The Mandarin Oriental’s limousine is ready and awaiting my arrival in Hong Kong and I am immediately impressed with the efficient service that is the norm in this fast-paced city.
This landmark hotel is now managed by one of my very first Asian clients, Jonas Schurmann, who when I met him twenty years ago was the Food & Beverage Director at the legendary Oriental Bangkok.
Within two hours of my plane landing, I’ve checked into to my room, have showered fresh, and I am sitting at my desk in The Antique Wine Company’s Hong Kong offices enjoying the sunset view over Hong Kong’s exclusive residential district ‘The Peak.’
After taking care of a few administrative matters, my local director (Julien Froger) and I set off for dinner with ‘Mr. Pavie,’ one of Hong Kong’s numerous wine collectors. We dine at Cepage, a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by an Antique Wine Company client from Singapore, and take pleasure in a dinner that would knock the socks off many meals at notable European restaurants.
During the evening we compare the various virtues of La Mission Haut Brion versus Chateau Haut Brion from the now deliciously drinkable 1999 vintage. The La Mission is deep and powerful, with an austerity that will serve the wine well for a long life yet to come. The Haut Brion is more about elegance, finesse, and the classic minerality that for me is the hallmark of this great wine.
Afterwards it is back to the hotel for a mandatory nightcap and some time to play catch-up on the ever-growing email inbox because the European business day is still in full swing. I am finally ready for bed around 2:00AM, which I take as a good indication that my jet lag has reduced itself from seven to a mere three hours of discomfort.
The following two days are spent in client office meetings and hashing out deals over lunches and dinners. It is a very full agenda, but I also manage to sit for an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the phenomenon of the Hong Kong wine market. The interview includes making a visit to a private wine cellar at a spectacular home on Hong Kong's famous St. Andrews Golf Course, which is located about an hour drive away in the New Territories. Here we see another side of Hong Kong which reminds me of Gibraltar twenty years ago.
My final day in Hong Kong includes a visit to our logistics company. They provide us with a very secure and temperature-controlled storage facility in the Sha Tin District. The visit is followed by lunch with another one of our importers/exporters to mainland China. Over the best Dim Sum lunch I have ever tasted we talk about the Chinese market and how consumers are now developing interest in wines other than just Chateau Lafite.
While Lafite looks certain to remain the iconic wine for gift-giving, it seems there is a rapidly growing demand for many other Grand Crus and their second wines.
We spend some time studying the 1855 Classification in detail and interpreting the Chinese translation of each name. Leoville Las Cases, for example, means “Wine of the Lion.” Angelus is translated as “Golden Bell.” In China it is not only the taste of the wine but also its name, its meaning and its price that are important factors in the market.
I manage to get an hour in at the Mandarin Oriental's spa before my final dinner, a meal with one of Hong Kong's most prolific collectors, ‘JC.’ We meet at one of his buildings in the former manufacturing, but now choice residential, area of Kowloon.
It is a modest 50-storey affair, about the same size as London's Park Lane Hilton, and inside JC has installed two wine cellars.
One cellar houses about 10,000 bottles of his personal wine collection, and the other is divided into 100 smaller lockers which are rented out to fellow wine collectors for their own storage. "It’s just a hobby business," he tells me casually as we sip on Pol Roger's 1998 Cuvee Winston Churchill and tour his personal cellar - which seems to contain every great wine ever produced. We examine cases of DRC, Comte de Vogue, and Comtes Lafon going back to the 1950's, along with Petrus, Cheval Blanc and all the other First Growths.
Later, over a Japanese dinner in his boardroom, we share Louis Latour's 1989 Corton Charlemagne, Bouchard Pere et Fils Batard Montrachet 2000, Armand Rousseau's Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 2000, and Chateau Palmer 1983. It is a delightful finale to my three day visit to Hong Kong, and I am dropped back at my hotel with enough time to pack for my 5:00AM departure.
However, as I step into the hotel elevator, out walks ‘Charlie’ - one of our longest-standing clients from Bangkok. What a coincidence in this small world! Charlie, who is now running JP Morgan's Hong Kong office, and I enjoy a nightcap at the bar together, a drink well worth it because I pick up an order for a few more cases of 1982 First Growths, including a case of Chateau Latour in superb condition that we acquired recently in a cellar purchase in Switzerland.
Thank goodness I am able to get some sleep on my Singapore Airlines flight back to Europe the following day. That is of course after the Krug, caviar, and roast lamb washed down with plenty of their standard Bordeaux - Chateau Cos d'Estournel 2004!
For The Antique Wine Company, Asia is currently the fastest growing sector of our customer base, but we still don’t know enough about our clients there. They remain a complex mix of wine traders, hoteliers, and private collectors. During the coming year my objective is to get to know them and their needs better.
Travel arrangements booked by Amex Platinum Travel Service.