Hong Kong Bloke – What to Drink and Where to Drink It
Let’s get this out of the way, I love wine. My affair has slowly graduated from something akin to a smoking habit which I knew that I really should enjoy because the big kids did to it, to something a bit more worrying. I’m not saying that I would drink the half-filled glass that I find in the kitchen on an early Sunday morning the morning after the night before, but if it’s a good wine I’m pretty happy giving it a smell.
Anyway, enough about that and quickly on to buying and drinking the stuff. As you probably have picked up, the Chinese love a drop of vin rouge, partly because of the lucky colour and the ability to drop a heavy claret rather than a scotch, but mostly as a great big ostentatious show of wealth. So whilst the removal of import duty on wine some years ago in HK has been a good thing, this place being the centre of the global growth in fine wine demand has not really helped Joe Bloggs (me) buy wine to drink every day.
Here’s the deal with my wine. I buy by the case for at home. Having two young children before we lived in HK meant that the majority of all socialising was done at home with friends coming over for food and drink. I would buy wine for £6-10 (HK$75-125) per bottle. This would be pretty good everyday stuff (up from Jacobs Creek and no headache in the morning). I also accumulated better wine due to holidays, special offers and gifts as people know I like a drop.
You will then know my horror upon arriving and hitting the local Jason’s that a wine at HK$125 per bottle limited me to the three cheapest special offers in the store and not wines I would like to sample. After my initial fear that I would have to cut back, and some less successful market research, you will all be pleased to know that there are many places that cater to the less successfully financially endowed.
Straight off the bat I have to recommend Winerack. It has a narrow inventory at any one time, but all the wines are good and it doesn’t break the bank. A trip to Ap Lei Chau will also reveal a great many other vintners that are there or there abouts.
In general, there are a whole lot of retailers aiming at the HK$200 plus per bottle. These are the global brands and some of the better names. That said, I don’t have the cash or inclination to drink a HK$200 bottle in front of my VPN TV. There are less retailers looking to deliver quality wine outside of the supermarket in the HK$100-200 range, but I think this lot are the future. Spend more and you’ll get better wine and that’s easy, but it’s tough to get a decent range at a lower price point.
I find supply is biased to Australia and New Zealand. Due to the dynamics of the Australian market, this wine is pretty fairly priced, but I do find it a bit heavy. Other than that you will pay a premium for French, less so European and as ever, South America remains the Wan Chai of value. Buy in 12 or more and you’ll do much better than hitting the local supermarket or Watsons.
Next point is storage. I realised after about a month that this heat is not kind on the wine. I bagged me a bargain of a wine fridge via a contact, but I can’t advise strongly enough that if you have more than a couple of bottles at home, you should get one. End of.
As for wine out, I have learned a few things:
1. I’m amazed if you can find a bottle on a wine list for less than HK$400 a bottle
2. At this end of the spectrum the markup is 4-5x retail price
3. As you push up through the price range the markup is more like 2-2.5x, so I reckon you are better to have one good wine than two less good at a meal. That’s really the prudent choice…. And you can have another G&T first
4. My motto for decent restaurants is that they aren’t likely to stock anything shoddy, anywhere on their wine list. When you stick on service as well, stay at a lower price and try something different. If it is nice, you’re a connoisseur. If it’s average, pah.
There are no doubt some great wine lists at good restaurants and bars that we need to hear about, so spread the word. As someone once said (and has been abused by the mad men) “life is too short for boring wine”. Not boring, but overpriced and rubbish should be avoided.