Hong Kong SAR China - Burgundy wine
January 4, 2021
A love of fine Burgundy
Unprecedented growth over the past five years

The past five years have seen an unprecedented growth in Burgundy wines in Hong Kong as well as in mainland China. There are now over a dozen small wine groups, just among the people I know in Hong Kong that gather regularly to enjoy and share Burgundy wines. Many confess that they now exclusively drink only Burgundy wines!

In 2019, despite the political and social turmoil in Hong Kong, it appeared Burgundy was untouchable. While the imports from other wine regions slowed or fell, Burgundy continued to rise. The year marked a record sales year in volume and value for Burgundy wines, accounting for 16% of all French AOC wines exported to the city according to BIVB.

However, the first 9 months of 2020 shows a slowdown with a 30% drop in volume and 17% decline in value of Burgundy imports to Hong Kong. This may be an indication for overall Burgundy sales, but it doesn’t focus on the top 1% of its wines: Grand Cru vineyards and collectible domaines. Auction houses, like Zachys, Acker and Christie’s, continue to derive the bulk of their revenues from Burgundy sales in Hong Kong, surpassing Bordeaux despite its sheer volume.

Importers, buyers and sommeliers working in Hong Kong tell me there is still a growing thirst and interest in Burgundy, even during these challenging times. At the same time, a continuing pivot away from Bordeaux.

Some point to the lighter style of Burgundy reds and whites which pairs better with Cantonese cuisine and healthier meals. Others suggest the preference may be a reaction of being fed up with Bordeaux: the constant marketing by Bordeaux chateaux, their huge volumes, their excessive pricing and disappointing recent en primeur campaigns.

This contrasts with the small volumes from Burgundy which coincided with increasing consumer demand around the world and seven consecutive years of small yields in Burgundy (starting in 2010). Burgundy feels exclusive, artisanal and special. The love affair with the top, grand cru-level wines of Burgundy in Hong Kong and China is only just beginning.

Fortunately, as demand crept up so did the ambition and pressure to produce consistently high-quality wines fuelling the motivation by producers to compete with the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Armand Rousseau and Domaine Leroy. The new generation and a bevy of sought-after micro-negociants starting more than a decade ago are giving the top domaines a run for their money.

When I started my research on “The 100 Burgundy” back in 2014, Burgundy fever had already struck many serious wine collectors in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan though not yet at the current frenzied level. Japan was already way ahead and was selling much of its allocation to collectors in Hong Kong and China through shops like Enoteca.

The most fascinating process of researching the book was discovering the dynamic changes that were well underway but increasing momentum as wines commanded higher and higher prices. The 100 wines included in my book is a very personal selection, chosen for my daughter’s Burgundy ‘dream cellar’.

Currently in Hong Kong, a sombre mood prevails, as most wine and food lovers are forced to stay home due to government restrictions on dining and social gatherings. Even before the latest virus wave, the protests starting in 2019 had put a damper on dining out and a heavy strain on businesses.

In my nearly 27 years of living in Hong Kong, I have never felt such despondency and anxiety among the residents of this vibrant city known for their no-nonsense, pragmatic attitude towards work and life. However, I continue to be optimistic: Hong Kong recovered much faster than anyone was expecting from SARS in 2003 and the global financial crisis of 2008. I am hopeful that the same Hong Kong fighting spirit will be present towards the practical purpose of recovery and healing in the coming years.

Jeannie Cho Lee MW
Consultant, Resorts World Genting, Professor of Wine, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Jeannie Cho Lee (born 1968) is a Hong Kong-based, Korean-American wine critic, author, journalist, consultant, wine educator and Master of Wine, the first ethnic Asian to achieve this accreditation.

Ed. This article is able to be published through the good offices of Philip Evins, Bailli Délégué of Great Britain.