Wine is the hottest thing in Hong Kong since Tamagotchi, but unlike that fad, it looks as if wine is here for the long run. Despite the plunging stockmarket, prices of vintage wines are going sky-high. But this fad is not only for the wealthy; everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Enthusiasts are snapping up bottles as if they are discount cake coupons, and wine shops are popping up in even the remotest of areas. Unfortunately, the mind-boggling selection that some shops offer makes it difficult to know what to buy. Shops are aware of this, and most offer a fair to good selection of bottles for customers to sample, often at no charge. At Cellarmasters in Coda Plaza in Central, you need to pay a $200 fee to join the wine club, but this lets you sample two to three wines at their tastings every Saturday and Sunday. The store carries about 50 per cent Australian wines, 30 per cent French. Call 2501-4337. Also in Coda Plaza is Force Eight Cellars (phone 2527-6217). You do not need to join any club here, and you can try three to six wines on Saturdays from 2-7pm. Decanter in Exchange Square offers free tastings during shop hours, mostly of Chilean and Californian wines. Call 2537-9303. Vine Wines on Lyndhurst Terrace offers a selection of four to eight varieties from 11am-9pm, Thursday-Saturday. Phone 2526-3133. As you travel up the Mid-Levels escalator, you will see Corks (tel: 2543-3292). This tiny shop supplies many customers who need bottles to bring to SoHo restaurants which do not yet have liquor licences. Corks carries wines from around the world, including Lebanon. Daily tastings take place from 5.30-10.30pm (until 10pm on Sundays), but the number of wines to sample varies from one to seven. HopDuvel, a new shop in Mid-Levels, has limited tastings of wines and specialty beers about twice a month, and more extensive tastings about once a month. Because the shop is so new, it does not have set times for these, though it will fax information to interested customers. Call 2147-3833. The tastings at Italian wine shop Castello del Vino in Wan Chai are so popular you need to reserve a place. It costs $200, but the fee is refundable with a purchase of 12 bottles during the tasting, and it includes salami, cheese, prosciutto, bread and olives, plus the chance to sample some 12-16 bottles. Phone 2866-0587. French wines are the specialty at Gallerie du Vin (tel: 2591-9028). You need to be a member to participate, but after paying a $250 lifetime fee, it costs only $50 annually. They conduct tastings of three to five wines about once a month. Boutique Wines in Horizon Plaza, Ap Lei Chau, carries exclusively Australian wines. You can sample six varieties on weekends from 2-5pm. Call 2872-4234. French wine store Megareve in Aberdeen offers a selection of about 10 wines at its free tastings, which take place from 10am-7pm every weekend. Phone 2555-1284. In Quarry Bay, the tiny shop Oenoline has informal tastings (so informal they are not even on set days) of up to three wines at a time. Call 2590-7238. At the French Wine Connection in Heng Fa Chuen, customers can sample one to two wines from a selection which changes daily. Call 2889-5628. Some hints when you visit these shops: take advantage of the expertise of the sales people and increase your knowledge and enjoyment of wine. Even more important: play fair. Even though you are not obligated to buy the wines you taste, these shops have to pay rent. Do not cheat by using your local wine shop as a place to get drunk on the cheap.