Wine lovers extend their horizons

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am


Bordeaux classics alone can no longer satisfy the palates of Hong Kong wine lovers as their tastes become more sophisticated.

Three years after the abolition of a wine tax, there is stronger demand for wines cultivated outside the renowned French region, traders say.

Local wine drinkers are exploring other parts of the world and have a growing interest in mid-range wines.

'People want to try something new after years of Bordeaux drinking,' Paulo Pong Kin-yee, managing director of Altaya Wines, said.

The wholesaler, which has been selling wines to restaurants, shops and private collectors for a decade, is bringing in more boutique and family-owned estates which have an annual output of several hundred to a few thousand cases, such as champagne producer Pol Roger, Burgundy winery Ponsot and Tuscany family Siro Pacenti.

Fines wines from Burgundy, Tuscany and California's Napa Valley are gaining ground, making up 15 per cent, 5 per cent, and 8 per cent respectively of Altaya's sales, he said.

Niche marketing is a growing trend since the entry of more than 200 overseas wholesalers and retailers into the city since 2008, said Pong, who aims to open 12 shops in the next three years, each with a different theme, such as origins or grapes.

'Establishing a brand name in Hong Kong can help us enter the mainland market,' he said.

Other wholesalers are set to bring in more mid-range wines costing HK$100 to HK$300 from Spain and Italy.

'Wines from Spain have a full body. They appeal to Asian consumers who prefer richer wines,' Defranco Leung of Everwise Wine said.

French wines' market share has fallen from 70 per cent a decade ago to 30 per cent currently, he said.

French exports, however, still comprise 70 per cent of total local sales value, thanks to the popularity of top Bordeaux wines in the high-end market.

New World wines, especially Australia, are also rising in importance.

Claudio Salgado, manager of Grand Hyatt Macau, said the proportion of such wines consumed in the hotel rose from 40 to 50 per cent recently.

More importantly, people are moving from entry-level wines from New World countries to higher-priced varieties.

'More people have started studying wine ... when they know more about them, they feel more confident to try things out,' Salgado said.

The growing interest in rarer wines is also noted by an auctioneer. In Acker Merall & Condit's September auction in the city, the seven highest-valued lots will be Domaine de la Romanee-Conti - a Burgundy gem - instead of Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

The star lot among them will be a case of 1990 Roman?e-Conti, with an estimated value of up to US$200,000.