Words: Henry Yuen Pix: S. Yuen
When I was growing up in Hong Kong, there was this annual “Trade Fair” where all kinds of businesses lined up in one place to showcase their wares. Apparel manufacturers displaying the latest fashion trends; food companies promoting newest products; international brands demonstrating the next must-have appliances; there were household supplies, hard wares, gadgets, toys games and much more. Young ladies in beautiful tailored-made uniforms standing in front of the stalls, encouraging people to try, test, taste and buy. Adorned by flashy flirting signs, musical performances and non-stop actions, the fun-filled annual event was something both adults and kids looked forward to every year.
Similar yet more vibrant atmosphere and high energy were felt as I walked around the Wine and Dine Festival in Hong Kong on their opening night; a wine glass in hand, I was elated to be there! The original plan of holding this much-anticipated event in Central was altered due to the demonstration taking place in that area. Kudos to the super organizing power and determined efficiency of Hong Kong Tourism Board and the team of organizers who turned things around as if with a magic wand. Upon entering the site, I was awed by how elaborated the just-erected site in this replacement outdoor venue was! Glittering with lavishing stages, tasting rooms and different themed zones, hard to believe it was all set up in a matter of days. Held at the runway of the old Kai Tak Airport with record attendees, this food and wine event have been fully embraced by the locals and visitors alike, despite the last minute location change.
The Wine & Dine Festival attracted these groups of folks: Those who came to sip the wine, those who came to sample the food, and of course, those who enjoyed both the food and the wine; and those who simply there to cherish the gleeful festivity!
Hong Kong has been well-regarded as a food and wine paradise; the month-long Festival provided a very approachable platform even for first time comers. There is a Chinese saying that you work to keep your stomach full, clothing and lodging come secondary. Indeed, food has always been an integral part of the Chinese social fabric. No surprise that the last minute change in venue did not hinder the popularity of the Festival; in fact, the Kai Tak location helps raised the allure as those who are yet to step on it welcome the opportunity to come take at its Cruise Terminal look.
Hong Kong’s affluent wine culture is no doubt the backbone of the huge success of the Wine & Dine Festival. As the wine-drinking society matures in Hong Kong, wine with food, wine on its own, wine for gift-giving has become more or less a social trend, a lifestyle mean and a wind-down tool to ease the everyday hectic paces.
The fabulous setup and the long lineup at the food and wine booths avouched my thoughts and observations. A tasting zone dedicated to the ever popular Bordeaux is a true manifestation of the superiority of the Bordeaux wine reputation in the heart of the Hong Kong wine circles. Not just any French wines but only those from Bordeaux – the allure, charisma and status of a Bordeaux label lives forever in their heart! The very considerate Everyday Wine Zone is there to showcase arrays of wallet friendly wines, a perfect introduction to the new and novice drinkers indeed. The Discovery Zone where wine merchants brought in rare, unknown and hard to find wines is, needless to say, draws in wine lovers of all levels. The Party Wine Zone focusing on sparkling wines, sweeter and dessert wines are enjoyed on their own or served in various cocktail concoctions. The Country Zone that features wines from popular wine producing regions of the world plus some emerging Eastern European countries such as Georgia and Romania is for exploration and great learning experience. To top it off, the Riedel Grand Tasting Pavilion with a list of impressive high end wines is the see and to-be-seen arena where folks clamour for and where veteran wine lovers who are there to compare tasting notes and purchasing powers.
While there is no doubt people still gravitate towards Bordeaux wines, it is good to see that other wine regions are gaining recognition and consumers begin to realize their wines are well worth their attention and curiosity. The “Drink nothing but Bordeaux” mantra is fading and most people look for value rather than just reputation.
I had a frank discussion with a Mr. Choy of MegaWill Wine, a wine merchant at the Festival who confessed the Bordeaux popularity and status is not a novelty among those knowledgeable wine folks anymore. When he imports Bordeaux wines, instead of exclusively high end labels, it will now be those Bordeaux labels that are more price-friendly to the drinking public. It is difficult to make a lot of money importing high-end wines since only a shrinking group of elites still clings to that mantra. Due to the geographic proximity to the Asian Pacific countries, Australian and New Zealand wines are equally popular. California wines are also welcome due to the palate acceptance of full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel etc.
I was amazed by the large number of wine merchants prying their trades at the Festival. I guess the ever increasing drinking population and the relaxed tax rule on wines in Hong Kong readily support more entrants to the wine trade. A case in point was that at one of the Discovery Zone booths, there was this young gentleman Mr. Wing Yau urging us to try his wine. As it turned out, he was the winemaker of a plum wine made locally in Hong Kong. Under the umbrella of Hong Kong Royal Wine Ltd, only a few hundred cases were produced and he hadn’t had time to line up any distributorship or enlisted any restaurants to put his wine on their wine lists. It was no doubt a relatively new venture for him. Ask where he got the idea and impetus, his answer was it was his love of wine which drove his interest and desire to make wine. “It would be fun to try and make my own wine!” He said so with a grin. Consistent with the self-assurance of most folks in Hong Kong, he welcomed the challenge and was not deterred by the steep learning curve facing him. That’s the spirit of the Hong Kong people that we adore and I wish him the best of luck in his new endeavour.
While most tasting events in Vancouver charges a higher admission fee, the wine tasting portion at each booth was free. You can taste all the wines you like and would not get drunk by spiting. Spitting is in fact encouraged. Whereas the Hong Kong Food and Wine Festival charged a very low admission fee of about $3-$4 Canadian but each tasting cost a ticket. More expensive wines cost two or three tickets each. As a result, it was difficult to taste a multitude of wines unless you buy a lot of tickets. And you tend not to spit since there was no spit bucket provided. The expectation was that you would finish each glass since you’re paying for it. I guess it makes perfect sense since a low admission fee could lure even casual fans who are free to choose and decide how to spend their dollars by either drinking a little or a lot.
With over one hundred and fifty booths and more than ten wines at each booth, it was impossible for me to try too much wine without spitting. In the end, my exercise involved studying each label carefully before selecting and sipping which called for lingering a lot longer at some booths. That was something I didn’t mind at all since the food and ambiance was good and the conversations were enjoyable. Not having to worry drinking and driving, thanks to the free shuttle bus that took us back to the subway station conveniently, definitely elevated the pleasure. My first Hong Kong Wine & Dine experience was a great one, no matter how I looked at it. I have no doubt the wine trend in Hong Kong will only get better overtime and the public will appreciate and embrace the wine arena more profoundly!