Bacchus in Hong Kong: Asian Palates, Pinotage and Perlemoen

Hong Kong is self-evidently the capital of Bordeaux. Nick Pegna, MD of Berry Bros. & Rudd, reports that claret accounts for 75% of sales while the all-singing, all-dancing Pacific Place shopping centre in the upscale Admiralty district of Central is festooned with more tricolors than the Champs-Élysées, there being a major promotion of French foodstuffs on the go at the minute.

Hong Kong has signed a memorandum of understanding with Bordeaux with regard to establishing the Asian Tiger as a wine hub for the region and Daniel Lam, manager of the wine department at Bonhams Auctioneers, confirms that a bottle of 1945 vintage Château Mouton is the ne plus ultra present for a business partner in a society that has a culture of gifting at its core.

hk6 Bacchus in Hong Kong: Asian Palates, Pinotage and Perlemoen

Which sets up a paradox to make Zeno proud. The assistant executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Raymond Yip, insists that there is an “Asian Palate.” He points to the diversity of Chinese cuisine: Peking Duck, Gong Bao Chicken, Dim Sum and Braised Abalone and asks for appropriate wine matches with a focus on balance. Putting his sponsorship money where his mouth is, he confirms that the London International Wine & Spirit Competition will be spawning off another wine competition as part of a long weekend wine festival to take place in Hong Kong in early November, with entries to be assessed by “Asian Palates.”

hk5 Bacchus in Hong Kong: Asian Palates, Pinotage and Perlemoen

Boris de Vroomen, co-chairman of the Hong Kong Wine & Spirits Industry Coalition, reports that SA sales to Hong Kong for 2008 were HK$ 16 million (R21 million) a small fraction of Chilean sales (HK$ 91 million), American (HK$ 196 million), Australian (HK$ 243 million) and light years behind France which shifts over HK$ 1 billion. So here is Zeno’s paradox: if there is indeed an Asian palate, why do Asians behave like the French? And a paradox for Johann Krige, new chairman of WOSA (Wines of SA, the exporters’ mouthpiece): how to get an Asian Palate Pleaser?

Sherlock Holmesing further, I asked Nick for his definition of the elusive Asian Palate. His response: “light and medium body is definitely a negative feature, as is austerity and minerality. Wood flavours are popular.” His insights are confirmed by Boris who added that the cliché of Asians preferring red is on the money. Which would seem to indicate Pinotage as a popular style for Hong Kong and by extension, the rest of Asia.

This conclusion was confirmed by a visit to the Crown Wine Cellars housed in a converted British Army ammo dump carved out of a Little Hong Kong hillside. Nestling next to the cases of Krug Clos de Mesnil bubbly, a case of CWG L’Avenir Pinotage Reserve 2003. Perhaps the Pinotage Association should speak to Piet Dreyer of Raka fame and secure some stocks of Perlemoen for a Perlemoen & Pinotage Pavilion at the 2009 HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair.

hk4 Bacchus in Hong Kong: Asian Palates, Pinotage and Perlemoen