Wine retailers switch focus to local buyers

Sellers switch sales strategy to target local market, with fresh emphasis on education, expanded range and better value for money

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 3:50am

Wine retailers say they have noticed a sharp fall in the number of their mainland clients during the past year, who in previous years were the biggest spenders pushing up prices for the top labels.

In light of this trend, Hong Kong-based retailers are shifting their focus back to the local market by expanding their catalogue to offer new and affordable wines.

Keith Wong Wing-kit from Wine Explorer said mainland clients used to contribute up to 80 per cent of his company's business. Now it is 60 per cent. Local drinkers are pickier and more price-cautious.

He said that while the priciest first growths in Bordeaux appealed to mainlanders, most Hongkongers tended to go after third or fourth growths costing HK$1,000 or less per bottle.

"Hong Kong people get bored of a single vintage easily. They love trying new things and don't want to spend much on them," he said at the Wine and Dine Festival at the West Kowloon Promenade.

Instead of stocking up on large quantities of a single brand, Wong now rolls out 30 new choices every month. They are wines of different vintages dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, he said.

For those who would like to try an aged wine for the first time, he recommended the 1996 vintage of Chateau du Tertre, a fifth growth in Margaux region. Its price tag is HK$530 a bottle.

Wong was speaking yesterday, the second day of the festival being held at the West Kowloon Promenade until tomorrow.

Another exhibitor, Chau Fuk-yau of Yee Sang International, said Lafite Rothschild used to make up one fifth of his company's sales. Yet he has only sold one case of it this year. Now he seeks to woo local wine lovers by value-for-money options, such as good quality wines from less well-known appellations.

"The wine is from Montagne-Saint-Émilion, one of the satellites of the Saint-Émilion vineyard," said Chau who introduces Chateau Roudier to visitors at the fair. "Its taste bears resemblance to wines from Saint-Émilion, but its price is much lower."

While a top wine from the renowned Bordeaux appellation of Saint-Émilion costs about HK$8,000, the Roudier wine only costs HK$440 a bottle.

The Bordeaux Wine Council has introduced a list of 100 good Bordeaux wines at affordable prices. Its wine school located in the Bordeaux pavilion includes food tasting for the first time as it teaches food and wine pairing.

Nelson Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong Sommelier Association, said it required skill to pair Chinese dishes with fine wines. "French cuisine has a strong focus on sauces, so it is most important to match wines with the sauce. But for Chinese cuisine, there are way too many cooking methods involved."

As a general rule, he recommends matching wines of light body with lighter dishes, such as boiled food.

Council statistics showed the Hong Kong market was spending less on Bordeaux wines, but importing more in terms of volume, indicating people are moving away from priciest wines to buy more mid-range ones.