It’s been another enthralling week of fine wine tastings at AWC Wine Academy. On Tuesday, we enjoyed some breathtaking Grand Cru Burgundies. On Thursday, it was the very finest of Bordeaux, where we compared the likes of Pétrus, Latour, Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc. As the saying goes, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
Our primary interest was in conducting a head-to-head tasting of the best estates from the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux. The plan was to do this with eight wines, in four vintage pairs, followed by a final mystery wine. For this event, we were delighted to welcome several of our top clients alongside a number of American Express International Currency Card and Centurion cardholders. The knowledge of the attendees and the quality of the wines being served promised to make this our most impressive tasting yet.
In addition, we were delighted to welcome back wine writer (and co-founder of the International Wine Challenge), Charles Metcalfe as our host. Charles had already proved his mettle by hosting our magnificent 1990 Bordeaux retrospective a few weeks prior. On this occasion however, Charles wasn’t the only wine writer in attendance. I was particularly pleased that Robert Parker’s UK colleague Neal Martin was also able to join us. I’m a great admirer of Neal’s writing and his palate is top notch. I’m certainly looking forward to reading his new book on Pomerol, which he has just completed, when it is published in September 2012.
Above: Journalist Neal Martin and Account Manger Lucy McMillan discuss the upcoming wines.
One of my definitions of truly fine wine is that it doesn’t just engage and intrigue our palates; it must also engage our intellect. This process of engagement is something we strive for at all Wine Academy tastings as we find it is integral to both understanding and enjoyment. It is important that wine tasting be both fun and interactive so that people leave with smiles on their faces, having been entertained just as much as they have been informed.
Our primary technique for getting people involved is to put them into teams and to encourage them to taste the wines blind. We taste wines blind for a number of reasons. First and foremost, not knowing what the wine is in advance removes any pre-existing prejudices that could easily influence the way we regard and rate particular wines. Additionally, because tasting wines blind is more challenging, it is also much more fun!
Above: Purchasing Manager Berenger Piras pours the wines.
Moreover, putting people into competitive teams adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the evening and is something people invariably enjoy. This promotes inclusiveness and, as a result, tasters tend to ask more questions and become more involved. As a result, they often learn more too – almost without even realising they’re absorbing the information.
Charles began with a short, insider’s guide to the key differences between the Left and Right Banks and how those differences influence both the flavour and structure of the wines. On the Left Bank, the wines are generally dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the prevalence of gravelly soils in the region which allow the variety to thrive. On the Right Bank however, Merlot is more common and it tends to do well on the heavier, clay-based soils.
However, as Charles pointed out – there are always exceptions. In Saint-Émilion for example, there is still quite a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in its cooler soils. Additionally, at the likes of Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc, significant quantities of Cabernet Franc make it into the final blend.
Above: Charles prepares for his lecture.
The first two wines set the standard for the evening. Wine one was a stellar 2004 Château Margaux from the Left Bank, which was both magnificent and completely true to its trademark, elegant style. As Charles pointed out, the First Growth was, “perfumed, graceful and classical; everything good Margaux should be all about.” I noted lovely cassis fruit, finely tuned acidity and supple tannins from this underrated vintage. 93 Points.
The Right Bank counterpart (wine number two in this pair) was the 2004 Château Angelus. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this was darker and deeper in colour than the Margaux, with more tannin and grip on the palate to match - which is perhaps why some tasters mistook this for the Left Bank wine of the pair. Whilst I enjoyed Hubert de Bouard’s 2004 Angelus and rated it 91 points, personally, I think it needs a bit more time in bottle.
I wasn’t the only one who preferred the Margaux over the Angelus. When we took a vote on which of these wines people preferred, Margaux was the favourite by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. In total, 19 tasters chose it versus just 10 for the Angelus. At this early stage of the competition, Team Latour (perhaps aided and abetted by Senior Client Relationship Manager, James Woodhead), had swept into an early lead by correctly identifying both the vintage and the respective origins of both wines.
The next pair presented a bit of conundrum. Wine three was revealed to be Gerard Perse’s 1998 Château Pavie, a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. The estate is a favourite of Robert Parker and he rated this wine 95 points, while predicting that it will last for at least 50 years. High praise indeed, yet not without appropriate basis - you can see exactly where he’s coming from when you taste this wine. Again, much like the 2004 Angelus, this was deep, tannic and powerfully extracted, with fabulous flavours of black cherry fruit. 94 Points.
Of course, 1998 was correctly regarded as a great Right Bank vintage. Unfortunately, that means that many Left Bank wines from the year are regularly overlooked. The magisterial 1998 Château Latour, wine number four, ideally proved the point – these 1998 Left Bank wines are not to be missed! This Latour was commanding, powerful, beautifully delineated and exquisitely balanced, with lovely fruit, cedar, minerals and a terrific amount of length. 95 Points.
As many people pointed out, the Pavie improved considerably in the glass – it clearly has a long life ahead of it. However, the overriding consensus was in favour of the Latour. It just pipped the Pavie by 11 votes to eight with the remainder of tasters undecided.
By now, all the teams were warming to their tasks as the competition heated up and the quality of the wines was increasing in kind. The next pair was simply stunning and it began with a 1996 Château Pétrus. This was a gem of a wine, with poise, power, brooding black fruit, lovely sweetness and that tell-tale spiciness that so often characterises great Pétrus. I rated it 97 points. Paired with it was the 1996 Château Haut-Brion which was a lovely contrast. The Haut-Brion was more evolved and had more smokey and savoury notes. It was also lighter in body, with finer grained tannins and flavours of liquorice root, cigar box and creamy cassis. 95 Points.
It was a tough call between these two wines. The Pétrus was just slightly preferred and it won-out with 11 votes against 10 for the Haut-Brion. Significantly, put perhaps not surprisingly, it was also voted the wine of the night, just edging out the Haut-Brion which came in second overall. Meanwhile, in the team competition, the Lafite table was challenging Latour as they correctly nailed both the vintage and the respective region of origin.
The last pair of wines hailed from the 1995 vintage and did nothing to tarnish the extraordinary levels of quality tasted thus far. First up was Pierre Lurton’s stunning Château Cheval Blanc. Beautifully crafted, with an almost unimaginable purity of fruit, this was benchmark Cheval Blanc at its elegant best. While drinking beautifully now, this will also age and improve for many years to come. 98 Points.
Paired against it was a much more intense Château Mouton Rothschild which was both rich and powerful. It brought an interesting sensation of total completeness with it. The firm and beguiling structure had notes of cured meat, Morello cherry, dark soy and black olives set atop the tannic framework. 94 Points.
So, which wine went down as the best from this final Left versus Right pair? The answer from the very enthusiastic and increasingly competitive audience was the Cheval Blanc, by a hair – just 10 votes to 9. Meanwhile, the team competition was also down to the wire and was only decided in the final round, with Team Latour sealing an impressive victory over Team Lafite.
However, neither the evening’s wines nor the competitive elements were quite done and dusted. What remained was an individual, blind tasting round of the ‘Wine Options’ game. The wine in question was revealed to be an older vintage of Château d’Yquem…but which vintage?
By process of elimination, the triumphant taster eventually emerged, to great applause from the attendees, and was rewarded with a half bottle of the wine in question - a sumptuous, honeyed, marmalade-laden, richly-textured 1983 d’Yquem which I rated 97 points.
Above: A taster admires the evening's wines.
Once again, it was quite a night at AWC Wine Academy. Great wines, great people and great fun. What more could you possibly want?
At the end of this remarkable evening we took a vote on which were the top wines of the night. Here are the results: [Please note that all of these wines are available on request from The Antique Wine Company]
- 1st Place -1996 Château Pétrus – Enquire for pricing- 2nd Place -1996 Château Haut-Brion - Enquire for pricing- 3rd Place -1995 Château Cheval Blanc - Enquire for pricing- 4th Place -1998 Château Latour - Enquire for pricing
For each paring, here is how the voting tallied up:Pair 1 – 2004 Château Margaux: 19, 2004 Château Angelus (Enquire for pricing): 10
Pair 2 - 1998 Château Pavie (Enquire for pricing): 8, 1998 Château Latour: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 3 - 1996 Château Haut-Brion: 10, 1996 Château Pétrus: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 4 - 1995 Château Cheval Blanc: 10, 1995 Château Mouton Rothschild (Enquire for pricing): 9, Undecided: 10
We look forward to welcoming you into the Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another exceptional night of Bordeaux, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560. To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
Tags: wine school, wine tasting, yquem, wine academy, vintage, The Antique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, Pierre Lurton, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Grand Cru, d'Yquem, Fine Wine, Cheval Blanc, Chateau Petrus, Chateau Pavie, Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Mouton, Chateau Cheval Blanc
Education | Wine tasting
Recently, many of my favourite wines have come from the stellar, 1990 Bordeaux vintage. Having opened and enjoyed a great number of 1990 bottles over the past year, there is no doubt in my mind that the vintage has now hit full stride. At the moment, these wines are providing enormous drinking pleasure.
As wonderful as they are individually, enjoying these wines alone cannot replicate the focus and feedback provided by a dedicated, horizontal overview. Tasting a wider range of wines, from both the Left and Right Banks in a single sitting, allows for a more comprehensive look at the entire vintage.
Therefore, it is no wonder that I was so looking forward to our most ambitious tasting at AWC Wine Academy yet – a 1990 Bordeaux Retrospective – hosted by writer and broadcaster Charles Metcalfe.
Of course, 1990 was the third ‘great to excellent’ vintage in a row in Bordeaux (not unlike the most recent trio of 2008, 2009 and 2010). It was also a very dry, warm year and, as Charles reminded us, July and August were extremely hot and sunny. In fact, July was the hottest it had been since 1949 and August was the sunniest since 1949.
Above: The line-up of 1990 Bordeaux.
As a result, by the end of August, some vines were so stressed from the lack of water that they started to shut down. However, necessary relief arrived with some September rains and the ripening process resumed. A further downpour on October 7th prompted some to pick sooner rather than later. However, those who waited were richly rewarded. Once again, fortune favoured the brave.
We began the evening on the Right Bank with the 1990 Château Gazin. This highly respected estate is tucked up into northeast corner of Pomerol where its nearest neighbours are none other than Château Pétrus and Château Lafleur! At 24 ha, it is also one of the biggest estates in Pomerol. For the quality it provides, it remains one of the appellation’s best values. Here the soil is predominantly clay, which is extremely useful in hot vintages like 1990 because it retains more moisture and remains cooler. Further, as this is on the Right Bank, we are firmly in Merlot territory. Gazin regularly contains as much as 90% Merlot to the final blend, with the remainder comprised of Cabernet Franc. As a testament to the quality of the terroir here, in the past, Château Pétrus actually purchased some of Gazin’s vineyards and integrated them with their own.
Arguably, the turning point in Gazin’s recent history occurred in 1988 when the present incumbent, Nicolas de Balliencourt took over management of the estate. Just in time too, as the impressive 1990 vintage was right around the corner. The 1990 Gazin was sweet, soft, plumy and savoury, with hints of tobacco leaf and some sous-bois maturity - just as one would expect. To me, this wine was evolved and drinking beautifully. Elegant, refined and possessing surprisingly good acidity, the tannins here were also notable in how deliciously soft they were. 93 Points.
Above: Charles Metcalfe was our expert tutor for the evening.
The next wine was the 1990 Château Calon-Ségur. The 3rd Growth estate sits at the far, northern edge of St-Estèphe and for many years it was run by the redoubtable Denise Capbern-Gasqueton, who was quite the character. Mme Gasqueton unfortunately passed away in September of this year. However, the estate is now managed by her two daughters and they are doing a wonderful job. Perennially known for its fabulous, long-lived wines, the individual now responsible for carrying on Calon-Ségur’s winemaking traditions is Vincent Millet, who took over chief production duties in 2006.
As many of you will know, the wines of St Estèphe have a reputation for being tough and tannic, particularly in their youth. Now at 21 years old, this perfectly-aged Calon-Ségur had shed its youthful exuberance and had become the exact opposite. Fully mature, it was sleek and sensuous with a slightly smoky character. There were still some excellent, primary black fruit flavours remaining - mainly cassis and mulberry - as well as some lovely sandalwood notes. Secondary and tertiary flavours were also coming through with hints of earth, mushrooms and undergrowth, all of which added to the impressive complexity. This wine was exquisitely balanced, with ripe tannins and a generous finish. 92 Points.
From St-Estèphe we headed south to the commune of Pauillac and another rising star of the Médoc, Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, which is owned by the charming Francois-Xavier Borie. I’ve always loved GPL, as it can offer tremendous value for the quality it provides. While it has showed top form over recent vintages, the question was whether the 1990 would showcase the same level of excellence?
The answer was a resounding affirmative. In terms of pure quality to price ratio, the 1990 GPL absolutely stole the show. For a start, the colour was still impressively deep and it had an incredibly intense nose – with notes of tar, black cherries and cream. On the palate, the fruit was still redolent of blackcurrants, with firm tannins that were only just starting to yield a bit of grip. Compared to the Gazin and the Calon-Ségur, this was showing more concentration and staying power. I think this wine will continue to improve and be delicious for at least another decade. This was an astonishing effort which was well worth a score of 95+ Points.
Above: Wine Academy Assistant Valeria Rodriguez refills glasses at the Haut-Brion table.
We then took a short jump south to St-Julien and a real Left Bank legend - Château Léoville-Las Cases. Owned by Jean-Hubert Delon and managed to his exacting standards, we all had very high expectations for this superb, ‘Super Second’ estate. We certainly were not disappointed. The 1990 Las Cases continues to march on with vim and vigour. At first the nose was a bit tight, but it opened up spectacularly as the wine developed in the glass. The palate exuded class and concentration with cedar, cassis, blackberry and lead pencil shavings. The texture was plush and pure, with supremely elegant and refined tannins. The length was beyond description. This is benchmark claret from a great terroir and a great vintage. What more can you ask for? 97 Points.
How do you top a wine like the 1990 Las Cases? With a classical First Growth like Château Haut-Brion, that’s how! While the 1989 Haut-Brion is undoubtedly a legend (repeatedly rated a perfect, 100 points), on the strength of this tasting, so is its younger sibling. The 1990 is now approaching its prime and it is providing enormous drinking pleasure. The colour and freshness belied its age, suggesting the wine has plenty of stuffing left to last it for the long haul. Polished and pure, with dark black fruits, cassis, sous-bois, cigar box, meat, minerals and wet stones, it was an absolutely sumptuous wine. The finish, balance and texture of this wine are extraordinary. 98 Points.
Fortunately, we still had one red wine remaining in the line up and so we crossed back over to the Right Bank for the 1990 Château Cheval Blanc. This happens to be one of my favourite wines of all time. Interestingly, it has also garnered magnificent scores from both Parker and Robinson over the years – a testament to its quality, as they don’t often see eye-to-eye.
True to form, this proved to be the most popular wine of the night, just edging the Haut-Brion in the final attendee vote. To me, this represented everything that a Cheval Blanc should be. The greatest Chevals are never over-done or unnecessarily extracted and this was a quintessential example - both fresh and elegant. The perfume of this wine absolutely leapt from the glass and the colour was still so dark that it gave almost no concession whatsoever to age. In the mouth it was lively and vivid, with a good attack of mid-palate acidity and the world’s most luscious, cashmere-like tannins. It continued to grow ever more expansively in the glass – with layer upon layer of exotic scents and flavours revealing themselves. I picked up leather, coffee, red fruits, plums, violets, graphite, pencil shavings and cedar. This was utterly magnificent and it is now flirting with perfection. 99+ Points.
The last wine from the 1990 vintage was another liquid legend – Château d’Yquem. It was the perfect ending to a perfect tasting. Rich, honeyed and powerful, this wine offered everything that makes d’Yquem so special- an incredible sweetness, a luxurious texture, en pointe acidity and a spectacular sense of balance. On the palate, botrytis-infused flavours of coconut, apricots, honey and brioche explode in succession. It is no wonder that Parker gave the 1990 d’Yquem a 99 point rating or that he predicted it could last for more than a century! 99+ Points.
Above: Tasters listen carefully to the rules of 'Wine Options' before the final, secret wine is poured.
The final wine of the night was a last minute, unannounced addition. We often like to introduce a challenge of sorts to our tastings for a bit of competitive fun and this evening was no exception. The final wine was poured and guests were told it was, in fact, another vintage of d’Yquem, poured as a thank you to everyone for attending. Tasters then had to try and figure out which exact vintage the wine was from.
The colour was much darker than the 1990 and the nose was noticeably more developed. The fragrance was reminiscent of stepping outside just after the air has been cleaned by the rain. Fresh, enticing and beguiling - with loads of butter toffee and caramel - this was a fabulous, older bottle of d’Yquem. Eventually the vintage was revealed to be the spectacular 1959. While this wine was more than 50 years old, it was clear that it had many more decades of life left in it. The winner of the ‘options’ game ended up taking home a bottle of the 1990 Cheval Blanc for his efforts. Just goes to show - you never know what kind of wonderful luck may find you at an AWC Wine Academy tasting! 94 Points.
Ultimately, this tasting reconfirmed just how epic the 1990 Bordeaux vintage has proved itself to be over time. As these wines were all perfectly stored, they have all aged extremely well. Most importantly, they are now providing the optimum amount of drinking pleasure and they are great value options compared to many more recent vintages. Stock up on these stellar 1990s soon as they are simply amazing.
We look forward to welcoming you into AWC Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another Bordeaux tasting, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned. To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560. To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
Tags: AWC Wine Academy, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau d'Yquem, chateau haut brion, Chateau Haut-Brion, Haut-Brion, Leoville Las Cases, petrus, Sauternes, gazin, calon-segur, calon segur, chateau leoville-las cases, The Antique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, vintage, Wine Tasting, wine school, yquem
After a lunch at Le Savoie in Margaux, our next appointment was conveniently close and our very first Premier Cru of 2010. As ever at Chateau Margaux, Paul Pontallier and Corinne Mentzelopoulos were there to welcome us, not forgetting Corinne’s faithful hound, Zorba who was clearly enjoying the spring sunshine and a considerable amount of attention from the international visitors.
Above: Discussing the vintage with Paul Pontallier
However, it was Aurelian Valance who lead us through the wines that we had come to taste. This year, Margaux has just announced that it is to make a third wine for the very first time so the Pavillon Rouge has benefited from even stricter selection than usual. According to Aurelian it is the best that Margaux has ever been made – better even than 2009 and I tended to agree. The wine is made up of two thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and a sprinkling (4%) of Petit Verdot for seasoning.
This was certainly an exquisite Pavillon Rouge – chock full of red and black fruit, seamlessly bound up in a cloak of fine tannins. The length and texture was remarkable and it was a pleasure to taste – even now. 96 points.
Clearly, one of the keys to success in 2010 was to tame the off-the-charts tannin levels. Pontallier has done this brilliantly with the 2010 Grand Vin by not over-extracting the wines. Similarly, he has kept the alcohol in check too. The Pavillon Rouge comes in at 14% while the Margaux has a cool and balanced 13.5%. This is largely due to the high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend – just over 90%, with 7% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot.
As a result, the Grand Vin is more tannic and structured that the Pavillon Rouge – and therefore harder to taste at this impressionable age. It was also a much more classical Margaux than the hedonistic, voluptuous 2009. To me this was elegant, refined and not at all showy. The cassis fruit was pure and precise but perhaps a bit too restrained. There was a minerality here too and though not as generous as the 2009, this wine may well put on more fat as it ages. 96 points.
The Pavillon Blanc made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and fermented in oak never fails to impress. Clearly 2010 is a serious vintage for white Bordeaux too. This was concentrated, complex, long and beautifully balanced. Sadly though, not enough wine is ever made. 92 points.
As we left, Margaux I caught up with Paul who told me that he had surprisingly received even more requests to taste at the chateau this year than in 2009. The same was true at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion where owner Prince Robert of Luxembourg and winemaker Jean-Philippe Delmas were waiting on hand as we hurtled from one end of Bordeaux to the other to make our 5.30pm appointment.
It was also a record year in the vineyard at both Haut-Brion and La Mission. According to Jean-Philippe 2010 was the driest year there since 1949. Both he and Prince Robert were clearly delighted with the results. ‘The grapes were incredibly concentrated – particularly the Cabernets. The wines are much more structured than 2009.’
What appeared to save the day in 2010 was the counterbalancing acidity. However the drought did reduce yields. In the case of Haut Brion, it made just 7,200 cases compared to 10,500 last year. La Mission made 5,200 down from 6,000. We naturally wonder if this will have an impact on prices.
But perhaps the most significant numbers which were quoted in connection with these wines related to their alcoholic content. And once again, they were extremely high. For instance, La Mission weighed in at a massive 15,1% while Haut-Brion was up at 14.6%
Personally, I particularly liked the latter which had wonderful sweet black cherry fruit, liquorice and damsons. The tannins are dense but ripe and are matched by some fine acidity. Similarly, the finish was powerful and long. The wine was in total harmony and as a result, you simply don’t notice the alcohol. 98 points.
The La Mission has perhaps even more ripe, supercharged fruit, but because of its higher Merlot content (37% vs 23%), it tips the scales at the aforementioned weight of 15,1%. The tannin structure was also a bit looser and fleshier so the acidity seemed softer on the palate. In turn, this leaves the finish feeling just a little bit warm for my liking. This is still a great wine, but the Haut-Brion shades it for me. 97 points.
Above: Post Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion tasting. Visiting with HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg
Once again, the whites from these two Pessac properties were magnificent and will provide wonderful pleasure to those lucky enough to secure an allocation. Only 500 cases of La Mission was made and just 450 of the Haut Brion Blanc. Both are blindingly good this year and it was impossible to rate one above the other.
La Mission Blanc is richer, denser and riper than its neighbour not least because of its assemblage – 81% Semillon and 19% Sauvignon. This has a wonderful life ahead of it thanks to its freshness, complexity and balance. 98 points.
Equally, the Haut-Brion Blanc is also a wine for the long haul. With just 46% Semillon it was clearly fresher, more mineral - more citrus than La Mission. But both are unformed at this adolescent stage. It will be exciting to taste them side-by-side when they have some serious bottle age. Right now, I give the Haut-Brion Blanc an equal 98 points.
So here ended our first day. It was already evident to me that Bordeaux has delivered another great vintage – albeit very different from the opulent, generous year of 2009.
Of course, some people may be sceptical that Bordeaux has produced two successive vintages of such scale and calibre. However, there are several precedents to this phenomenon; 1899 and 1900, 1928 and 1929 (I clearly remember debating at our Three Centuries of Lafite event whether the ‘28 Lafite is better than the ‘29!) A further duo occurred again in 1989 and 1990 and once more in 1995 and 1996.
Tags: En Primeur, Bordeaux, 2010 Vintage, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion
En primeur | Travel | Wine tasting
Hong KongThe Mandarin Oriental’s limousine is ready and awaiting my arrival in Hong Kong and I am immediately impressed with the efficient service that is the norm in this fast-paced city. This landmark hotel is now managed by one of my very first Asian clients, Jonas Schurmann, who when I met him twenty years ago was the Food & Beverage Director at the legendary Oriental Bangkok.
Within two hours of my plane landing, I’ve checked into to my room, have showered fresh, and I am sitting at my desk in The Antique Wine Company’s Hong Kong offices enjoying the sunset view over Hong Kong’s exclusive residential district ‘The Peak.’After taking care of a few administrative matters, my local director (Julien Froger) and I set off for dinner with ‘Mr. Pavie,’ one of Hong Kong’s numerous wine collectors. We dine at Cepage, a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by an Antique Wine Company client from Singapore, and take pleasure in a dinner that would knock the socks off many meals at notable European restaurants.
During the evening we compare the various virtues of La Mission Haut Brion versus Chateau Haut Brion from the now deliciously drinkable 1999 vintage. The La Mission is deep and powerful, with an austerity that will serve the wine well for a long life yet to come. The Haut Brion is more about elegance, finesse, and the classic minerality that for me is the hallmark of this great wine.Afterwards it is back to the hotel for a mandatory nightcap and some time to play catch-up on the ever-growing email inbox because the European business day is still in full swing. I am finally ready for bed around 2:00AM, which I take as a good indication that my jet lag has reduced itself from seven to a mere three hours of discomfort.
The following two days are spent in client office meetings and hashing out deals over lunches and dinners. It is a very full agenda, but I also manage to sit for an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the phenomenon of the Hong Kong wine market. The interview includes making a visit to a private wine cellar at a spectacular home on Hong Kong's famous St. Andrews Golf Course, which is located about an hour drive away in the New Territories. Here we see another side of Hong Kong which reminds me of Gibraltar twenty years ago.
My final day in Hong Kong includes a visit to our logistics company. They provide us with a very secure and temperature-controlled storage facility in the Sha Tin District. The visit is followed by lunch with another one of our importers/exporters to mainland China. Over the best Dim Sum lunch I have ever tasted we talk about the Chinese market and how consumers are now developing interest in wines other than just Chateau Lafite.
While Lafite looks certain to remain the iconic wine for gift-giving, it seems there is a rapidly growing demand for many other Grand Crus and their second wines.
We spend some time studying the 1855 Classification in detail and interpreting the Chinese translation of each name. Leoville Las Cases, for example, means “Wine of the Lion.” Angelus is translated as “Golden Bell.” In China it is not only the taste of the wine but also its name, its meaning and its price that are important factors in the market.
I manage to get an hour in at the Mandarin Oriental's spa before my final dinner, a meal with one of Hong Kong's most prolific collectors, ‘JC.’ We meet at one of his buildings in the former manufacturing, but now choice residential, area of Kowloon.
It is a modest 50-storey affair, about the same size as London's Park Lane Hilton, and inside JC has installed two wine cellars.
One cellar houses about 10,000 bottles of his personal wine collection, and the other is divided into 100 smaller lockers which are rented out to fellow wine collectors for their own storage. "It’s just a hobby business," he tells me casually as we sip on Pol Roger's 1998 Cuvee Winston Churchill and tour his personal cellar - which seems to contain every great wine ever produced. We examine cases of DRC, Comte de Vogue, and Comtes Lafon going back to the 1950's, along with Petrus, Cheval Blanc and all the other First Growths. Later, over a Japanese dinner in his boardroom, we share Louis Latour's 1989 Corton Charlemagne, Bouchard Pere et Fils Batard Montrachet 2000, Armand Rousseau's Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 2000, and Chateau Palmer 1983. It is a delightful finale to my three day visit to Hong Kong, and I am dropped back at my hotel with enough time to pack for my 5:00AM departure. However, as I step into the hotel elevator, out walks ‘Charlie’ - one of our longest-standing clients from Bangkok. What a coincidence in this small world! Charlie, who is now running JP Morgan's Hong Kong office, and I enjoy a nightcap at the bar together, a drink well worth it because I pick up an order for a few more cases of 1982 First Growths, including a case of Chateau Latour in superb condition that we acquired recently in a cellar purchase in Switzerland.
Thank goodness I am able to get some sleep on my Singapore Airlines flight back to Europe the following day. That is of course after the Krug, caviar, and roast lamb washed down with plenty of their standard Bordeaux - Chateau Cos d'Estournel 2004! For The Antique Wine Company, Asia is currently the fastest growing sector of our customer base, but we still don’t know enough about our clients there. They remain a complex mix of wine traders, hoteliers, and private collectors. During the coming year my objective is to get to know them and their needs better.Travel arrangements booked by Amex Platinum Travel Service.
Tags: Bordeaux, Chateau Angelus, Chateau Latour, China, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Fine Wine, Fine Wine Asia, Food, leoville, palmer, Singapore Airlines, Stephen Williams, The Antique Wine Company, Wine in China, Wine Travel, chateau palmer, mandarin oriental hotel, pol roger champagne, hong kong, wine hong kong, chateau haut brion, chateau la mission haut brion, cos d'estournel
General | Travel
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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