Mark Bright, the young sommelier and co-owner of San Francisco’s Saison restaurant, has a slight obsession with Asia, in particular Hong Kong, which has become the world’s largest wine market. Here, he shares highlights from recent trips.
“Travel often takes me to places that don’t seem like they would be centers for wine. Five years ago, with my mentor Rajat Parr and a group of wine pros, I traveled to India via Hong Kong. My first stay in the Chinese metropolis was very short, but I noticed many wine shops and encountered many wine enthusiasts, which of course, excited me. Not too terribly surprisingly, the major players in French wine were king there. I discovered very little American wine, which, as a proud supporter of Californian wine, disappointed me. Since my first journey to this city of seven million, I have been continuously compelled to return, doing my part to share what American wine has to offer with collectors, consumers, and sommeliers.
I recently returned again for the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, an event that I have been involved with since its first show three years ago. The 2011 event had over 130,000 attendees. Wine lovers all around Asia are engaging with wine in a way I have never seen elsewhere. They’re like students searching for the answer to the most difficult equation. And like the best student, so many want to understand it all, everything from the process of creating to the differences among the world’s millions of wines. The passion in the region is abundant and inspiring.
During my visit, I carved out some time to make some lovely friends and scope out the city’s wine spots that have helped fuel the current wine obsession.
California Vintage is at the top of my list of places to drink American wines. Owner Susan Darwin and her fantastic team have created a hub of wine in the city center. This is the flagship of what has become a chain of wine bars and they all offer a beautiful selection of American wines that guests can taste from temperature- and gas-controlled units on the walls.
77 Wyndham St., Central, 852/2525-9808.
Lily & Bloom is a two-story bar and restaurant in the LKF Tower that features some of the best drinks in Hong Kong, and has great scenery to boot. I spend probably a quarter of my time in Hong Kong at Lily & Bloom. Owners Calvin Wu and brother Ben are wonderful hosts. The food is focused and delicious and the new wine list (now directed by Benjamin Barraclough) is not only one of the best, most concise selections I’ve seen, but also one of the best priced. Lily & Bloom shines in small production American wine and also has a great Burgundy selection. Wu also owns Volar and Halo, two of the most popular night clubs in town, which often showcase some of the best DJ’s and performers in the world.
5/F & 6/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham St, Central, 852/2810-6166.
Superstar Seafood Restaurant in Kowloon is an enormous Dim Sum chain with fantastic food. It was my first introduction to Chinese wining and dining.
G256, G/F, Amoy Garden Phase II, 77 Ngau Tau Kok Rd., Kowloon, 852/2628-0383.
BO Innovation is where I would send a traveler who is seeking a truly experimental culinary journey. Located in Wan Chai, a neighborhood synonymous with excess, much alcohol, large parties, and very late nights, BO Innovation is also ideally situated. Headed by Chef Alvin Leung Jr. (aka The Demon Chef), BO Innovation makes use of modern molecular gastronomy and innovative technique to take traditional Chinese cuisine to a place never before seen or eaten. Chef Leung only offers a tasting menu, which typically consists of one to two dozen courses.
60 Johnston Rd., Wan Chai, 852/2850-8371.