Cultivating a taste for a top drop from Hungary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 2006, 12:00am

Ho Yuk-chi spends much of his time visiting the country's wine growing regions and introducing clients to the best it has to offer

I WORK IN one of the world's truly fun industries. My work involves selecting, buying, importing, distributing and selling wine from my two wine and glass shops.

Almost every day I drink a little wine, it is part of my job, usually with customers but also with journalists, restaurateurs and food critics who want to match particular dishes with fine wines.

My work cannot be defined by a specific thing I do every day, other than it involves wine and spirits that I import from Eastern Europe. I like to be hands-on.

The wines I sell are top quality products from Hungary, which I choose myself after visiting vineyards in the different wine growing regions.

Every winery I visit tells me the same story: 'We make really good wine'. In today's market there are many good wines and if they are not good they will disappear quickly. My job is to decide which is which.

Once I have made my selections I need to make the shipping and storage arrangements. The wine travels by sea and passes through different climate changes so I need to arrange adequate refrigeration to keep the wines in good condition.

On buying trips, I travel with a local partner to wine-producing areas such as Tokaj-Hegyalja, Villany and the Lake Balaton. Of course, this involves a lot of wine tasting both for business and pleasure. Wine tasting is fun, but I still need to focus on selecting wines that will sell in the Hong Kong market.

The travelling can be intense and tiring, but never dull - Hungary is a beautiful and fascinating country. It is lucky that I believe drinking wine is good for one's health, including the soul.

Because Hungarian wines are not well known in Hong Kong, I spend a lot of time on awareness projects, such as helping to educate consumer's palates or helping journalists pronounce and write unfamiliar names such as Tokaji Aszu, Hungary's famous sweet wine, Harslevelu, Kekfrankos, Kadarka and Egri Bikaver, better known in English as Bulls Blood. Education is particularly important in a market with so many new consumers, many of which are eager to learn.

To help my wines become better known I organise regular wine-tasting sessions in my shops. Often, I need to spend time contacting people and setting up tasting sessions. To make these sessions more interesting I sometimes arrange gatherings of people from a particular profession such the health, legal, accountancy or financial industries. On other occasions, I work with professional caterers and arrange dinners where we match wine to certain foods.

To many, myself included, it does not seem like hard work spending a Friday evening explaining to guests why the complex spicy fruity characters of Vesztergombi Bikaver go well with Chinese beef dishes or spicy Sichuan cuisine.

When I am not organising events, I spend time in my shops every day answering customers' questions and listening to their particular interests. I try to worry less about selling them a bottle, and more about helping them enjoy wine.

I entertain them with the stories about wine, stories that other industries cannot match. My job is to make the wine come alive. All too often, wine experts use their knowledge to intimidate new consumers with complicated rituals and arcane service ceremonies. I try to avoid doing this.