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Hong Kong Biggest Powerhouse Locale For Wine Auctions

on 19/01/11 at 11:14 am

Hundreds of bidders pack the ballroom of the posh Mandarin Oriental hotel here, armed with paddles, heaping plates of gourmet food and glasses of wine.

Lot after lot of French Bordeaux and burgundy comes up for auction. Each time, a bidding war breaks out. A case of 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild sells for more than $71,000 U.S., about $6,000 a bottle, well above the estimated price.

“This is exceeding our expectations,” says Jeff Zacharia, president of Zachys, the New York wine auction house that held the event this month. “We have a lot of people from mainland China here today, and they feel the Lafite is the wine to have.”

The scene has become increasingly familiar in Hong Kong as record wine prices, surging imports and sales make this city the high-end wine capital of Asia.

In 2010, Hong Kong overtook New York as the world’s biggest locale for wine auctions. (At a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction in October, three 1869 bottles of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild sold for a record-breaking $232,692 apiece.) Wine imports to Hong Kong — a gateway for the region — are also setting records. And sales of mid- and low-end wines have been rising since the Hong Kong government eliminated wine taxes in 2008.

In the past two years, wine sales have climbed 13% in Hong Kong even as U.S. and global sales slipped, according to Euromonitor, a research firm. Sales in China and Asia Pacific are rising even faster.

Asia’s explosive wine demand is attracting the attention of producers from the USA to Latin America to Europe, all vying to establish a foothold in this promising market. Over the next 15 years, China, including Hong Kong, could become the top wine-consuming country in the world, according to Vinexpo and International Wine and Spirit Research.

For American winemakers, however, the battle to win over the palate of Asian consumers is likely to be an uphill one. “In America, the culture is freedom and fast food,” says Calvin Lee, 36, who traveled from Guangzhou, China, to attend the Zachys’ wine auction. “They don’t have a long history of food and wine” like the French.

Hong Kong is betting that its reputation as Asia’s wine hub will help bring in more tourists.

(Full story via USA Today}

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