Wine Opinion: Rivals Hong Kong and Singapore are worlds apart in taste

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 10:08am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 10:08am

In the field of sibling rivalry, when one child has clearly lost a battle, they're often tempted to belittle the other's win, or at least beat them over the head with a heavy toy.

This could easily happen with the wine markets of Singapore and Hong Kong, with Hong Kong's 2008 wine de-tax unlevelling the playing field like the portly Budai jumping onto a seesaw with Buddha.

There have undoubtedly been some hurt feelings - inevitable perhaps with Singapore often finding itself bypassed on wineries' Asian tours in favour of Hong Kong and its sister cities to the north.

If the two cities are siblings, Hong Kong has undoubtedly been the uptight older brother to Singapore's happy-go-lucky, if law-abiding, younger lad.

Of late, however, Hong Kong has traded in its frosty Bordeaux mistress for hot young things from Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and even, gasp, Italy. Singapore, meanwhile, has been happily shacked up with a string of congenial Aussies for decades, occasionally stepping out for a comely Californian if one happens by.

Singapore is thought to be open-minded, and Hong Kong is perceived as snobby. But the claim that Hong Kong's wine scene has been auction-driven can be disputed by no one, and it beats both London and New York for first position.

While writing our wine guide to Singapore, we managed to identify few auction houses beyond a couple of online exchanges.

The F&B professionals that we interviewed confirmed that, although there is a core group of collectors, the chances of Singapore becoming a collecting hub are limited by the torrid climate, and the dearth of affordable storage.

Residential real estate in Singapore isn't the wallet-busting prospect that it is in Hong Kong. But a roomier apartment there won't accommodate collections on the scale of Hong Kong's (5,000-10,000 bottles), for which outsourced storage is critical.

Singapore's sprawling urban footprint and its expensive industrial real estate makes outsourced storage less tenable.

The greater residential elbow room in Singapore, which exists even for the middle class, has meant that entertaining at home has become more popular, according to Isabelle Nguyen of the F&B division at Ubifrance Singapore.

Casual home entertaining drives consumption of casual wine, although beer is still a popular alternative. Hong Kong, meanwhile, remains much more oriented towards a BYO trophy bottle with friends at a restaurant, than a Wednesday night pinot grigio at home, though this continues to evolve.

Through a quirk of the wine tax in Singapore, which is based on alcoholic strength rather than value, the balance should be much away from the ultra-cheap and actually favour the very expensive. But Singaporeans' love of a bargain has kept the market value-oriented.

It may be also be a matter of flavour profile. To Hong Kong, wine gospel comes from English publications such as Decanter and Jancis Robinson's Purple Pages, while Singapore looks to the United States' Wine Spectator, Allen Meadows and Stephen Tanzer. Both still have a penchant for Parker. Generally, Hong Kong's Old World predilection is at odds with Singapore's New World crush, although the latter is now experiencing Barolo fever.

Hong Kong has positioned itself as the wine hub of Asia, but its clearest role is as the gateway to China. Yet Singapore also has its status as a regional capital, with merchants re-exporting bottles to Indonesia and Malaysia.

The exciting thing about both markets is their constant change. Grower champagne is the Singapore fad of the moment, while natural wine is making inroads in Hong Kong, something "unlikely any time soon" in Singapore, according to writer Jenny Tan.

As most parents of competitive children would agree, it's probably best for them to have different interests.

Debra Meiburg is a master of wine