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Neil Pendock reports on a week of wine in Hong Kong

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 5th, 2011

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The streets of North Point, Hong Kong Island, look like the set from Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian view of the future. Especially after you’ve spent an hour roller coastering above the airport, waiting to land in a typhoon and they’re all shiny with rain. The debt this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China pays to Sci-Fi was brought home watching the Green Lantern in 3D in the International Finance Centre, tallest building in Hong Kong. HK$252 (R222 including two sets of 3D glasses), Lantern was a compromise as we’d wanted to watch Beginning of the Great Revival, a new propaganda flick showing a young Mao frolicking in the snow, but my Mandarin is not yet up to speed.

Snow is totally alien to Hong Kong in summer where a balmy 32° and 90% relative humidity turns skyscrapers like the IFC into air-conditioned pleasure domes and showcases for the great panoply of European luxury brands like Prada (which listed the previous week on the HK stock exchange), Emernegildo Zegna, Versace and Agnès B. which features an in-store restaurant le pain grillé which we ignored as we’d had lunch at Bo Innovation, a Michelin one-star restaurant in Wan Chai. Wan Chai would be a perfect venue for Christo Wiese’s SA Fine Wine shop or a pop-up store promoting Stellenbosch wines like Rémy Martin does to market Louis XIII Cognac.

At Bo, just about the cheapest thing on the wine list is a bottle of Bollinger Champagne at HK$750 (R660) a pop – cheaper than you can buy it retail in SA. Drappier 2005 vintage is even cheaper at HK$580 – R500 for a vintage bubbly in the world’s 64th best restaurant according to San Pellegrino mineral water, who know about these things. To put this in perspective, when top Champagne executive Daniel Lorson was in Johannesburg earlier this year he paid R560 for a glass of non-vintage French fizz in a restaurant.

The Bo list featured no SA reds but did include three whites from the Cape: Meerendal Chenin 2007 was the most expensive at HK$600, Mul-derbosch (their hyphenation) Chardonnay 2008 at HK$580 and Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2008 for HK$430. Which turns the SA price/cultivar equation on its head when Chenin Blanc is pricier than vintage French Champagne and Chardonnay – especially a heavy hitter like Mul-derbosch. Music to the ears of the Chenin Blanc Producers Association and confirming the unbeatable position of a funky restaurant like Bo as a showcase for SA wine.

The tip about Bo came from Debra Meiburg MW, first lady of Hong Kong wine. We’d lunched at the China Club in the old Bank of China Building, which gave us a chance to catch up on her recent judging in SA where Sauvignon Blanc was her standout class, even if there was some initial confusion about her opinion of the grassy green style which is running into a fair amount of palate fatigue among Asian wine lovers. Which could explain her choice of a William Fèvre Chablis for the delectable dim sums from an extensive buffet that was replenished at regular intervals.

The delicate licorice flavours of the Chablis reminded me of the Canton Love-Pes Vine Drink made by Hung Fook Tong. A crafty blend of love-pes, licorice root and momordica fruit, I quickly became addicted to the stuff and reckon both Chablis and Love-Pes are good matches to crispy chicken feet. China Club is something of a modern art gallery with exotic works curated by FT Agony Uncle, Sir David Tang: Bevis and Butthead as Maoist generals, fat babies with adult faces and naked youths like those on the walls of Annatjie Melck’s house on Muratie that will hopefully grace a label soon.

For mains Debra ordered a bottle of Craggy Range Syrah from New Zealand, confirming that the Club has a catholic palate when it comes to wine with the usual local suspects Warwick and Meerlust also on the list. Debra is no stranger to SA, having been to the Cape a biblical seven times. In fact she even claims distant kinship to Hannes Myburgh of Meerlust fame. She’s done a harvest with Meerlust winemaker Chris Williams and competes in the Cape Argus.

Chinese tea is the de facto drinks order for any meal – so much so, it usually arrives automatically, the same way water appears at American meals. It’s usually jasmine tea, but Debra ordered chrysanthemum, which is tangy and peaty like Scotch without the alcohol. Even more so, as the pot empties and the smoky tannins accumulate. It even looks like whisky.

Debra reckons SA wine should be a winner in China: “the style and price is right – unlike some wines from California – and the Chinese government is keen to boost trade with Africa, which will help a lot.” When Chinese entertain, they typically do so in the private dining room of restaurants like the China Club, rather than at home. “Decide on a menu and bring your own wine and show your friends how much you love them” says Debra. No reason those wines should not include a few from SA – after all, we’re all happy members of BRICS now, almost family.
Article by Neil Pendock

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