I’ve just finished a quick visit to a few countries in Asia to look at the wine market out there. Touring round some wine shops and supermarkets in Thailand and Korea, along with a visit to Vinexpo (a big wine exhibition) in Hong Kong. A great opportunity to see another side of wine, plus, of course, some interesting food along the way.
I started off in Thailand, a place I love to go on holiday to partake in one of my hobbies, scuba diving, but not somewhere I had been before to specifically look at wine. (it’s usually a cold glass of beer I consume when on holiday out there!!) Thailand’s wine market is in its infancy, and the population drinks much more spirits and beer than wine. Not surprising really when ‘luxury’ imports such as wine attract a 400% import tax. When a bottle of local spirits can be had for 50 Baht (about £1), yet a bottle of Gallo Merlot is 549 Baht (around £11), enjoying a glass of wine is an expensive pleasure!
Moving on to Hong Kong and a chance to see the core of the Asian wine trade. This vibrant city almost visibly and audibly crackles with the sparks of people’s dreams of a successful and prosperous life in this unique enclave of China. With a global banking industry, booming building trade and an influx of mega-rich Chinese, this city is a hub of serious quality wine. In fact, China now imports (most of it through Hong Kong) more Bordeaux wines than the British, and our century’s old love affair with Claret has been eclipsed by the eastern rush to enjoy some of the finest wines in the world.
After Hong Kong and onto Korea. The bustling metropolis of Seoul, with its 10+ Million inhabitants and seriously packed-in and high-rise living, is a relative newcomer to the wine market. It wasn’t until the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, with the descending hoards of international visitors, that imported goods such as wine became more available. One lady at the forefront of the wine culture that is flowing over Korea is Micky (Seung-Soon) Choi. An early adopter of the internet, she was blogging about wine from the start.
With her passion for wine, she was a focal point for wine enthusiasts across the country, providing an outlet for discussion, and organising wine tasting events for a country that was starting to fall in love with wine. I had a great dinner with her and Mi-Kyung Oh (Homeplus Korea) at a great place called Jungsik (www.jungsik.kr) which has a restaurant in Seoul and New York. The food was a brilliant fusion of Korean flavours with a more modern, international balance and presentation. Enjoyed with a glass of Sancerre and Red Burgundy, it was a great evening to finish my brief tour of the Asian wine industry.
After the fun of Asia I’m now sitting in Seoul airport, waiting for a plane to take me to Hong Kong, then Melbourne and then on to Mildura. A long and tiring set of flights, but one I’m excited about as it means I’m on to Australia and one of the other reasons for my trip. After the relative formality of Asia, I’m looking forward to getting into a pair of jeans and spending some time with winemakers in Australia, slurping and spitting through the new 2012 vintage wines to secure some great wines for our range in store. News of that to follow!