Our newest gweilo on the ground in Hong Kong is Hamish Orr Ewing. Hamish began his career in the trade making wine in Bordeaux, but realised that drinking it and selling it would be far less hard work and far more enjoyable. Fast forward ten years and he found himself at the Annual Commanderie de Bordeaux Dinner in Hong Kong quaffing Lafite Rothschild like it was going out of fashion…
I spent the autumn of 2008 crushing grapes and fraternising with various travelling troubadours, gypsies and other itinerant harvesters in Bordeaux at 5th Growth Chateau Du Tertre in Margaux. Realising what a wheeze I was onto living rent-free in a Chateau, with free food and wine and only working 35 hours a week (for it is technically illegal to work past midday on Friday in France – Vive la Republique), I ended up staying for two years. Ironically though it wasn’t until I returned to England and joined a wine merchant that I finally got to taste arguably the most hallowed of Bordeaux 1st Growths – Chateau Lafite Rothschild. This was despite the fact that I played rugby for Pauillac RFC alongside the cellar master of 4th Growth Chateau Duhart Milon (which is owned by Lafite), and despite the fact that I bought him a delicious seafood lunch on the river in Pauillac in return for a visit of Lafite: upon reaching the end of the cellar tour with him no tasting was forthcoming – they say there’s no such thing as a free lunch – unless you’ve got some naive English stagiare to buy it for you. Last night, therefore, I felt that justice was served as I spent the evening as a guest (paying of course – there’s no such thing as a free dinner) of the Commanderie de Bordeaux in Hong Kong, with more Lafite in front of me than I could possibly drink. Karma is a wonderful thing.
The Commanderie de Bordeaux was founded in 1957 by a group of American wine lovers and has since grown to 34 chapters around the world, where annual dinners are organised, supported by hefty liquid donations from various top chateaux. Last night was sponsored by “The First of First Growths” and co-hosted by their CEO, Jean Guillaume-Prats. Lafite’s relationship with Asia has been a torrid love affair, full of excess, counterfeit scandal and occasionally a dash of Coca-Cola (westerners add milk to tea – so who are the barbarians?) but at the core of the liaison there is an enormous appetite and incredible success. Hong Kong movie star Chow Yun Fat is credited with helping put Lafite on the map in China after uttering the immortal line “Uncork me a bottle of 1982 Lafite!” in 1989 hit “God of Gamblers”. Chow Yun now lives a monastic life and is giving his fortune away to charity, so one can only assume that he drank his fill. Fortunately I was available to step into the breach.
Domaines Barons de Rothschild kindly sponsored each table with various vintages of their wines, whilst everyone on our table also brought a wine from the “DBR” stable from their own cellars. Whilst Lafite was the headline attraction, the most interesting part of the evening was actually their Right-Bank property, L’Evangile in Pomerol whose vineyards date back to 1741. Purchased by Lafite in 1990, the relatively large vineyard here is flanked by Petrus to the north and Cheval Blanc to the south and is known as one of the appellation’s more powerful wines.
Overall a splendid evening was enjoyed by all, with generous friends sharing many good and more than a few great bottles. Thanks to the Commanderie and to Domaines Baron de Rothschild for their hospitality.
*(Ranked in the order I most enjoyed them.)