Toast this trend: Hong Kong's teaching wine shops

Toast this trend: Hong Kong's teaching wine shops

Drinking expands your mind when it's done at these wine shops with unique workshops, high-tech teaching gadgets, charming instructors
hong kong wine shops
They feel smarter already.

The average Hong Konger is drinking more wine than anyone else in Asia. We consume 4.7 liters a year, according to a survey by International Wine & Spirit Research for Vinexpo. That's more than the Japanese’s 2.4 liter average and Singapore’s 2.1 liters. 

With the growing number of vino aficionados, a new breed of wine shop has cropped up across the city. Breaking away from the mainstream, they're run by true wine geeks on a mission to educate.

Whether it’s through formal classes or touch screen technology, these newcomers are changing the game.

Editor's note: The Flying Winemaker is one of Hong Kong's best teaching wine shops. Read more about it at The Flying Winemaker: Hong Kong's hotshot vino expert. Link added after original publication. Thanks to reader Weldon Fung.

Sex sells at Portrait Winery

hong kong wine shopsPortrait Winery makes a Pinot Gris that evokes a sexy librarian. This place strives to be the most down-to-earth tasting room in the city. There's no wine jargon or fancy labels, instead, founder Steven Jaray will plunk down glass after glass, asking you to sniff, swirl then gargle.

The cheerful Canadian insists that the only way to understand wine is to puff up your cheeks and swoosh it around in your tongue like you would mouthwash.

Making wine accessible to people is a priority for Jaray. He is near evangelical when it comes to teaching people how to pick a good bottle.

“People should be able to say to a waiter: 'No, that wine doesn’t taste good,'” he says. 

Portrait takes an unusual approach to labeling. Each of their bottles has a 1940s-style pinup girl on the label, each with a personality to match the wine’s flavors. Their Pinot Gris, for example, is represented by a sexy librarian.

“It gives people something to share and talk about -- it demystifies wine,” says Jaray.

Also on CNNGo: La Cabane a Vin: Hong Kong's wine non-interventionists

Portrait Winery sources its grapes from France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and the United States then crushes and ages them in their Tsuen Wan cellar. Free tastings of their wine and brandy available at their shop in Central.

Portrait Winery, 31 Staunton St., Central, +852 2526 8858 www.portraitwinery.com

Wine 2.0 at Amo Eno

hong kong wine shopsWine tasting 101 with digital tables at Amo Eno.Amo Eno is the only Hong Kong wine bar outfitted with LCD tables. Embedded in a marble countertop, the large multi-touch screens act as virtual sommeliers. 

The screens are perfect for wine neophytes who have no clue where to start as it helps you pick wines according to the flavors you like. 

“It shouldn’t be a requirement that you walk in and already know about wine,” says CEO of Amo Eno Bob Cranston. “We want to be inclusive and bring inexperienced people in.”

The shop’s walls are lined with Enomatic machines for wine tastings. The types of wine change weekly and up to 70 are available for tasting at a time. 

Also on CNNGo: Hong Kong wine bars worth savoring

Amo Eno serves gourmet comfort food to match their wines in a room at the back of the shop. Every Tuesday, they host “Wine Society” nights for themed tastings, hors d’oeuvres and wine talk.

Plans to upgrade their computer system are in the works. Soon they’ll be storing customers' wine history in their system and allow sharing on Facebook.

Amo Eno, Shop 3027, Podium Level 3, IFC Mall, 1 Harbour View St., +852 2954 9922 www.amoeno.com

Nose knows best at The Nose Wine School 

hong kong wine shopsSense of smell rules over the other four at The Nose Wine School.Located in a typical Causeway Bay walk-up building, The Nose Wine School is tiny and doubles as a bar in the evenings when classes are over.

The founder, Stefano Yim, moved to Hong Kong from California where he runs sister company The Nose Wine Bar Inc. A self-professed wine nut, Yim’s goal is to broaden people’s horizons.

“I want to educate people on their own palate rather than rely on points or a scale they read in a magazine from certain experts,” says Yim.

Something of a rebel, the sommelier refuses to sell commercially driven wines and big name brands. Instead he spends his time trekking around Europe in search of remote indigenous varieties.

Occasionally, Yim runs private wine tours, taking small groups of people into the vineyards and châteaus.

“Even after 40 years in the business, I can still find something new in a small village in Sicily,” he says.

This sense of discovery is clear in his handpicked selection. Yim stocks more than 300 labels from France and Italy. One of the oldest vintages is 1952. 

Students of the school are certified by Yim’s own program which focuses on practical advice on picking wines by training the olfactory sense.

“Smelling is more important than taste,” insists Yim. “People don’t use their noses as often as they should.”

The Nose Wine School, 3/F, 51 Sharp St. East, Causeway Bay, +852 2892 0116, Yim’s blog: www.wineraconteur.com

Hong Kong favorites at Etc Wine Shops 

hong kong wine shopsDon't need an occasion to drink Champagne at etc.Hong Kongers love Bordeaux and Champagne, and Etc wine shops intend to scratch that itch. 

Located on Lyndhurst Terrace, their first outpost called champagne etc, is devoted purely to sparkling wine from the region. Slightly more formal is the sister shop, bordeaux etc, that stocks some 1,200 Bordeaux varieties.

When you enter bordeaux etc, the first thing you see is a row of beakers that look like a science experiment. These containers give off scents such as mushroom or lemon -- aromas which are often found in Bordeaux wines.

“It’s extremely helpful when you begin tasting wine to define the smells,” says chief sommelier Mathieu Pouchan. “Most of these wines are unknown to people so it’s all about education.”

Walk downstairs to find touch screen panels featuring pop quizzes and wine trivia. Pouchan says it’s a fun way to learn more about Bordeaux.

The shop is constantly hosting tastings and talks to help customers develop their palates. Their website’s “naked truth” section is like a wine encyclopedia, complete with a wine vintage chart suggesting the best years to buy. 

bordeaux etc, Shop G01, 77 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2567 2009
champagne etc, G/F, 19 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2568 2009 www.etcwineshops.com

Certification at The Wine Gallery by ASC

hong kong wine shopsWSET courses offered at ASC.ASC’s Wine Gallery is one of those places that you’ll probably never find unless you have friends in the right places.

“It’s under the radar, people who do know us are connected in some way and they are probably quite well informed,” says ASC sales director Caroline Bewley.

The gallery is the stomping ground of the city’s biggest oenophiles, connoisseurs and private collectors.

A veteran in the field, ASC was the first major importer of premium wine in China and carries as many as 1,200 labels from 14 countries.

The gallery’s showroom displays the top half of their range, much of it is exclusively imported by ASC. The most expensive bottle is a HK$17,500 Petrus.

In their education center, sommelier Jordi Chan teaches accredited wine courses by Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), an educational charity based in Britain.

“I think there is a lot of genuine passion for wine and Hong Kong is a society that places a lot of value on formal qualifications,” explains Bewley.

The Wine Gallery by ASC, 21-22 FL, Stanley 11, 11 Stanley St., Central, +852 2526 2020, www.asc-wines.com

A freelance writer, Payal Uttam found her way back to Hong Kong after a prolonged stint in Chicago.

Read more about Payal Uttam