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Asia Market Visit

Dear HDH Client:

I recently completed a two week journey through Asia to visit clients and take a firsthand look at what is becoming one of our most important markets. During my travels through Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore I had the chance to share many wonderful evenings with clients and friends, both new and old, and returned to Chicago with an enhanced appreciation and perspective on the market.

Asia has been important to HDH since our inception. We first appointed a full time staff member to cover Asia in January of 2008 when we hired Gabriel Suk, based in Beijing, to represent HDH in Asia. We made the move a few months before the Hong Kong tariff was repealed as the market was even then having a strong impact on our business. In the last 16 months, we have seen an exponential increase in business from Asia and my visit provided a chance to meet up with some of the many clients who have been influential auction and retail buyers.

Our first dinner in Beijing was hosted by a client and friend at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Beijing Clubhouse. Together with 8 other serious wine collectors from around China we dined in a beautiful private room on a meal of traditional Chinese fare paired up with a selection of luminary wines ranging from 1982 Mouton Rothschild to 2003 Haut-Brion with a bit of Lynch Bages (82 and 98) enjoyed in between. We discussed banking and markets, children and travel, but the wines were stunning and occasionally caused the group to stop, as when we all first tasted that giant 82 Mouton.

The dinner was originally scheduled for only 3 people but as news filtered out about our visit the number of guests kept rising and we found ourselves a bit underprepared on time for decanting. While multiple bottles of Dom Pérignon (the toasty 2000 outshined the 1999 DP) allowed the reds a few more minutes of air, as we sat down to eat the wines had only been open for 30 minutes. Torn about what wine to "sacrifice" we decided to pour the '03 Haut-Brion. While we feared we might unleash a big young wine not quite ready for consumption, the '03 Haut-Brion was strikingly ready to drink... big, but beautifully balanced with long silky tea-like tannins. It was a perfect way to begin our dinner, even with its abbreviated time in the decanter.

We followed up with the 1982 Lynch-Bages and then the 1982 Mouton. The Lynch was outstanding, really in its prime right now with soft, almost slippery tannins, perfect hints of red fruit and cedar. The 1982 Mouton followed. The John Huston label always attracts attention on the table and we were not surprised by the power of this wine. It is huge, dark and layered with spice, vanilla and currants. The finish is what you remember - it just keeps going.

As to be expected, the room was clearly dominated by Francophiles, but one collector in particular was so eager to demonstrate his interest and appreciation of California wines that he sent his driver home to pick out a bottle of 2002 Shafer Hillside Select from his cellar so that we could all have a chance to sample a legend from California. While the wine had a remarkable richness and lush fruit, it needed more time and was in the shadow of the complex Mouton.

The next day we ventured northwest out of the city to the Aman Resort at the Summer Palace for an afternoon "wine picnic." The Summer Palace was the summertime retreat for the Chinese imperial family. It was a place to escape the oppressive heat of Beijing and relax. Opened in 2008, Aman's resort at the Summer Palace is built on the imperial grounds and is seamlessly integrated with the stunning architecture of the Summer Palace.

Afternoon "Wine Picnic" - Aman Resort at the Summer Palace

We enjoyed a leisurely meal of fresh salads, grilled meats and imported cheeses. The wine selection was diverse and matched the casual atmosphere of the meal. We enjoyed '02 Cristal (nutty, apples and pears) followed by on '05 Corton Charlemagne (Jadot) and 99 Batard Montrachet (Sauzet) before finishing the meal with three reds: 96 Haut-Brion, 2000 La Mouline and 2004 Gaja Barbaresco.

We decanted the wines an hour before the guests arrived and everything was tasting extremely tight and nearly unapproachable. Fortunately a few leisurely hours passed over the Champagne and White Burgundy and by the time we got to the reds they were starting to come into form. The 1996 Haut-Brion was showing well, it is thickening up and had a nice earthy, meaty nose. 2000 La Mouline follows the trend of recent Guigal's of being easy to drink at a young age with ripe fruit flavours and classic Côte Rôtie leather, game and cigar notes. We finished with 2004 Gaja Barbaresco which though closed and dusty when we decanted, a few hours later was glorious with Aman's lamb chops, showing great spice and plum notes and a long mouth coating finish.

The next day offered a chance to meet with local Chinese media at Daniel Boulud's Beijing restaurant, Maison Boulud. Set in the former American ambassador's residence right beside Tiananmen Square, it is a remarkably opulent venue that offers some of the best French cuisine to be found in China. We dined on Boulud's set lunch menu and opened up a bottle of 1900 Verdehlo from D'Olivera (nice tangy acidity, but too young. I have been spoiled lately by the richness of a few wonderful soleras.) It was an interesting and enlightening chance to connect with the local media who seemed to just be grasping the magnitude of the shifts in the local wine market and the dynamic impact that Chinese buyers have been having on global wine markets.

Paul Hart conducting a tasting with local Chinese media at Maison Boulud

Our schedule only left room for around 24 hours in Shanghai, but our time there was truly unforgettable and featured perhaps one of our most memorable food and wine experiences of the trip. After catching a morning flight from Beijing and meeting with clients during the afternoon we proceeded to the Park Hyatt for the dinner we were hosting featuring the best of Pauillac.

Dining on the 93rd floor of the Park Hyatt one cannot help but be taken with the stunning views of the Bund below. Yet as soon as the food arrived and we poured out the first wine of the evening, a 2005 Pichon Baron paired with a chilled lobster salad with pumpkin nage and toasted pumpkin seeds, our attention was quickly and permanently focused on what turned out to be one of the most fantastic food and wine pairings I have ever experienced.

Designed in tandem by Park Hyatt's Master Sommerlier Jean-Marc Nolant and chef Jay Wetzel, the menu perfectly complimented the 7 different offerings from Pauillac. Each dish matched the subtle nuances of its paired wine. Jean-Marc's astute and detailed understanding if each wine allowed him and chef Wetzel to craft a memorable meal. The duo had clearly put a lot of thought into this meal.

An Evening of Pauillac at Park Hyatt, Biejing

As we wound down the meal we discussed everyone's favorite wine of the evening and among the 8 collectors in the room it seemed that each had picked something different that stood out for them. The 2005 Pichon Baron was large and brawny but totally approachable; the 2000 Pichon Lalande was classic Pichon with notes of cedar, blackberries and black olives; 2003 Clerc Milon was another pleasant surprise from the '03 vintage in that it was very fruit forward, supple and long; 1995 Mouton, 1990 Latour (sweet tannins, lead pencil, took a few hours to emerge) and 1988 Lafite were each holding up well as to be expected and we rounded out the evening with a 1985 Lynch-Bages paired up with a specially designed cigar shaped chocolate.

Hong Kong
On our first night in Hong Kong we shared a meal with clients at the historic China Club. Set on the top floors of the old Bank of China building the China Club offers traditional Chinese fair in an old Shanghai styled ambiance.

We started out with Chablis -- a 2002 Preuses from Dauvissat that was in fine form. Classic minerality and zing as well as citrus and green apple notes on the palate. We probably should have let it warm up and thicken, but it was too perfect for the warm evening and disappeared quickly. We moved on to an '86 Margaux which, although still young and with many years ahead of it, seems to be really hitting its stride. It shows hardly any signs of age still maintaining a deep crimson hue yet the tannins of its youth have been softening, finished long with hints of cinnamon.

We concluded the evening with an '82 Haut-Brion which is a personal favorite and lived up to the memory: great complexity with long tannins, cherries, spice, a medicinal touch and a long silky finish.

After a day spent visiting clients (and a few tables) in Macau we were back in Hong Kong two nights later for a casual Friday evening tasting with clients at the Conrad Hotel. We tasted a broad swath of wines from around the world including Gaja, Antinori and Kistler. The comparison of 2004 Dominus and 2001 Margaux (both from magnum) was captivating, eliciting unexpected reactions.

Two clients who usually find themselves pitted against each other in a race to see who can acquire the most First Growth at a given auction found themselves completely captivated by the '04 Dominus but avoiding the '01 Margaux. Their "California palate" had been tweaked earlier in the evening with a Kistler Chardonnay (Vine Hill Vineyard 2001) but their comments on the Dominus and Margaux were what interested me. They found the '01 Margaux to be too heavy and the '04 Dominus to be light and fruity. While I could easily have said the exact opposite, it was not a testament to my judgment upon their palates but a very interesting observation into the way that different cultures and different palates perceive a given wine.

Our last night in Hong Kong featured a double header of a 5:00 tasting of California Cult magnums followed by a 7:30 dinner of French food and wine.

The crowd at the tasting was an eclectic mix of local Hong Kong collectors combined with a group of Chinese collectors who had crossed over from Guangzhou and Shenzhen specifically for the chance to attend the tasting. We were tasting 8 different California Magnums: 1984 Heitz, Martha's Vineyard, 1990 Joseph Phelps, Insignia; 1991 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley; 1994 Caymus; 2002 Ridge Monte Bello; 2003 Shafer Hillside Select; 2004 Chateau Montelana and 2004 Dominus.

Paul Hart and Gabriel Suk enjoying California Classics

The crowd appeared to move in waves as to what wine most piqued their palate, but a consensus was achieved that the 2002 Ridge Monte Bello, 1991 Silver Oak and 2004 Dominus were among the best of the bunch.

Dinner that evening was at Cepage, the first Hong Kong restaurant from renowned Singaporean restaurant group Les Amis. We dined as a small group of four and started out by tasting 1982 Pichon Lalande. One of my all time favorite wines, an excellent bottle with expected purity and balance. We finished with a redux of the 1996 Haut-Brion which, like the bottle we had at Aman in Beijing, seems to be just at the beginning of a long life.

It was a very full, enlightening and invigorating four days in Hong Kong. It was eye-opening to see the vibrant collecting community in Honk Kong. With so many clients who have been active buyers with each of the HDH principals for decades, it was special to see old friends and meet new ones. Collectors in Hong Kong continually reminded me that they appreciated our detailed catalog descriptions and our commitment to finding properly stored wines. It was perhaps our distribution team that received the most praise - for their communication and follow through - remarks that I love to hear!

The last stop on our trip was Singapore. Singapore is the elder statesmen of the Asian wine market. While it lacks the free-wheeling atmosphere of Hong Kong, it is a robust market with no shortage of serious collectors who share Hong Kong and China's nearly insatiable desire for Bordeaux as well as a newfound and quickly growing interest in Burgundy.

The highlight of our trip to Singapore was a dinner at Les Amis. We began the meal with a 1999 Cristal followed by a 1999 Chevalier-Montrachet from Drouhin. The first red of the evening was the 2003 Chateau Lafleur. It was classic Lafleur on the nose but, unfortunately, despite around 3 hours of decanting we just couldn't quite shake the wine loose. It is full of potential, but really in need of more time in the bottle. The last wine of the evening and of our journey was the 1991 Dominus. Before anyone had a chance to take a sip we all discussed how easy it was to slip it into a blind tasting of Bordeaux and for it to not only go unnoticed as a California wine, but also to be picked as the best of the bunch among First Growth, Pétrus et al. It showed true to its roots on this evening with classic currants, cedar and leather notes.

This Asian tour was full of wonderful wines and meals, great meetings with old friends and so many introductions to new collectors. The wine market is growing so fast in Asia and the collectors are passionate and educated. There is a strong focus on the top level Bordeaux, but we also see a market that knows and is starting to seek out California wines, Burgundy and more affordable Bordeaux. I returned to a busy week in Chicago auctioneering both the Spina Bifida fundraiser and Bordeaux tasting on Thursday and our September 12 auction on Saturday. I also had the opportunity to phone bid with so many clients I had met with in Asia just days earlier, and to watch others bid live online with hdhlive.com - thank you all for staying up late as we hammered lots all day in Chicago, I know you had some great wines open as you bid! While the staff warned me that I would need lots of time to recuperate from the travel, I was energized by it all and I am ready to return.

Best regards,

Paul Hart

Gabriel Suk
Manager, Asia-Pacific
mobile: +86 13911570573
HK: +852 8198 1229