THE quality of wine on local shelves is improving as increasingly savvy drinkers drive out industry 'cowboys', a visiting London-based expert said. But Robert Joseph, in town to run a tasting competition, said a maturing market was not simply a process of cooing over what Western connoisseurs decree is a top drop. Which means that if you want to put lemonade in your bordeaux, you should go ahead. 'There was a time when people would just go for the one with the most zeros [in the price], and that's unhealthy,' Mr Joseph said. 'The competition is getting that much tougher, and that's great.' This was partly because tough economic times were causing consumers to look for a better-value bottle. 'I think the recession has perversely been a good thing here, because a lot of cowboys were taking advantage of the fact that people didn't know what they were buying,' Mr Joseph said. The other reason the range here was improving was that buyers used to sourcing wine for the British market were now in Hong Kong. 'The British are a nation of cheapskates,' he said. 'My countrymen tend to not want to pay for things but they still want them to be good. They want Rolls-Royces at Mini prices.' People who eat Cantonese and other popular cuisine were the best people to judge which wines complemented such fare. 'It's very dangerous to have anybody tell you what you should wear, what you should eat . . . wine should be exactly the same, you should drink what you enjoy, but do it on the basis of having thought about it, rather than 'it's a brand I know',' he said. And despite the horrified gasps of those who think they know better, Hong Kong drinkers should consume as they see fit, he said. 'The French are very upset when they hear that some of their bordeaux are being drunk in karaoke bars with Sprite,' Mr Joseph said. 'I would say it's a great pity if somebody buys a bottle of Chateau Petrus or Chateau Lafite and puts lemonade in it. 'On the other hand, it's a great pity if I buy a Picasso and put it in my bathroom. 'But I've bought the Picasso and it's mine, and if I've bought the Chateau Petrus it's my right to do that. 'As for putting lemonade into cheap bordeaux, I don't have any problem with that, because some cheap bordeaux is so nasty that lemonade will do nothing but help it,' Mr Joseph said. 'Just find the wine you like, and drink it the way you like.'