Q&A with Charles Curtis, MW, Head of Wine of Christie's Asia
The master of wine talks about the burgeoning Hong Kong wine market, landmark sales and China’s interest in wine.
Hong Kong made headline news in 2011, and not just because of its new hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants. The Hong Kong wine market soared, thanks to wine auction sales and a bevy of new investors. As Asian wine investors continue to spend millions in the market, Wine Enthusiast Magazine sat down with Charles Curtis, master of wine and the head of wine for Christie’s Asia, to learn more about how the Asian wine market has evolved over the past few years.
WINE ENTHUSIAST: How have the wine buying and selling habits changed over the years in China?
CHARLES CURTIS: The wine market in China and Hong Kong is developing really quickly. Over the last 12–18 months, Asian collectors have learned really quickly. Burgundy and Bordeaux are the top sellers, and there’s dedicated and focused emphasis on learning more about wine. At the beginning, originally the auction experience was integral to their love of wine. They were buying wine at auctions because they love going to auctions. It was a very social thing. The prices were driven up really high, and there was a definite premium that was being paid on some lots in Hong Kong that wasn’t necessarily happening in other markets. Now, not only are people more nuanced in their view of what wine they want to try, they are also very savvy about prices. They aren’t willing to overpay and a lot of that premium has evaporated. Now, the premium is on limited production and vintage wines.
W.E.: Christie’s managed a few very noteworthy auctions in Hong Kong. How has the wine auction market evolved in Asia over the past few years?
CC: We’ve certainly seen some landmark sales. We put a lot more wine into the market and the market absorbed everything, thanks to continued buoyancy of demand. The March sale featured a big selection of older Burgundies and wines that required a certain appreciation that I wasn’t sure the Chinese market would understand. However, the surge of buying Burgundy and the level of comfort of buying older wines was surprising. At the beginning, there were really crazy prices that were making headlines around the world. That early growth was fueled by a few people who were buying enthusiastically. There’s also huge interest online. We sold nearly 40% of our lots to online buyers this year.
W.E.: What are the top wine sales in Asia?
CC: Burgundies and Bordeaux. The top lot of the year for us was a 25-case vertical of Château Lafite Rothschild for $4.2 million Hong Kong dollars ($539,280).
W.E.: What are your favorite wines from China?
CC: An unexpected but delicious accompaniment to cuisine is baijiu. Sipping it after dinner like you would a Cognac or Scotch, it’s a really interesting complement to Asian cuisine.
W.E.: What are some wine trends in China that you foresee, or that you didn’t expect from the last few years?
CC: The thing that really impressed me over the last 12 months was that there has been a true development of fine wine in Asia. The interest is impressive and encouraging. [In 2010] Hong Kong took over as the number one center for sales volume of fine and rare wine—it dominates the market now. The U.S. was [number one] for about 20 years. Hong Kong buyers provide the overwhelming majority of wine turnover in Asia. As for expectations, any concerns about the industry are sorting themselves out now. The first thing that everyone was afraid of is that it was a bubble, but recent sales have shown it wasn’t. This wasn’t a flash in the plan, but a real, durable development.