Why Burgundy is The Hottest Wine Region in Asia now

23 May 2016
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee

Gevrey Chambertin

“Asians are ferocious learners of anything they set their heart to. When they do jump on something, like wine, they do so en masse,” says Mandy Chan, partner of fine wine importing company Ginsberg & Chan. For Chan, Burgundy now makes up 40% of total sales and they carry nearly 1,000 different Burgundy wines on their list.


For auction houses like Acker Merrall, Burgundy’s share of the market was larger than Bordeaux starting in 2014 – 41% compared with 32% for Bordeaux. Acker Merrall, an American company that first started wine auctions in Hong Kong in 2008, now runs much its business out of Hong Kong. In 2015, Hong Kong auctions raised US$33 million in sales while New York only rang up $30.6 million.


At Christie’s wine auctions, Burgundy lots far surpassed their estimates. Recent examples include: Three bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 2009 estimated at HK$34,936 (US$4,500) which sold for HK$269,500 (US$34,716) in Dr Ku’s single-owner sale in 2015; six bottles of a mixed lot from 2010 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti estimated at HK$55,579 (US$7,160) and sold for HK$428,750 (US$55,230) in the same sale. In 2014, the wines from the former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong, Henry Tang, broke records: Six magnums of 1995 Romanee-Conti sold for HK$1,210,000 (US$155,879) when the auction estimate price was only HK$156,741 (US$20,191).


Sommeliers at fine dining restaurants in Hong Kong are seeing the shift to Burgundy too – restaurants like Amber, L’Atelier Robuchon and Petrus – report increasing Burgundy sales. I am not surprised by the move toward Burgundy but more the speed with which the region is embracing it.


This love affair with Burgundy in Asia actually began in Japan where wine lovers and restaurants embraced Burgundy starting from the 1990s. In Singapore, a small group of fine wine collectors have always been Burgundy fans. But in Hong Kong and many cities in China like Shanghai and Beijing, the shift to Burgundy is recent.


Why do you think more people are moving towards Burgundy, I ask Simon Tam, head of wine in Asia for Christie’s wine auctions. “There is definitely a shift from Bordeaux to Burgundy, both for their red and white wines. The market has fully grasped and digested the fundamentals of Bordeaux,” says Tam, “Now they are moving to explore another new famous region in France: Burgundy.”


While I agree with Tam that part of the reason for this shift is caused by the disenchantment with Bordeaux, it doesn’t explain the whole picture. Mandy Chan adds, “The auctions and merchants in Asia have also done a great job of promoting Burgundy. But, look at how our table is set, we’ve grown up hearing about seasonal greens, fish, rice types and other nuances. Pair this with Burgundy, the birthplace of nuance, and it’s a match made in heaven.” I can’t agree more that when Burgundy is placed at our Asian table, we experience more ‘ah-ha’ moments than with most full-bodied, tannic red wines.


The demand is so strong that companies devoted primarily to importing Burgundy wines have sprouted up over the past six years in Hong Kong. Pearl of Burgundy is one of dozens of such importers. They specialize in offering around 30 top domaines from Burgundy at all price levels from village to grand cru. Pearl of Burgundy was established in 2010 in Hong Kong although none of the partners establishing the business were Chinese or even Hong Kong residents. Eli Shoshani, one of the partners of Pearl of Burgundy says, “The changes in Hong Kong [duty-free status for wine in 2008] was an opportunity for us to start our business in Hong Kong, as we rightfully assumed it will develop into the central wine hub to Asia – the same status as the UK had years ago for Europe.”


For Shoshani and others, the problem is no longer about finding demand but rather sourcing supply. Quantities of the most sought-after wines, grand cru reds from top producers like Domaine Leroy, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Domaine Armand Rousseau are on strict allocation and price per bottle has been increasing so fast that traditional Burgundy lovers complain about no longer being able to afford their favorite producers or the top wines from Burgundy.


I fall squarely into this camp: as a Burgundy lover for nearly two decades, I am finding myself seeking alternatives to Richebourg, Chambertin and Musigny. I traded down to premier cru level wines at first from my favorite producers, but even those started to become expensive. I finally started finding value by going outside of the well-known appellations. Head a little further south to Chalonnaise and wine prices drop by half or more. Try Givry or Mercurey for solid, everyday Pinot Noir-based reds and Montagny or Rully for crisp Chardonnays. Even within the Cote d’Or where all the famous appellations are based, look out for villages that offer good value like Fixin, Marsannay, Savigny-les-Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses, Monthelie or Saint-Aubin.


With yields at record lows since 2010 due to weather conditions like hail and most recently frost (2016), quantity will continue to be scarce. Meanwhile, demand is growing at a frightening pace. As Chan notes, “The demand will continue to grow here in Asia. And demand in China has only just scratched the surface as it’s really just the big names in Burgundy they have focused on thus far.”


My advice: It’s time to stock up on your favorite Burgundies now.