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Bordeaux fever hits Hong Kong

Bordeaux fever has taken hold in Hong Kong, with Chinese wine professionals mobbing popular tastings and endlessly discussing the 2009 vintage.

At the Union de Grands Crus tasting today – the first day of Vinexpo – some 300 people queued to get in, and once in surged around the 150 stands.

This year they were tasting the 2007 vintage, but much of the talk was of 2009, Bordeaux veterans said.

John Kolasa, managing director of Margaux Chateau Rauzan-Segla, said that he had never seen the tasting so busy – and the visitors so knowledgable.

‘They are asking about the 2009 and where they can get hold of it,’ he said.

Olivier and Anne Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier in the Graves agreed, as did Henri Lurton of Chateau Brane-Cantenac.

But whether visitors are ready to buy is another story.

Next door to Vinexpo at the Hyatt Regency hotel, London-based merchant Bordeaux Index held a tasting of 2009s for its clients, the majority extremely wealthy Chinese collectors.

This was a first for many: even those who buy millions of dollars of blue-chip Bordeaux every year were unused to tasting en primeur. As a potent draw, Bordeaux Index chief Gary Boom had persuaded proprietors such as Liliane Barton of Chateau Leoville Barton, Jean-Jacques Bonnie of Malartic Lagraviere in the Graves and Fabrice Dubourdieu of Doisy Daene among others, to pour their wines.

Still, one businessman, who since 1999 has bought ‘ten to 20 cases of each First Growth, and a bunch of drinking wines’, has by no means made up his mind.

‘If the First Growths are £5-6000 (pounds) a case I will buy. Up to £9-10,000, then I may well not buy,’ he said.

If, as is predicted by decanter.com and others such as Robert Parker, the top wines reach €800 (euros) a bottle ex-chateau, they would be selling at well over £9,000 per case.

The businessman, who wished to remain anonymous, added that if the price is higher than the 2005s, ‘then I can just go back and drink my 05s. Why would I buy 09?’

Merchants remain convinced however that the First Growths will sell, however high the price.

But where the market becomes complicated is in the Chinese understanding of the time-honoured en primeur system, by which customers are often asked to buy less popular wines in order to secure their orders of the top properties.

‘It’s really a gentleman’s agreement,’ Jo Purcell, managing director of Farr Vintners’ Hong Kong office said. ‘And that won’t happen in Asia, where business is business.’

The system will work for wines like Duhart Millon, or d’Armailhac and Clerc Millon, part of the Lafite and Mouton portfolios respectively.

But for mid-range wines that are unattached to any highly-desirable property, the outlook is less certain. ‘They will suffer,’ Purcell said.

Such sentiments are echoed by negociants. Gregoire Bourrut Lacouture of Hong Kong-based Connoisseur Wines and Spirits agreed the mid-range wines, those selling for US$20-$80 a bottle had to be very careful with their pricing.

‘Take somewhere like Chateau Cantemerle (Haut-Medoc): if they suddenly

increase their price they won’t find any Chinese buyers, and they will lose their regular buyers as well.’

Bordeaux 2009: All the coverage

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Written by Adam Lechmere in Hong Kong

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