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Passion for Portuguese wine inspires a career

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am

Haigan Wong used to spend his holidays with his father in Portugal tracking down the country's finest wines. When he returned to Hong Kong from London in 2004, he rejected a career in law to begin Adega Royale, turning a passion for little-known Portuguese wines into a business. Now the 29-year-old imports, distributes and consults on many types of wine, but his passion for the Portuguese vine has not waned. When Wong pours a premium red, he sniffs, beams and then declares, 'The nose is just guzzling.'

Not many people know too much about Portuguese wine. How did you discover it?

As a boy. My dad was working there and I went to stay with him in the summer holidays. Because Portugal's culture is so much about drinking and food, that was [the level on which] my dad brought me in, but he didn't want to show me the boring entry-level stuff. We found some really good restaurants that had some really old wines. Not all of them were great wines because some of them had been badly neglected, but those good old wines were what got me going.

You've been filming a television show in which you introduce viewers to the pleasures of wine. Where is it set?

We went to Portugal, and we are going to Italy and Australia. It's a lifestyle show but the wine section is on how to choose wine, and drink it.

What do you love about Portugal's wines?

It's got so many great varieties, it won't bore you. It will always keep you on your toes, especially now they have the equipment to make better wines every year.

Who are the names to watch?

Two really big labels, one being Luis Pato. I love this guy because his were the first wines that I learned to drink. He uses a very special grape called baga. It's a type of grape that you either love or don't. A close comparison would be [Italy's] nebbiolo. It's rather a tannic wine when it's young and then it becomes very elegant and soft. That's one of the ones I really like. The other one that I brought over was Bussaco. The wine comes from the last estate of the last king of Portugal. They were building it and he abdicated before Portugal became a republic in 1910. You are not only drinking history, you are drinking something from a royal piece of land. They actually still have old wines - whites and reds - dating back to about 1945.

Where can you get it?

Only two places in the world - MGM Macau and The Palace do Bussaco, which is now a hotel. Not even the Portuguese know about it because the hotel doesn't publicise it. It's a very exclusive pour, available only at the hotel. Occasionally, you'll see it at Sotheby's or Christie's auctions.

You created an agency to buy the wine for MGM. How did you convince the hotel to let you sell it?

I was just very sincere. I told them how much I like the wine and asked them. I don't even have a bottle in my own cellar.

What's the best part of your job?

My best times are creating private labels. That's what I have most fun doing. I go and blend it. I work on what it will look like - the label, waxing, cork and bottle shape. Basically, we create a wine.

What Portuguese wine would you recommend in summer?

Vinho Verde is a must, because it's just so refreshing.

Pairing dinners are popular here. Can you pair Portuguese wines with Chinese food?

Portuguese wine is quite easy to match with a lot of Chinese food because it has so many flavours which are quite soft. They have the fruits, the tannins and are not that hard to pair with most foods.

You like to keep pairings interesting at dinners you have hosted. What has been your most imaginative pairing?

My most extreme was vintage port with Chinese tofu. I served the tofu in cubes on a small Chinese spoon with crackers on the side like a cheese platter.

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