Last night's wine dinner in Hong Kong in aid of Room to Read broke all records and raised more than $2 million for this wonderful, and wonderfully run, organisation that is so busy bringing educational opportunity to the third world. This beats our £1 million raised in London last November and was helped in no small measure by founder John Wood's usual pocket-emptying trick, but also by a heartfelt presentation by their director of operations in Sri Lanka, the delightfully named Glenfry De Mel. There was also a heroic effort on the part of François Curiel, head of Christie's in Asia, who auctioned brilliantly despite the tongue-loosening effects of alcohol and despite having been in HK for only one month.
My job was to choose the wines, supplied at a very generous discount by importer ASC. I was determined to try to demonstrate to this moneyed crowd, steeped in first growths and the like, that delicious wine is made outside Bordeaux and Burgundy. I softened the blow by choosing one classic wine in each pair but made them taste a less classic one alongside.
For me the liquid star of the night was Oremus, Mandolas Dry Furmint 2006 Tokaji, which confidently held its own alongside Louis Jadot 2007 Corton Charlemagne (a good wine that ideally should be kept a few years of course). The Hungarian single-vineyard white was equally full bodied and had real tang, verve and persistence with a hint of smoke and fire. They both went well with the first course of prawns, salmon tartare and a lightly chilli'ed guacamole thingy.
Our red burgundy was another Jadot wine, Louis Jadot, Clos des Ormes Premier Cru 1998 Morey-St-Denis, in which, at last, the tannins had nicely retreated and the wine is in its prime now with real savoury depths. But the Australian, Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 Mornington Peninsula, was not shamed by it. This is obviously more youthful and delicate but is a fine, particulalry pure Pinot by any standards.
The two bordeaux-style wines were very different indeed. Our old friend Colomé Malbec 2007 Calchaquies from Donald Hess's sky-high vineyard (with a 15% admixture of ancient Tannat, Cabernet and Syrah) is very powerful but has a certain high Andean purity about it. Not a trace of pollution at close to 3,000 m! It went particularly well with our rare beef. But the wine that everyone kept coming back to was the Ch Pichon Lalande 1999 Pauilllac, a particularly successful 1999 in which the dominant grape variety, 47% of the blend, is Merlot.
And then, finally, with assorted cheeses and particularly inspiring with some top-quality parmigiano reggiano, was a sweet, but not too sweet, sherry, Lustau East India Solera. Though by that stage the attention had firmly switched to bidding and giving.
Several HK donors had been particularly generous with the lots in both live and silent auctions, including a relative of Paulo Pong of Altaya who donated the most amazing wines, both in quantity and quality. The first lot, for example, was a case of Ch Talbot 1982. There were verticals of Kistler Chardonnay, a flight of top right bank 1989s, a dream lot of 1990s, a magnum of Penfolds Grange... As you can tell, I forgot to keep a copy of the fat programme booklet in which the Conrad Hotel staff had painstakingly stuck different colour stickers next to each wine to avoid confusion on the table. But I will not forget the evening. See the preparations below.