Even white wines from Macon-Village can age beautifully if made by a good producer like Domaine de la Bongran. This 1999 Cuvée Levroutée was still fresh and vibrant when I tasted it last year during a picnic in Tai Po.
"Why start another wine store?"
This is something we've been asked a lot recently, both quizzically and skeptically. "After all," people usually say, "aren't there already enough wine stores in Hong Kong?"
It's a fair question. And, to be honest, it's true—there are hundreds of places to buy wine in Hong Kong. But here's a short answer to why we decided to join the party: Almost all these stores sell exactly the same wines, and they source their inventory from exactly the same few wine importing companies that dominate the Hong Kong market. These corporations have the financial clout to push their brands across town, and every wine store is guaranteed to have the same distinct yellow label of Trimbach, the bright red seal of Guigal, or the same gold foil that spruces up each bottle of Moët. We want to sell something different—we want to sell unique, handcrafted wines that aren't available all over Hong Kong.
This doesn't actually mean that I feel availability is bad per se. Moët has its uses, and Trimbach and Guigal make fantastic wines. Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile is one of the great Rieslings of the world, and Guigal's Cote Roties can be stunning. The fact that we can go to almost any store and pick up a consistently good wine is a wonderful thing.
But is that it then? Is Trimbach the best producer in Alsace, and is Guigal the best producer in Rhone? What if I get bored and want something else?
Before I began working in the local wine industry a few years ago, I only bought my wine from supermarkets and retail shops such as Watson's, which mainly sells wines that they themselves import. Most retail shops in Hong Kong work in a similar fashion, as this helps them manage the city's insane monthly rental cost. Since these ground level stores have the greatest retail presence, their stocked wines are usually from large wineries and are very typical of their respective regions. These are very fair stores to learn what New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc should taste like, or what a classic Barossa Valley Shiraz is like.
But what these retail shops and supermarkets honestly lack is adventure. These stores are financially motivated to promote whatever wines they themselves import, or whatever wines are already universally recognized and that will basically sell themselves. It really doesn't make sense for a neighbourhood retail store to stock Chenin Blanc from Montlouis-sur-Loire when honestly almost nobody is going to buy it without a strong recommendation from a store clerk. It's just so much safer for the consumer to get a generic Chardonnay from Australia for dinner or an expensive, critically acclaimed Pinot Noir from Burgundy—rather than a tart and excellent Poulsard from the Jura which would be both interesting to try, delicious, and more affordable.
Half out of habit and half out of apathy, for years my family stuck with brands like Louis Jadot, Penfolds, Robert Mondavi, and so on, until I started buying online while studying in the UK. I did an English Literature degree, so there was plenty of time for drinking while I stared at mín ældu fréond Chaucer (hopefully that means 'my old friend' in Old English).
By the time I returned back to Hong Kong after a few more years of working abroad, I had a pretty good idea of what I liked to drink, but no matter how hard I looked online or in retail shops, there were many wines that I just couldn't find.
Georgia makes some awesome wines, but don't expect to find them easily in retail stores!
There are 300 or so importers that operate in Hong Kong, bringing in amazing wines from all over the world. We go through the trouble of sourcing the best from their portfolios and offering them to our customers, securing lower prices and strict allocations. There's more to French wines than just Bordeaux and Burgundy, just like there's more to Italian wines than just Piedmont or Tuscany. Our aim with Cork Culture is to offer all the best small-production and low-intervention wines available in Hong Kong at the best prices possible. Many of the wines we sell usually go straight into the cellars of private collectors or hotel restaurants.
We want to introduce each wine to our customers in more intimate detail. We never copy and paste any tasting notes from professional critics, although we post their scores if the wines have them for a standard reference to quality. Every photograph, illustration, and description we do ourselves, just like how every wine we offer here is handmade. We like wines with stories, and wines which don't knock us out with too much oak or alcohol. Learning about wine comes hand-in-hand with actually drinking wine, and sharing a bottle with friends is far less enjoyable without any context of the producer, region, or grape.
So feel free to email us or leave us comments on our blog or facebook. We'll be hosting some tasting events and sharing some wines soon, so stay in touch and remember to subscribe to our email list!