Grape & Grain
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How idea for a Hong Kong wine bar took time to mature, just like a good vintage

A desire to balance the simple enjoyment factor with imparting knowledge lies behind bar’s focus on by-the-glass basic and vintage offerings mixed with a modest list of bottles from diverse sources, including Bordeaux and Bulgaria

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 5:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 5:47pm

A wine bar I’ve opened with Matthew Aylmer of Red Door Group and the Fringe Club was a long time coming for various reasons.

At one stage, while studying for the practical part of the Master of Wine exam, I thought of a bar that served wines in theme-based flights designed specifically for MW students. There’d be a New World cabernet flight with Napa, Stellenbosch and Coonawarra cabs for comparing origins, or a flight with village-level, premier cru and grand cru Burgundy (that would be an outlandishly expensive flight) fortasting quality levels – all served blind, with a question paper and a score.

It didn’t seem like a major hurdle that only MW students and masochists would be the only customers.

Then there was my egg phase. Tired of exam studies and the academic side of wine, my head filled with visions after a visit to McLaren Vale’s Yangarra Estate, with its gorgeous ceramic egg wine tanks. Asian wines gain respect in global restaurants

I dreamed of a grandiose, expansive wine bar, walls lined with eggs (675 litres each, mind you) and tireless revellers downing glasses straight from the tank. Needless to say, although my friends and family indulged me enough to listen, the idea never took off.

A wine bar existed in my mind in various forms for years, but the basic idea – that it should be somewhere that balances learning about wine with simply enjoying it – persisted.

In the meantime, Hong Kong’s wine scene improved dramatically, with the likes of Le Quinze Vins, La Cabane and 121BC each offering their own niche, be it a 1,000-bottle list replete with older Bordeaux and Burgundy, French terroiristes or skin-macerated Greco di Tufo. But for my less wine-obsessed friends, the territory between Lan Kwai Fong and these wine lovers’ paradises remained a little barren.

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And so a fundamental truth about wine: a lot of people enjoy it, and would love to know more about it, but they don’t want to be pushed too hard.

To meet that need, at Red Door at the Vault we’ve focused on by-the-glass offerings – we have 15 that change monthly. We’ve attempted to take the wine equivalents of basic white and black T-shirts (Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Barossa shiraz) and use them as a gateway drug into a bit of distressed leather (Loire Valley gamay, Saumur chenin blanc), crisp white oxford shirts (Victorian chardonnay), silky camisoles (Leyda pinot) or even bright purple ponchos (sparkling barbera).

We’ve thrown in a few gems from my own cellar and from friends – single bottles of ’74 Barolo, ’98 Aussie shiraz, ’02 Alsatian riesling – available only by the glass. The brief bottle list of 17 ranges from Bordeaux to Bulgaria and sommelier Ocean Hui is on hand to advise for the three days we open, Thursday to Saturday.