August 31, 2010

An Interesting Approach to the HK Wine Scene is essentially a local Craig's List for the expat community in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region. As much advice is shared as stuff gets sold on the site.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to.


Viognier: any restaurant serving reasonably good food without charging corkage (or below $100 (approx US$15) corkage)?

Ada Kok: Me and my husband (Dick) have found the perfect solution in regard to those ridiculously high wine prices in HK restaurants: we buy a nice bottle. Before we go out for dinner we both drink a glass of wine. We pour another 1-2 glasses in a samll (sic) bottle: halfway through our dinner I go the ladies and take a few good swigs. Upon my return, Dick goes to the gents and drinks the rest. We get home we have another glass to finish off the bottle. This was we have a nice wine and save a lot of money.

August 18, 2010

The Stuff of Real Legend

Vestiges of the former British Empire still exist in Hong Kong. And like a gene for ear-wiggling, they are receding quickly, but if you hunt carefully you can still find them.

And sometimes they find you, as was the case last Tuesday when I was duly notified that I am being considered for membership in the the prestigious Royal Society of Oenological Studies, Hong Kong Chapter.

As part of my application (pro forma, to be sure), I have been asked to present a paper to the Society based on my current research. I will be offering, "The Oriental Practice of Mixing Bordeaux and Coke: Myth or Fiction?" to that illustrious body in the coming weeks.

From the moment, I arrived in the region I've heard whispered rumors of this strange custom, but I have yet to confirm the truth of the practice. From my new bespoke tailor in Shenzen, I've ordered some khaki shirts, a wide-brimmed fedora hat and a bullwhip. When that stuff arrives, I'll be off to the provincial Chinese countryside in search of documentary evidence.

According to legend, the tradition dates back to the first trendy alcohol imported into China and flogged to the emerging capitalist classes as a mark of economic distinction: Cognac.

Nothing like getting hopped up on French brandy to say, I've arrived! And Cognac of the caliber affordable in a country where the average monthly wage is three hundred bucks was generally cut with coke and served on the rocks - when ice was available -- or used to power rocket engines. When wine from Bordeaux came to replace Cognac as the beverage to best demonstrate your rising status in the new middle class, many continued to mix coke into their drinks.

I've little doubt that Coke would vastly improve some of the imported table wine I've seen on offer in China. You could make a case that adding a little residual sugar and caramel flavoring at home is no worse than stirring wood chips into industrial vats at the wine factory. I wouldn't argue with you if you did.

Whether the Chinese are actually mixing Coke and Bordeaux, or this is yet another example of a bigoted Western denigration of these kind and simple peasants, I cannot yet say.

But an adventure awaits.

August 13, 2010

The Right to Arm Drunk Bears

Somehow, I made my way onto the National Rifle Association's mailing list. I tried to unsubscribe without success. I even sent them a note asking to be removed from future mailings. But I still keep getting their propaganda.

Which is how I can tell you, faithful Lab acolyte, about the NRA's new wine club.

I think I'll leave it at that. Any further editorial comment from me is likely to spark protest.

August 12, 2010

The Kindness of Taxi Drivers

I was on my way to a wine dinner recently. As I left my office, I grabbed an engraved laguiole opener that I was presented at some milestone or another the Lab had reached.

It's impressive hardware, and, yes, I admit, I was planning to show off a bit with it. It's not like I was going someplace where there wouldn't be corkscrews.

At the event, I reached for my opener, only to find it gone.

I knew immediately that my trophy opener had fallen from my pocket in the cab I had taken to dinner. I was momentarily devastated. I quickly strategized a few ways to drop not so subtle hints to the staff about my Christmas present for this year and tried to soldier on.

You can well imagine my surprise and delight when the next morning, arriving back at my office, my assistant presented me with the opener. Having found it after I exited the cab, the driver of the taxi had returned it to where he'd picked me up and left it with security at the building.

Hoping I might offer this generous and thoughtful man a reward for his kind act, I went downstairs to ask security myself if he had perhaps left a card or contact details.

He had not.

I was unable to offer my thanks directly.

But I am very grateful.

August 5, 2010

A Curious Sweat Shop

I was recently lured out of the Lab to attend a local wine event that promised fine wines, vintage cars, diamond jewelry and an ex-Miss Hong Kong.

This seemed to be all the necessary ingredients for a quintessential Far East wine outing.

The invitation failed to mention that the event would be held in a garage in Kwun Tong, an industrial section of Kowloon, and that the temperature inside would be well over 90° F (32+ °C) even at 9 o'clock at night. Also not detailed on the invitation was the reality that the last bottle of white wine would be already half gone when we arrived. Or that the ex-Miss Hong Kong was actually an ex-Miss Canada. Or someone claiming to be an ex-Miss Canada. I searched "Miss Canada" on Google and fruitlessly scrolled through 20 pages of images in failed hopes I might find her.

Curious editorial aside: the search did return a picture of Robert Redford, one of an alpaca and this shot of a scary looking dude who would seem, at a glance, to have little to do with Miss Canada.

The part about the vintage cars was as advertised.

If I were a practitioner of understatement, I would say it was a curious event.

It was at least that.

The diamond jewelry was provided by a man who practices an orthodox formulation of Judaism, so roughly 1/3 of the sweat-drenched crowd wore yarmulkes. I'm sure it was the heat in the garage, but I had flashes back to my childhood when my buddy Howard Goldstein was bar mitzvah'd on a scorching July day in Arizona.

Another third of the crowd seemed to be photographers; the alleged ex-Miss Canada must have a sensational publicist to get a throng of paparazzi out in the late night Kowloon swelter.

The wines were provided by Altruistic Boutique Wines, a Hong Kong / Beijing based wine importer who seem keen to give a portion of their profits away to charitable organizations. The company's Managing Director, Rai Cockfield, was pouring the wines, or what was left of them, himself. He's an ex-Lehman Brothers banker who has left finance to chase Dionysus. He and his partner have assembled a very good list of small, mostly California, producers. I'm not sure what's the point of marrying philanthropy and wine sales. But the philanthropy as marketing seemed one of the least random details of the evening, so I let it pass without debate. Besides I didn't work at Lehman, so I have less to atone for.

He poured me a taste from the dregs of the final bottle of white wine. The 2007 8 Chardonnay from Vineyard 7&8. It was... curious. And gratifyingly cold.
Vineyard 7&8 is a boutique, ineptly-named winery in Northern California. The Chardonnay had nice cut on the attack, but way too much new French Oak everywhere else.

A check on the winery website leads me to believe, the owners are in fact Thurston Howell III and his wife, Lovey. They have outsourced both the viticulture and the wine-making, being one of several wineries to have have employed Luc Morlet since he left his illustrious post as wine-maker at the illustrious Peter Michael Winery. Morlet recently announced his own private label, so the skeptic in me thinks the Howells will soon be needing new staff. I'm sure the Professor could figure out how to stop malolactic fermentation before the wine became indistinguishable from a dairy product.

I couldn't bear to drink the red, a Cabernet Sauvignon also from California, in the dense, humid heat of the garage.

So instead I wandered around, dodging photographers and grease-jockeys, wondering about the tax advantages that were no doubt realized by pretending your antique car collection was a working garage.
Perhaps that's unfair.

Maybe it's not a tax-hedge?

Maybe the cars are merely a Hong Kong financier's indulgence to one of his many elaborate hobbies. A list which would seem to include not only vintage cars, but also diamond jewelry, culty New World wines and...

the Miss Universe pageant.

August 1, 2010

Update from the Lab Cafeteria

I know, I know. I'm falling behind on my Lab reports.

Look, there's a lot of work involved relocating a cutting-edge research facility. Plus I'm in a new sphere of influence and much in demand. If it's not this panel, it's that presentation.

But I'm aware of what my priorities should be and I'll soon have myriad reports to deliver.

In the meanwhile, I've been busy looking for a chef for the Lab's cafeteria. As you can imagine, this is an important detail in the Lab's operations. It's not just anyone who can whip up a paring menu for orange wines after all.

So I've been roaming the back streets and alleys of Hong Kong, looking for someone with the right skill set and disposition. My search carried me to ABC Kitchen, which isn't so much a restaurant as it's a food stall. On the uppermost floor of the Queen Street Cooked Food Market in Sheung Wan.

Whatever end of the grocery shopping spectrum Whole Foods is on, Cooked Food and Wet Markets are at the other end. The U.V. to the Whole Food's Infra-red. The ground floor is typically populated by half naked men who are cutting the heads off chickens or bashing huge fish into bloody pulp and slightly resentful looking women sitting next to fresh produce that might have been grown on Mars (dragon fruit?). If there is a second floor, it's usually a mixed bag of service-oriented stalls (shoe repair, dry cleaning) and small stores. The top floor is where the Cooked Food section always is. It often looks like a backwater Bingo Parlor sponsored by Marlboro.

So my expectations were low.

But the ABC Kitchen was sensational. They have a wine list that would be unexceptional except for the fact that finding a wine list at a Cooked Food Market is enormously exceptional. They pour a House Red and a House White that changes with supply, and I thought that a charming detail.

Joe the Owner was trained at M on the Fringe, which managed for 20 years to be Hong Kong's hippest restaurant. Joe loves having his own gig. And he seems to really enjoy cooking for the grandmothers who hang out at the Cooked Food Market.

So I am not confident I will be able to lure him away.

But I'll need to come back several times to try.