From Taipei it was back to Hong Kong, where my first twenty-four hours were not so glamorous. I was basically stuck in my hotel room for that first day and night there, working around the clock on our first September auction catalog. It was a bit more work than anticipated, and my schedule became blurry shifts of naps, meetings, lunches and dinners for my entire time there. I was getting a bit edgy, I must confess, as a good night sleep soon became a distant memory.
What was glamorous was the spectacular view overlooking the Hong Kong harbor from my room at the Grand Hyatt, keeping me in touch with the energy constantly emerging from the amazing city of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is like the New York City of Asia, with a splash of Hawaii, and a giant harbor as well. In a brief history lesson that I later got from a taxi driver I hired for the day, there are currently over seven million people in HK, half of whom live in affordable government housing, where a fifty square meter apartment will cost the equivalent of $150 US a month. While gas may be a small fortune, and wine still taxed heavily, the government does make sure that its working class people have affordable necessities. There are three main territories in HK; Kowloon, Central and the New Territory, but which is what and where I’ll have to get back to you on. Hong Kong is driven by the financial sector, along with tourism, manufacturing, and more financial activity. I believe the government posted over a $50B surplus last year. Not bad for one year and seven million people, I’d say!
The Chinese language is a maze of hundreds of dialects, although the one unifying factor is that the language of reading and writing is all the same. Mandarin is quickly becoming the dominant dialect and the chosen one of Beijing and Shanghai, while Cantonese is a fading second, although more prevalent in HK from what I understood. ‘What’s the third most common dialect,’ I asked my driver. ‘Fuking,’ he replied. After confirming the spelling, I asked on cue, ‘Is there a lot of Fuking in China?’
Ok, sorry for that one to all my Chinese friends, I couldn’t help myself. One must laugh and love to live, no? Anyway, I finally escaped to dinner with a former New York client that retired back to Hong Kong. We went to Yung Kee, a great authentic and traditional Chinese restaurant where you must try the goose! He graciously brought a 1990 Haut Brion. This bottle was decanted for over two hours, as his taste prefers a rounder, softer and gentler style of Bordeaux, and I am sure the same goes for many of his Hong Kong brethren. The wine had a gorgeous and open nose full of cassis fruit, supported by cedar, minerals and tobacco. There were lots of layers and nuances to this complex wine. Tobacco came to the forefront of its aromas, and a baked morning cereal quality emerged. Despite the two hours of decanting, the finish was still spicy and had rock solid t ‘n a. There were lots of tobacco and earth flavors, and its style was long and regal. Stylish, long and with a smoky finish, the ’90 HB was a pleasure to drink in HK. There were also nice mineral flavors to its now satiny finish (95).
It was back to work after dinner, and the next fourteen hours consisted of that and short naps, as well as a morning massage to resuscitate. Massage is one of the keys to survival when traveling and overworking; without them I think I’d be dead already. Revived and regenerated, I headed over to Petrus, one of Hong Kong’s more renowned restaurants, nestled high in the sky in the Shangri La hotel. Most of the top restaurants in Asia are in the biggest hotels, although that culture is starting to change. In Hong Kong, it is a good thing, as the views from the top in this incredible city are breathtaking.
It was only lunch, so my guest and I settled on a 1997 Lafon Meursault Charmes. 1997 has become one of my favorite white Burgundy vintages to drink at the moment, and this Lafon once again proved why. It had a fabulous nose that was ‘right there.’ There was incredible musk, sweet butter, caramel and great spice aromas, as well as citrus twists and pine and mahogany traces. Still fresh and just starting to enter that plateau of maturity, the ’97 had great citrus flavors and kisses of earth and minerals. Its buttery flavors were still sweet, and this was excellent stuff, the perfect lunch time solution (93).
After more meetings, naps and catalog, I found myself at Yung Kee again for a casual get together. I told you this place is good! We sampled a 2001 Chateau Kefraya ‘Comte de M,’ Lebanon’s other wine, its first ambassador being the always interesting and tasty Chateau Musar. The Kefraya is a Cab/Syrah blend and had a big, deep nose full of dark black fruits and a leathery, rocky kink. Firm tannins and alcohol were framed by a kiss of modernity. Its flavors had sweet fruit, still on the black side but with cherry twists. Medium-bodied, the wine had good tannin and nice grit. There was some beef to its flavor profile, szechuan perhaps, or that might have been the table next to me! Some bacon from its Syrah emerged, and a touch of olive rounded out this smooth and pleasant wine (90).
The next morning, also my last day in Hong Kong, I finally finished that damn catalog, so I could now have a relaxed lunch with a significant private collector, one who generously brought a 1975 Petrus! Unfortunately, the bottle was slightly maderized, but not enough not to enjoy it throughout a most memorable lunch. 1975 Petrus can be one of the riskier Petruses in the vintage market due to the fact that there was a bottling issue at the Chateau that year, as many seasoned collectors will attest to. Nonetheless, I had no problem drinking it! ‘Mushroomy’ at first, my host noted, and there was old, gamy fruit, musk and a citric twinge. He quickly assessed that he had had better bottles, but the quality of the tannins and acidity were still very self-evident, and the wine had a smooth and satiny body with a nice nip to its finish. Its flavors were a bit old, though, and clearly advanced for its age. It still had a dusty finish, dry caramel flavors and nice grit despite polished tannins. The structure was there, but this gamy bottle, as previously noted, was not all that it could be (93A).
My last night in HK saw me at the home of one of its longstanding collectors, one who had amassed a joyous gathering of friends to celebrate my first trip to his home sweet home. I traveled up the famous ‘Peak’ where many of the lifestyles of Hong Kong’s rich and famous reside. It is a giant mountain overlooking all of Hong Kong, and getting up it is a long and winding road that would have made Lennon proud.
You know it is a good night when the cocktail round is a 1985 Roulot Meursault Perrieres. It was a bit cold at first, but it warmed up to reveal aromas of corn, yeast, oil, earth, gamy white meat and a hefty pat of sweet butter. In the mouth, it was round, rich, tasty and pure with long acidity and nice spice and length. This was exquisite stuff, round, smooth and buttery, ‘almondy and hazelnutty’ one noted, while another found it ‘still so fresh.’ Orange marmelade rounded out this complex and delicious white (95).
We sat down to a pair of La Turques, 1989 and 1990, to be exact. The Rhone had finally made an appearance on my Asian tour, and the 1989 Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque was special stuff. At first, it was very shy and wound, with slick tannins and alcohol, subtle and slinky yet long and elegant. Cracked white pepper, violet and crushed black fruits eased out of its reticent nose slowly but surely. The palate was quite spicy with lots of pepper, cedar and mineral flavors, yet somehow the wine was able to remain soft and caressing. There was impeccable balance, nice spice and enough pitch to make the three tenors go for thirds (96).
The 1990 Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque was a bit more controversial. At first, I preferred the 1990, I will admit. It was more open, more forward and had more fruit initially. Nonetheless, it was very similar to the ’89, also stylish and sensual, and also possessing the white pepper, the violet and the cassis, but also more yeast. One noted that it was ‘more dusty,’ while another noted its ‘mint.’ There was also more bacon, menthol and flesh, but our host was steadfastly in the 1989 camp, as was one of Hong Kong’s most respected and distinguished merchants. The question was whether this bottle of 1990 was a bit more developed than it should have been, and with oxygen its initial forward qualities started to lose focus in the glass a bit. I still did like its forward, fleshy and gamy style, but the consensus was that this bottle was just a touch off (94A).
Another pair of ’89 and ‘90s were next, this time being La Conseillante. The 1990 La Conseillante had a deep, intense nose, oh so Pomerol with its cocoa, game, plum, chocolate, dates and coconut aromas. Its t ‘n a was rock solid, and its ‘plenty of fruit’ was admired. Similar exotic flavors graced its extraordinary palate. ‘Game, game and more game,’ I wrote. In the end, the 1990 had more balance and depth than the 1989, a touch more classic, but it was a very fine hair to split (96).
The 1989 La Conseillante was similar in style but more brutish, but not in a bad way, more in a ‘watch out or it might play dirty’ way. It managed to rein all that in. Its opulent Pomerol fruit aromas seeped out of the glass. There was some caraway to go with its date and mineral flavors, along with vanilla, game and purple fruit. Opulent and more kinky than the 1990, the ’89 La Conseillante was still surely outstanding (95).
Someone made a joke about ‘Bored-eaux.’ I did tell you Asia was a continent of claret, didn’t I? Variety is not one of the Asian market’s specialties just yet, but it will come.
The next wine was quite exciting, however, despite it being yet another ”“ yawn ”“ Bordeaux. Just kidding! I still love the stuff and all of God’s children for that matter, at least when the winemaker doesn’t get in the way. The 1949 Mouton Rothschild was a great bottle of this wine though unfortunately a bit corked, but the transparency and clarity of the wine still came through on the palate. Tender, soft, smooth and easy, its corkiness blew off a bit to reveal cedar, leather, dust and tobacco flavors. Then, its cassis and black rose fruit flavors really came through. In fact, the cork seemed to disappear as both time and the wine kept unfolding in the glass. Round, beautiful and balanced, I really felt that I could still taste this seductive wine despite the initial, pronounced cork aromas, and I decided that my judgment of the wine was not clouded; hence, there will be no ‘A’ for affected for this score (94).
The last wine on this memorable evening was a blind Port. The English are so predictable, ha ha, but not this Englishman, as he served a 1900 Taylor’s Vintage Port! What a treat. Its nose was sweet, smooth and nutty, on the cherry side with a shot of Robitussin in there. Tasty yet a touch medicinal with its alcoholic edges, as Port is prone to be when it becomes ancient, it was very smooth and soft, which had me guessing 1955, but I should have known better. I’ll get it right next time (92)!
Many thanks to my generous friend. It was a great way to cap the very hard week I had in Hong Kong, but wait a second, that wasn’t the nightcap”¦all I can say is two bottles of Cristal and San Antonio Spurs dancers, no lie! They were on some promotional tour of Asia, and they liked their Champagne, so being the gentleman I am”¦it was a fun time. Thankfully, I knew when to make my exit, as I had danced my dinner off, blew off all of the week’s steam, and somehow remembered that I had to make it to Macau in the morning.
One more thing before I forget. The Hong Kong airport is also magnificent and monumental. One could spend the whole day there leisurely. In fact, most of the major airports in Asia, and the couple to which I have recently been in Europe, were all very nice, with incredible shops, spas, healthy and multiple restaurant options and often much more, although the sex shop in the Munich airport I thought was a bit inappropriate for traveling families (!) American airports are HORRIBLE by comparison, full of junk food, crummy t-shirts, often run down and grimy. Can’t we find a way to make traveling in our country a little more civilized?
In Vino Veritas,