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Digest Henry Tang: The World's Greatest Wine Collector?

Henry Tang: The World's Greatest Wine Collector?

Henry Tang: The World's Greatest Wine Collector?
By James Suckling
March 15, 2013
James Suckling ruminates over his friend and former politician's wine collecting clout

Henry Tang, 61, is probably the biggest wine collector in the world, and very few people know it. He’s better known as a former politician who lost a 2012 election bid for the top position of Hong Kong as chief executive.

He made a few headlines a couple weeks ago when the auction house of Christie’s announced that Henry was selling part of his legendary wine collection, which some say numbers thousands of cases.

The March 15 and 16 sale in Hong Kong focuses entirely on Burgundy with about 70 different producers represented, from trophy names such as Domaine de la Romanée Conti and Henri Jayer to more commercial ones such as Louis Latour and Tollot-Beaut. It shows Henry’s diverse and eclectic taste in Burgundy. He has been traveling to the region and buying the wines regularly since the late 1970s.

Christie’s will sell slightly more than 800 lots. The reds and whites ranging from grand cru to village wines are in an array of bottles, from 750s to Methuselahs. Each bottle in the sale is marked with a special read tag reading “The Henry Tang Collection.” It’s a bubble seal whereby the provenance can be authenticated online or with a 2D code reader.

Having known Henry for more than 10 years, I was surprised that my friend was even selling a small part of this cellar. I have tasted some of the greatest wines of my life with him. So why sell now?

“I have collected more than I could consume, and I would like to share some of it with other Burgundy lovers,” Henry said by email, adding that he wasn’t sure if he would sell anymore of his collection.

I spent a few hours marveling over the selection of wines for sale in the Christie’s catalog. If you love Burgundy, I suggest reading it. It’s organized by wine producer. And a short description of the history of the winery, the vineyard, the winemaking, and style of wine is included, regardless if dozens of lots are offered or just one. Here is the link.

There are three videos that I have embedded on this page that are worth watching and give you a great glimpse into Henry’s personality and passions as the world’s greatest wine collector.

You might understand after watching the videos why Henry has been long called “Sifu,” which translated from Cantonese means “teacher” or “master.” He has taught a small group of “super collectors” in Hong Kong the intricacies of Burgundy as well as other wines from top growth Bordeaux and Champagne, to Rhone Valley and Alsace.

He really is like a teacher in many ways, and Henry likes nothing better than discussing the details of wines, from production to flavor profiles. He is a man full of questions and answers in an enlightened and subtle way.

“I am so excited about Burgundy because of the personalities behind the wines,” he wrote me recently. “It’s their passion and devotion to bring out the best of the terroir.”

I have been lucky enough to share with Henry great Burgundies from dozens of vintages, producers, and vineyards over the years. And each bottle was like exploring a new poem or film with Henry. There was always a story about the wine and why or why not it was showing well. The Sifu always enlightens everyone about the subtleties of the wine experience, whether dining at his home or on the road in a vineyard in Burgundy or Bordeaux.

Food is also an important factor when tasting with Henry. And he takes special pleasure in matching food and wine, regardless if it’s Japanese, Cantonese, or Italian. He usually says that “Burgundy is like a perfect food companion,” but he’s slowly coming around to Italian wines as well.

It’s Henry’s generosity and sharing that has most impressed me over the years. I still remember attending the Cannes film festival with him when he was promoting Hong Kong as a film destination as Chief Secretary for the Administration. He poured magnums of 1983 Petrus to the two-dozen press members attending! They were all from his private cellar in London. “I have to drink it sometime,” he said. “Why not now?”

I heard dining_stories of him serving magnums of Henri Jayer’s Echezeaux, Beaumont and Cros Parantoux in the early 1990s for banquets of 50, 100, and even 150 people. His great wine buffets organised for guests at Victoria House during his tenure as Chief Secretary were legendary. He was always happy to share with friends and family. And many times, wine producers and wine merchants were there as well.

That’s probably why he loves large format bottles so much, especially magnums. “I love the shape of a magnum. Besides, there is more to go around and to enjoy,” he recently wrote to me.

I am excited to hear the results of the Sifu’s Christie’s sales, but I am not worried that plenty more great bottles will be shared with friends and family in the future.

“Asia collectors mainly collect to drink and share with friends and family,” he said. “ I believe more great wines are opened in Hong Kong than most places now.”

Find out what James thinks of the 'drink now and stock up later' philosophy in his column here


Digest james suckling wine bordeaux auction christie's henry tang


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