Hong Kong's wine culture is blossoming. Just a year ago, it was tough to get a good bottle of wine for a fair price due to the city's high wine import tax. But in February 2008, the government lifted its 40% import duty. Wine imports during the rest of the year shot up an astronomical 80%, and are on track for another 40% gain this year. Here's what you need to know about Hong Kong's new wine scene.
Wine Bar Blitz
Suddenly, wine bars and retail shops are sprouting up around the city, and a wine-drinking revolution is afoot among locals and foreigners alike. Paul Lee, the chef-owner of the two-year-old international restaurant Paul's Kitchen, opened Wine Bar by Paul's Kitchen in April, next door to his flagship eatery, to capitalize on Hong Kongers' growing interest in wine. "We have a lot of customers who are interested in wine and wine tasting," Lee says. "More and more people are starting to take elementary wine courses." In a relaxed, intimate setting, Lee offers 40 wine selections mostly from European producers, and an international tapas menu. Other popular wine bars in the city include Juliette's Wine Bar (review), Boca Tapas and Wine Bar (review), and Le Tire Bouchon (review).
Restaurant Wine Boom
Elsewhere, pairing wine with Chinese food is suddenly en vogue though wine critics long maintained that the complex, sometimes spicy cuisine was a tough match for wine. Now a new generation of culinary talent is challenging that sentiment.
"Everyone else is pairing their food with wine, so why not Chinese cuisine?" says Alvin Leung, chef-owner of the internationally acclaimed modern Chinese restaurant Bo Innovation (review), which offers more than 200 wines by the bottle. "There are plenty of delicious pairings of Chinese food and wine. Often you see it paired with beer, but that's not really appropriate for a high-class setting."
At Tien Yi (126 Peak Road, The Peak Tower, Levels 2 and 3, 852/2907-3888), a contemporary Chinese restaurant, the local clientele has shown a preference for red wines, says Martin Lo, manager at the restaurant, which offers more than 200 wines by the bottle.
"Most Chinese people like red wine, especially French reds from Bordeaux," says Lo, noting that red wine is perceived to be of higher quality than white wines by many Chinese customers.
Bo Innovation's Leung agrees that this perception is a "general misinterpretation" about wine that is changing. "Many Chinese feel that fine wine is red," Leung says. "People like very good quality, so they gravitate to red. But they're beginning to be more educated about wine, so they're learning more about white wines too." Other prominent Chinese restaurants with impressive wine lists include Lung King Heen (review) in the Four Seasons Hotel, and Fook Lam Moon (35-45 Johnston Road, Wanchai, 852/2866-0663).
New Winery and Festival
Beyond restaurants and wine bars, the city's first winery is worth a visit. The 8th Estate (3/F, Harbour Industrial Center, No. 10 Lee Hing Street, Ap Lei Chau, 852/2518-0922, www.the8estatewinery.com), located on the outskirts of the city, uses grapes from abroad to make its wines, and offers tastings on Saturday afternoons. The year-old company plans to sell its wines to restaurants and shops in the city.
Even the city's tourism board has jumped aboard, promoting Hong Kong as a wine destination for the first time ever, with its Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival (www.hkfoodandwineyear.com). Running from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, the festival will offer cellar tours, cooking classes, and events open to the public. Later, on Nov. 6 to 8, the SoHo Wine and Dine Carnival and the Lan Kwai Fong Carnival will find vendors selling wine and food to revelers in the streets, among other attractions. The city's Food and Wine Year (website) continues with discounts and specials through March.