Not having grown up here, I'll admit that I haven't known my friend Paulo for as long as many others in town. I met him in early 2001, at the very beginning of the formation of what would soon come to be known amongst our friends as the Monday Night Supper Club. Coincidentally, it was also around the time when he was starting up a little wine business that he would come to call Altaya Wines.
I remember our first meeting vividly. Along with quaffing down bottles of Bordeaux such as 1982 Figeac while getting our fingers greasy with roast pigeon, Paulo casually showed us his first wine list. Three pages of computer print-out. Forget the 1982 First Growth Bordeaux... at the top of the first page were wines like 1900 Margaux, 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1947 Petrus, and lots more. These were wines that James Suckling had called "Wines of the Century" in his piece written for the Wine Spectator, and here was a 24-year-old who had all of them in his inventory. And he also knew exactly who to sell them to.
WHO IS THIS GUY??
Well, it's 15 years later, and Paulo had very kindly invited me to a dinner celebrating the 15th anniversary of his little company. From its relatively humble beginnings, Altaya has grown to become a major player, and not just in Hong Kong. The last time Decanter published their Power List in 2013, Paulo was ranked No. 42 out of the 50 most-influential people in wine. Incidentally, this was 3 places above Stephen Browett, the Chairman of Farr Vintners, whose company Paulo had tried to buy before starting Altaya Wines. At least that was the story that Frédéric Engerer, CEO of Artémis Domaines, told the crowd tonight.
There were lots of people in attendance tonight - dignitaries, clients, friends, winemakers and representatives from Bordeaux. The entire first floor of the Hong Kong Club was filled with people. As I stepped off the elevator, I went to the seating chart to find my table. The Ox and I had been placed in "Central Otago", while a few others of MNSC were placed in "Burgundy". I guess that means the Taiwanese contingent had been banished to Siberia...
There were a couple of speeches tonight, but the entertainment was provided by the duo of James Suckling and Frédéric Engerer - who recounted their respective early memories of Paulo. These two have gotten to know Paulo very well over the years, and certainly had enough stories to draw a few laughs from us.
We started the evening with some bubbly, of course...
2004 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill - ripe on the palate, drinking beautifully.