Hong Kong's wine lovers opt for cheaper Bordeaux
Wine lovers are finding that a good bottle from their favourite region needn't cost the earth
Hongkongers are no longer the world's biggest spenders on Bordeaux wines but are opting for more affordable bottles.
Over the past year, the city imported and re-exported Bordeaux wines worth €300 million (HK$3 billion), a 12 per cent drop year on year. In contrast, import volumes climbed 16 per cent to 15 million bottles, according to the Bordeaux Wine Council.
The city is now third in terms of import value, after the United Kingdom and the mainland.
The mainland imported 38 per cent more wine in terms of value and 55 per cent more in terms of volume, with the total reaching 15 million bottles, worth €350 million, over the past year.
The figures show Chinese drinkers are diversifying from the priciest wines to cheaper ones, said the council's president, Georges Haushalter, who is in Hong Kong for the four-day Wine and Dine Festival. The four-day event started on the West Kowloon Promenade yesterday.
"It's a normal process in a mature market. People start to notice there are not only five, but 10,000 chateaux in Bordeaux," Haushalter said.
Since Hong Kong abolished duty on wine in 2008, it has become an auction centre for fine wines. Chinese collectors' passion for Bordeaux wines has pushed up prices, especially for Chateau Lafite Rothschild, to historic highs, but the market has cooled considerably since last year.
The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 Index, which tracks the price movement of the 10 most recent vintages of Bordeaux first growths, rose fourfold from January 2005 to June 2011. Since then it has dropped by about a third.
Hong Kong used to focus a lot on top wines, Haushalter said. The average price per bottle of Bordeaux wine in the city is now €21, still much higher than the global average of €7.40, he said. It is €5.10 on the mainland.
Haushalter said it was natural to see an adjustment after rapid, strong price growth over the past three years. To move ahead, merchants would put stronger emphasis on mid-range wines costing from as little as HK$50.
"We will help people learn about wines, so they can discover new chateaux and diversify their tastes," he said.
Meanwhile, mainlanders' passion for Bordeaux has broadened from buying its bottled wines to snapping up chateaux. Only two chateaux were Chinese-owned three years ago. Now there are 30, with 25 transactions over the past two years.
While the purchase of Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy by Louis Ng Chi-sing, right-hand man to Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, caused uproar in the region, Haushalter said Bordeaux always welcomed foreign investment.
There was a cultural difference between the two regions, he said.
"The [Catholic] church used to own the chateaux in Burgundy before the French revolution, while the peasants bought them afterwards. In Bordeaux, the chateaux were set up by entrepreneurs."
Haushalter said efforts were being made to guard against fake wines on the mainland. Bordeaux is now registered as a brand under the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, meaning there is a legal basis to prosecute copycats.