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Posted Monday, 2 April 2012 / Written by Amy Thompson / Leave a comment
As many of you will have read in the press, Hong Kong has become the capital of the wine world and the major player on the fine wine scene, particularly for wine auctions where sales results in 2011 trumped New York and knocked London in to third place. Sotheby’s and Christie’s are the dominant Houses, having been established in the Far East for many years auctioning art and ceramics, rather than wine but American wine merchants Acker Merrall & Condit and Zachy’s have both entered the fray and enjoyed some spectacular results. I was quite amused to be told that everyone attending the auctions is fêted with lunches and canapés and the Auction Houses and merchants are ranked based on the quality of their food or wine, particularly amongst the secretaries, who are sent to bid on behalf of their collector bosses, as opposed to the quality of their lots. Extended family and their children all join bidders to enjoy the pre-sale entertainment! Rather a different atmosphere to the hushed and serious one which prevails in London’s King Street.
My Father worked in Hong Kong in the late 1970s and early 1980s and drinking in those days was very much restricted to spirits – dining at Cantonese restaurants, the sideboards would be groaning with bottles of Remy Martin XO and Johnnie Walker Black Label, but hardly a bottle of wine in sight. Things started to change in the 1990s, then in 2008 Duty was abolished in Hong Kong and in a matter of months, the number of wine merchants and importers increased five-fold so that today you can probably drink better in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the world. With the doom and gloom that has prevailed in the UK since the autumn of 2008, it is exhilarating and exciting to work in the growing Chinese market and many top UK wine operators and merchants have boosted their turnovers with Hong Kong ventures. There are wine and food magazines dedicated solely to drinking and eating in Hong Kong and two resident Masters of Wine, Jeannie Cho Lee and Debra Meiberg both have excellent and information-rich websites.
To consolidate their position as the wine world’s number one destination, in November 2011 Hong Kong hosted the three day WineFuture 2011 conference which attracted over 1,000 international wine professionals, including critics Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson MW, as well as some of the world’s greatest growers, including Angelo and Gaia Gaja. As well as the tastings the debates revolved principally around the Asian market and future trends, challenges and opportunities which inevitably translates to “what is going to happen in China?”. Whilst Hong Kong is free of Duty, taxes for legitimate importing into China remain high. No surprise then that the town of Shenzhen teams with couriers, happy to carry bottles over the border for a fee. There are 20,000 importers or distributors licensed to trade in China but these vary wildly in scale (and expertise) between established firms such as ASC Fine Wines and Summergate, and the man in the street who handles the highly sought after First Growths from Bordeaux. Much of the demand has come from wealthy collectors who are buying the top names to give to their business associates but China also makes its own wine and the regular consumption of wine is becoming wide-spread across all levels of society. Inevitably, an industry in fakes has grown as quickly as foreign wine imports and even at the bulk wine end, tankers of wines are shipped from Australia and Chile and re-branded “Made in China”. Temperature controlled storage is not widely available; the logistics are not efficient which is vital for the future, especially in the searingly hot and humid summers. Even in a market as sophisticated as Hong Kong, it is not uncommon to see boxes of Château Lafite being transported across Central in rackety old open delivery trucks alongside boxes of papaya, in temperatures in excess of 30°C.
With demand from the Asian market for the top wines of Bordeaux prices have escalated. The most notable “performer” was Château Lafite - we watched the price of Château Lafite 2005 trade on Liv-Ex at £5,850 a case in October 2008 to a peak of £12,500 in June 2011. Prices for that wine in the Auction House were even higher but what was even more incredible was the rise in price of the second wine of Lafite, 2005 Carruades which was sold En Primeur in summer 2006 at around £400 a case and which was traded at £3,693 in July. As with all markets, there comes a time when it falters and the continued rises are unsustainable and this started in July 2011, in tandem with the release of the 2010 Bordeaux En Primeur which were very highly priced. The Asian market was quiet through the autumn and it only really kicked in to life after Chinese New Year, in February. We have seen prices for the top Bordeaux fall in excess of 20% and Sotheby’s first wine auction of 2012 was only 85% sold, by lot.
So, what can we expect in the Year of the Dragon? It is clear that wines other than Bordeaux will start to be sought by the new collectors and we are already seeing increased demand for Burgundy and also Piedmontese wines. I gave a series of tutored tastings of Burgundy, Barolo and Barbaresco in November which were well attended with enthusiastic audiences, thirsty for knowledge and a clearer understanding of the nuances of the Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo grapes. I am sure that Bordeaux will continue to be very important but the wines of Pomerol and St Emilion and the Médoc’s less famous names will become more widely drunk and appreciated. There will be continued demand for older vintages of the great Châteaux and I hope that the importance of demanding details of provenance becomes a more important factor for collectors.
Wines to Buy from Private Cellar
Auxey Duresses 2009, Domaine Matrot £312 / case Inc VAT
Auxey is something of a well-kept secret. The Village is tucked away in the valley behind Meursault and in the right hands can be the source of some delicious, velvety reds, offering excellent value for money and such an example comes from the Matrot stable.
A nose of red berry fruit, overlaid with some distant cedar notes, leading to a tight racy palate of rich black fruits with lovely mineral flinty notes. Super-long fruit on the finish with scarcely noticeable tannins, this needs a bit more time to develop its full potential. Drinking from 2014.
Château Burgrave 2002, Pomerol £270 / case Inc VAT
Anybody who loves Merlot will love this wine which is predominantly Merlot with a sprinkling of Cabernet Franc and the second wine of Château Bonalgue, which belongs to the Bourotte family. The wine is juicy, spicy, packed with ripe red fruit and has a lovely concentrated black fruit flavour which lingers for ages on the palate and it has a lovely, velvety texture. Lovely for drinking now.
Montagny 1er Cru les Bassets 2009, Domaine Laurent Cognard £234 / case Inc VAT
The Côte Chalonnaise runs south from the Côte de Beaune and shares many of its grander neighbour’s characteristics. Laurent Cognard’s family sold their grapes for many years to the local co-operative but in the mid-2000s he decided to keep the grapes and make wine under his own label. The wine is very pale gold, with a nose of leesy white orchard fruits, citrus, very attractive but very subtle too, leading to a more restrained palate than in the previous vintages with ripe, perfumed white stone fruits, distant grilled notes and a fresh finish delicious for drinking now.
Sancerre 2010, Domaine Dezat £189 / case Inc VAT
Sancerre is a wine which has become something of a “brand” which is a shame as when it is well-made, it is absolutely superb, packed with flavour, full of character and wearing its provenance on its sleeve. The Dezat family have been making wine here for four generations from vines planted in 1967 in a combination of Sauvignon-friendly limestone terroirs. They are meticulous in the cellar and the result is a zingy classic Sancerre with a lemon, lime and herbaceous scent, with plenty of fresh but ripe fruit on the palate and a long, bright, lingering finish.
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