ProWine Asia 2019 | Hong Kong | May 7-10
Henry Tang left quite a legacy in Hong Kong. Having held both the post of Financial Secretary and then Chief Secretary, number two on the government totem pole, and with all the right family wealth connections, Tang was a made man.
He was all set to become Chief Executive of Hong Kong in 2012 when a few too many scandals started landing – most notably the building of an illegal 2,200 square foot basement in his main residence.
Tang insisted it was his wife’s idea, even though the basement contained a Japanese onsen and a huge private wine cellar housing one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive wine collections.
His penchant for wine had been well documented and Tang was endlessly eviscerated for not only lying about the illegal basement but throwing his wife under the bus for it as well. Subsequently, and somewhat remarkably, he fell out of favor in Beijing and became the first person to lose an election that was rigged for him to win.
Being duplicitous is only a part of Tang’s legacy and his most lasting work may have come in 2008 as Financial Secretary when he removed an onerous 80% duty tax on wine in Hong Kong. The thinking was Hong Kong could become an international wine hub, and guess what. It has.
While per capita spending on wine in Hong Kong, at roughly US$62 per year, will never touch places like Australia – $500 per year – or France, with $210 annually, the elimination of the tax was not necessarily to make Hong Kong a drunkards’ dream, but to establish it as a commercial wine hub.
Billed as the “World’s Leading Wine and Spirits Trade Fair,” ProWine Asia pops the cork on a massive gathering at Hong Kong’s Convention and Exhibition Centre this week featuring a plethora of global producers, trade professionals and more sommeliers than you can shake a decanter at.
There will be more than 300 wine and spirits exhibitors alone from 27 countries, not to mention another 500 or so distributors pushing everything from eco-friendly raw mushrooms to organic cleaning supplies.
And just in case you are not sure what wine to pair with eco-friendly raw mushrooms, fear not because the exhibition will also be hosting a number of master classes featuring some of the world’s most renowned oenophiles.
The booze pros will be out in full force later this month as well when Vinexpo takes over the Hong Kong Convention Center from May 26-28. But come the fall, the general public will get an opportunity to enhance their palates when thousands of revelers decamp on the sprawling harbor-front pavilions for the government-hosted Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival.
Hong Kong as the clearinghouse for mainland China’s insatiable, and quite expensive, wine craving has been well documented in the mesmerizing 2013 documentary Red Obsession.
Today it hosts endless multi-million-dollar fine wine auctions, including one very notable gathering six years ago when Christies dropped the hammer on 882 lots from the Henry Tang cellar.
“I assembled a collection that many would die for,” Tang wrote in the auction notes, “but alas, I am mortal. I realized I have far too much wine, and would be unable to consume it even across multiple lifetimes.” The wines would fetch $7 million and Tang insisted in an interview that none of the bottles were stored in the illegal cellar.
Tang didn’t exactly disappear from the scene after his scandal because Beijing does not merely dispose of wealthy scions from Hong Kong who are no longer of use to them. They make them largely insignificant Standing Committee Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and Henry would be no different.
He would also parlay his local connections into becoming chairman of the very ambitious and oft-delayed West Kowloon Cultural District. Two months ago Tang announced he was thinking part of the district would be well served as a future waterfront vineyard.
“I will provide more details in due course,” he said. “I hope Hong Kong can have a vineyard with a harbor view, and this will be a very good Instagram moment.”
However, for most people in Hong Kong, Tang’s legacy will extend for more than a moment. For better or worse, when they think of the man they will think of wine.
IAAF World Relays | Yokohama, Japan | May 11-12
There is a mammoth void in athletics that could soon be apparent. Jamaica’s Usain Bolt is not only the greatest sprinter ever, he is arguably the most charismatic performer athletics has ever seen.
The winner of the last three 100-meter Olympic gold medals and the last two 4×100 relay golds, Bolt has not completely closed the door on competing at next year’s games in Tokyo. However, his times say otherwise and his loss to American’s Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman at the 2017 World Championships seemed to be his swan song.
It’s time to replace the irreplaceable and this week’s World Relay championship at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama will showcase the top sprinting talent in the world a mere 14 months before the flame is lit nearby on the Olympic torch.
At 37, Gatlin is the reigning world 100m champion and will be representing the US in Yokohama. While he seems to have defied father time, it is still difficult to envision a 38-year-old capturing sprint gold next year in Tokyo. His teammate Coleman is now the hot tip to win the 100m gold next year and it will be interesting to see who runs the anchor in this relay event.
Hosts Japan have been surprise silver medalists in two of the last three Olympic relays and will have a sizeable amount of pressure on them at Tokyo 2020, as will current world champions Great Britain.
On the women’s side, world 100m champion Torie Bowie will lead a dominant US team into the championships. The US are the current two-time Olympic champions and are so deep they could likely field both gold and silver medal winners.
Tim Noonan is a writer based in Bangkok and Toyko, covering sports and culture. Follow him on twitter @T_NoonanEast