Henry Tang Ying-yen could be forgiven for wishing his glass of water had been filled with red wine. The financial secretary entered the Legislative Council chamber 10 minutes early, took a deep breath to calm himself and began rehearsing the delivery of his budget speech. Certainly, a glass of his favourite tipple would have provided a visual aid to one of the most anticipated sections of his budget - the duty on alcoholic beverages. At his first mention of the topic, otherwise bored legislators shuffled to attention. Mr Tang is one of Hong Kong's better-known wine connoisseurs, and makes regular personal imports from his extensive wine cellars overseas. Reminding his audience that a recently completed two-month public consultation on the duty covered not only wine, but also beer, rice wine and spirits, he said: 'I specifically made this statement because there's a problem of image. Some people believe that drinking wine, particularly red wine, is the preserve of only a few rich people.' That impression was not really true, he said, since the average retail price of the 10 best-selling wines in Hong Kong was $55 per bottle. Only one in 1,000 bottles sold were top-end wines attracting duty of $500 or more. Advocates of lower duty, such as legislator for the catering sector Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, were grinning in anticipation of a reduction. Mr Tang further stoked the fires of hope as he outlined the benefits such a move might bring. Then came the word 'but'. Sipping soberly from his glass of water, he paused for effect and then let them have it: the government currently had no plan to reduce the duty. This earned the financial secretary his biggest laugh of the day. He also got a chuckle for his selection of a red tie - a reflection of the state of the government's finances. Mr Tang was still smiling as he answered reporters' questions after delivering his speech. Asked why he never wore a smile for the cameras, the financial secretary said that no one could keep up a smile throughout a 30-minute press conference. 'There may be times during the period that one is stony-faced,' he said, adding that newspapers selected the facial expressions that suited their coverage of him. Although usually well prepared to discuss his political future, he appeared to be caught off guard by questions about the remark of his friend, Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun, that Mr Tang wanted to run for chief executive in 2007, though not this July. He said his current task was to do a good job as finance chief. Pressed on whether Mr Tien's statement was true or not, Mr Tang was silent for a few seconds before replying: 'You'd better ask him.'