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.