone bedrock plateau extending from the Côtes de Blaye to the north and descending all the way south to the Côtes de Castillon, undulating all along with rounded hills creating a totally different (and much attractive, I must say) landscape than the Left Bank, with more microclimates and variation of temperatures (than the Left Bank). Consequently, all these factors create numerous microclimates and niches where temperature and humidity may differ from Appellation and/or even Chateaux next to/near each other.

I also could have taken into consideration the tremendous works and efforts, deployed over the last 15-20 years, into the vineyards and the cellars from the Chateaux owners and winemakers, in addition to new techniques and technologies, to produce better wines, thus increasing both the quality of the wines but also the vines and their environment. But their again, these are very influential factors that will have challenge the theory.

However, this last point, about new techniques and technologies applied in the vineyards and cellars, is a bit controversial, because some of the best wines of Bordeaux are now produced by people who leave Mother Nature do what she does best in the vineyards and adopt a minimalist attitude and approach in terms of interference with the winemaking part in the cellar.

In any case, all I'm trying to say is that I tried to do it at appellation level and in my opinion it is more difficult due to the many influential factors cited above... but not impossible.

7. Conclusion

In conclusion, I will say that I stand firm on my opinion and belief that my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages is verifiable and somewhat reliable, interesting at the least and almost tangible at the most... Well, we will see if the vintage 2019 prove me and my theory wrong... (or not?)

A scary beginning of the year in Bordeaux, again, for this 2019 vintage, as early buds appeared on the vines due to excessively high temperatures late February-early March 2019, from 18°C up to 26°C (it was summer already) between 15/02 and 27/02, and 22°C on 03/03; putting back into the minds of the producers the eventual risk of a sudden frost, as temperatures went back to 13°C shortly after (after all, even if Spring will come on March 21st (in 3 days exactly), until then, it is still Winter....) 

Yet, you never know... As, 2009, for example, was considered lost as two hail storms in May 2009 (first on May 11th and the other on May 13th), which destroyed thousands of hectares on their paths around the Côtes de Bourg, Premières Côtes de Blaye, Margaux, Graves, but most predominantly around St-Émilion and the Entre-Deux-Mers, with stones the size of ping pong balls, but ended up becoming one of Bordeaux’s greatest vintages of this decade. So, we will see, as per my table and my theory, 2019 should be a great vintage (like most vintages ending in "9", except 1979 and 1999, which were bad vintages overall).

Going back to the discussion with Master of Wine, Jeannie Cho Lee, she was even expressing the very interesting idea to see if my theory could apply to the Chinese calendar, which is not calculated by decade but by dozen of years. I think that it is a good idea too. 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 "Root", "Fruit" or "Leaf" years too.

As I was saying at the beginning of this post, this theory is just an idea, a concept, an ancient way the older generations used to have, when computers and algorithms were 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 this theory and even reminiscences of this lost instinct of relying on Mother's Nature signs; more especially the ones working with Biodynamic, Organic, Biologique, “Lutte Raisonnee” and other natural winemaking methods.

However, no matter what you think about my theory, 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 reason, 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 destroying them by 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 that we do not know how to see or feel anymore. So, let’s retrieve this lost instinct and act to save our little planet now before it is too late. 

That's all folks for today, hope you now better understand which point I was trying to make with my Theory of the Decades for Bordeaux Vintages.... and stay tuned for more posts coming soon (old revisited posts like this one or brand new ones). 

I will definitely revisit this post or even write a follow up post within the next few years to see what happen and if, once again, I can verify my theory.  

Enjoy! Santé! Cheers! and as always Thanks! for reading my post.

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel

(*) Jeannie Cho Lee, yes, the famous South Korean journalist and author and Master of Wine, who was the first Asian woman to achieve this accreditation back in 2008

(**) This post originally written and posted on October 16th, 2012, revisited over a few days early March 2019

(***) Wine and Vine-related French Proverbs and Quotes taken or partly taken from and courtesy of (read them in French here)

(****) Taken or partly taken from and courtesy of

(*****) You can read other articles about my grandfather here and here

All right reserved ©LeDomduVin 2012 & revisited in 2019 on all the contents above including, but limited to, posts, texts, writings, quotes, tasting notes, wine descriptions, pictures, photos, drawings, illustrations, visuals, graph and even music (when and where applicable).

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 (

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.


LeDom du Vin