The Fine Wine Experience offers online tastings and in-store karaoke pairings

The Fine Wine Experience offers online tastings and in-store karaoke pairings

Hong Kong wine lovers can get next-day delivery of the tasting menu to try during digital question-and-answer sessions with specialists.

Behind a line-up of bottles flanked by glasses, Hong Kong-based sommeliers Alexandria Rae Cubbage and Florian Rossignol taste wines, answer questions and toast the only people in the room: each other.

At the Fine Wine Experience, in Sai Ying Pun, social distancing has not dented the public’s appetite for good wine. The shop is offering online tasting events through Facebook, staying true to its mission – what co-founder and managing director Linden Wilkie calls the “experience of wine”.

“I think it’s a very 2020 thing to be able to do,” says Wilkie, a New Zealand native who has lived in Hong Kong for a decade.

Housed in a former car showroom on the harbour­front, the Fine Wine Experience’s high ceiling caps off an airy space that’s bedecked with shelves filled with wines, most from France’s Burgundy region. Memorabilia from past events adds to the decor – one shelf houses empty bottles, all from the 19th century, which were opened and shared at a dinner last year.

Apart from a central space that can host up to 80 people, the Fine Wine Experience offers food at a bar and two plush karaoke rooms: many guests find their wines pair well with Canto-pop classics, Wilkie says.

From an office space of 70 sq ft in 2013 – where Wilkie and co-founder Michael Wu “worked at two ends of a desk”, as Wilkie describes it – the shop moved into its current 7,000 sq ft space in January last year.

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As the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the shop turned its attention to the internet, as Cubbage and Rossignol, at times joined by Wilkie in New Zealand and producers in Europe, hosted online events.

“Some people might say pinot noir runs in my veins,” quipped Rossignol, the shop’s agency brand manager, as he introduced himself at one live-streaming event in early April.

That transition from in-person tastings to digital was a challenge at first, says Cubbage, a wine specialist from the United States who joined the team in 2017. “It’s about figuring out how to get people to engage with you when it’s through a computer screen,” she adds.

The experience is supported by careful logistics: those joining the live stream can order the six-bottle tasting pack any time and have it delivered the next day, even after the event (every tasting is recorded).

They can ask questions: what are you tasting? What should I be smelling?Michael Wu, co-founder, The Fine Wine Experience

“They have the exact same wines, they can ask questions: what are you tasting? What should I be smelling?” says Wu.

As social distancing winds down, in-person tastings will resume, but the team at the Fine Wine Experience say the shop will retain much of its online program­ming as a way to reach more people.

And while events are coming up in May and June, wines of all types can be purchased on the shop’s website. The sommeliers’ recommendation: a 1999 bottle of Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux from Burgundy that fetches HK$25,000.

For Rossignol, himself from Burgundy, the reason is simple.

“I’ve never tasted it,” he says. “It’s on my bucket list.”