A Matter of Hong Kong (and Shanghai) - Part 2
I fall asleep immediately, exhausted. Bodily functions shut down until delta brain waves lap against unconsciousness. That is until my neurons fire up and incite a dream sequence that is so disturbing and surreal that eventually my mind presses the "eject" button. I sit bolt upright, heart beating fast, dream sequence being rapidly erased from memory hard-drive with just vague images of Mark Squire's neck-tie. Christ, what would Freud make of all this? I glance at the bedside clock. 3:25am. Sod it. Now my brain has decided to work a nightshift, formulating ideas for future articles, when all I want to do is sleep. Avoiding temptation to open the laptop, I adopt a variety of sleeping positions around the entire bed, seeking one that will send me to the other side of consciousness. Naturally, I discover the right one about ten minutes before the alarm starts beeping/laughing. Quick shower later and I go down to the breakfast room for croissant and coffee with Luis, chew over last night's dinner and the smorgasbord of vinous delights and general good vibes. I make no mention of the dream, though the glazed look in his eye suggests that Luis may have suffered a similar dream.
Sunday is my busiest day, palate to the grindstone. I have three consecutive masterclasses that need my wit and wisdom: a vertical of Château Trotanoy back to 1989 with the ever-dashing Edouard Moueix, a vertical of Smith Haut-Lafitte hot on its heels and a Burgundy tasting tutored by yours truly, with the help of Corinne Michotte—since three wines come from Domaine de l'Arlot. I've known Edouard since his days as a stagiaire at Corney & Barrow in the late 1990s. I am surprised when he comments that his grandfather, Jean-Pierre Moueix, once described Trotanoy as "feminine," when I have always found it a tannic Pomerol, occasionally brutish in its first decade and therefore demanding considerable bottle age. The 1990 Trotanoy proves how age is mandatory for this quintessential Pomerol, whilst there is no denying that both the 2009 and 2010 are future legends. You cannot complain about drinking several bottles of Trotanoy for Sunday breakfast, though I think I'll stick to eggs and bacon and a cup of coffee next weekend.
Compared to Bordeaux, Burgundy demands more preparation: minutiae of each terroir, growers' techniques, seasonal nuances and the myriad of interrelationships that form the DNA of each wine. The quality of fermented grape juice is uniformly high, since the wines are predominantly grand crus courtesy of growers such as Laurent Ponsot, Domaine Dujac, Domaine de l'Arlot and Lucien Le Moine (and yes Mounir, I did advise everyone to give your wines long aeration to get rid of any CO2). Three tutorials in a morning without much time to eat leaves me bushed, but I find time to briefly tour the main ballroom where I find plenty of familiar Bordeaux faces and contented attendees. I sit in on Mark Squires' excellent tasting of LBV Ports. He's still wearing that tie. I wonder if he slept in it? I am not sure whether it is a fashion statement or an act of war. Before I depart, I mention to a friend that I am bound for Shanghai. They offer me their sympathies. What's that all about?
I leave the Shangri-La at 4pm, drag my suitcase to the MTR line that whisks me to Hong Kong airport. The first disaster transpires at the newsagent. With strict instructions from the wife not to return without a Japanese woman's magazine entitled "Glow," I find that the newsagent stocks every title but "Glow." I phone home, the emergency line. Give the bad news. It's "no glow." Bereft of fashion advice and cosmetic tips for the next 4 weeks, I am privy to meltdown at the end of the line and my nine-year-old offering her sympathies. The 9:15pm take-off passes and vexingly our aircraft remains firmly on terra firma. Our pilot, barely containing his resignation yet upholding a stiff British upper lip, announces that Shanghai traffic control has warned the earliest departure slot is midnight. Bugger. Fortunately, I have the remainder of my Johnny Marr biography to read, so whilst I read how Marr used studio techniques to create "How Soon Is Now," half the passengers are panicking about missed connections and the other half presenting beleaguered stewardesses with apocalyptic scenarios when in reality, it just means they are going to miss Top Gear.
I touch down at the eerily deserted Pudong Airport at 3:00am. I just want my bed. I want it now. Fortunately, a driver has been arranged to take me to my hotel, which he does, except that it is the wrong hotel. "I am sorry, there is no Martin here," says the apologetic receptionist. Bloody hell. It takes a while for the concierge to flag down a taxi driver at such an ungodly hour. He drives me 3km to the correct hotel, though it is immediately clear that he is fulminating at having a non-Mandarin speaking foreigner in his cab. He spends most of the journey yelling "money," which I suspect is the only word in the English language that he knows. I feel like teaching him a few others. We hurtle down the streets as if being chased by the police. Maybe we are? I want to get out. I want my bed. Screeching to a halt he charges me a king's ransom for a short journey. I ask for a receipt to no avail and it infuriates him even further. I can either appease the accounts department or I can live. I choose the latter. I shove what I presume he is demanding into his hand and he speeds off into the depths of Shanghai. Finally I am at the hotel and head hits pillow around 4:30am.
I wake up at 10.00am. Against expectations, I've had more sleep than the previous nights, although I have sacrificed breakfast for Zzzzzz. I am famished. A nice efficient German girl meets me at reception, one of the organizational committee for Prowine, so she suffers my retelling of last night's saga (and for the record they kindly compensate the money). I used to frequent wine exhibitions often since they are an efficient way of sampling wines from around the world, though these days I'm traveling too much and many have become too commercial. Gone are the days when Philippe Guigal had a few sneaky La-La's under his table.
My first task is to meet former ex-basketball player turned California winemaker, Yao Ming. This Chinese superstar is supposed to be 7ft 6in tall, although when I spot his head behind a clamorous scrum of journalists and ululating girls, he actually doesn't look so tall. It's only when I am escorted through the melee and stand beside him that I realise he is sitting down. He says hello in a voice in deeper than Jean-Hubert Delon, shakes my hand. His hand is enormous. I want to ask him to place his hand on the table so I can measure its span, however, this is neither the time nor the place and in any case, I forgot my ruler. His wines are actually much better than I expected. Too often ordinary wines are elevated by their celebrity association, but not in this case, because his namesake wine is quite delicious. Yao stands up and he towers above everyone like a giant who has walked off the pages of JRR Tolkein. He is now the tallest person I have met after Stephan Reinhardt, though I suspect Yao is better at throwing hoops (though you never know, our German reviewer is a man of many talents).
Later, I bump into an old chum, Sam Harrop MW who is now making some really delicious wines in Spain and New Zealand (under the Quinta de Quercus and Cedalion labels), then another friend Debra Meiberg MW so that three of us can enjoy an extended chin-wag, conversation alternating between ribald gossip and technicalities of winemaking. I am disconcerted by Debra's beautifully made cue cards. She is clearly prepped for her seminar: all neatly typed and embossed with logos, bound together by a ring, a nice finishing touch. I scribbled a few numbers in pencil but little else, though I have become adept at the art of non-scripted public speaking, a.k.a making it up as you go along. In fact, they often make for better presentations and in any case, I always end up never using the cue cards. As well as discussing The Wine Advocate, how we taste and write reviews, I present four wines, three of which I know very well: 2012 Smith Haut Lafitte, 2012 Pape Clement and 2012 Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia. It's a full house. In fact, we have to delay 15 minutes for people to register and take their place (later I am told that it is easily the most attended seminar of the exhibition). Maybe they regret coming when I relate how Klein Constantia installed electric fencing to protect their vines from hungry baboons, only for mummy baboon to lob one of her babies at the fence to short the current, thereby enabling the family (minus one) to feast away. As the interpreter translates this barbaric tale sentence by sentence, I see one young girl's face go from happiness to horror. She may not look upon baboons as such a cute creature again. Having wrapped up the seminar, I am mobbed by dozens of young Chinese wine lovers seeking autographed badges and countless photos. I must be trending on Weibo by the end of the day, likewise hashtag barbaricbaboon.
In the evening, I wanted to experience real Shanghai cuisine. A couple of friends scoop me up from my hotel and through an unseasonal deluge, we head for Lu Bo Lang in central Shanghai. I have not been here for four or five years. Last time I was tutoring a tasting for a small group of young wine lovers, and bars and wine retailers were springing up (and it must be said, disappearing, all over the city). Things have settled down since then, as the wine scene has established itself within the middle-classes, even though a vast majority need to fall in love with the joys of white wine.
The restaurant is clearly renowned given the photographs of Bill and Hilary Clinton and Fidel Castro that line the stairwell (not dining together I might add). The dishes are outstanding, especially the slithers of eel in a sweet black bean sauce with a healthy pinch of pepper, matched perfectly with a 2009 Nuits St Georges 1er Cru from Domaine Prieur-Roch. We finish early (people in Shanghai tend to eat between 7-9pm) and so we go to a bar on the Bund with a panorama across rain-swept skyscrapers, a vista of illuminated facades straight out of Bladerunner. Perhaps we should hire one and advertise the next Matter of Taste event? Just a quick and refreshing Mojito and it's back to my hotel to pack for the early return home tomorrow morning. On the flight home, I write the words you are reading, watch the new David Brent movie (not bad) and "Equity," which is superb, especially if you enjoyed "The Big Short" (though sadly without Margot Robbie in a bubble bath).
It's been a short, entertaining and eventful trip to two of my favorite cities in the Far East. Time to get back and reacquaint myself with my family, then head back to Burgundy to continue tasting 2015s. But it is never long before I am back.
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