For wine enthusiasts, browsing the aisles at a local wine shop or scanning the wine list at a restaurants is part of the fun when it comes to experiencing the joys of wine. Thanks to the tax duty that was lifted in 2008 in Hong Kong, we are spoilt for choice here, with a wine shop seemingly on every corner. While there are a plethora of chains and speciality wine shops in Hong Kong, these retailers can often seem impersonal, with their wine selections often dominated by big-name brands.
For wine lovers looking to discover new wines in a more intimate setting, consider Premier Cru. Nestled in an unassuming location on High Street in Sai Ying Pun amongst mom-and-pop restaurants and mechanics, you’d be hard-pressed to think this could be the location of a serious wine shop. Once you do locate the small wooden sign and step beyond the etched-window facade, you’ll know you’re in the right place. Akin to a bookshop of sorts, the walls are elegantly lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves of wine, with prices marked plainly on the bottles. Specialising in the Burgundy and Rhone regions of France, Premier Cru holds more than 700 “references”, according to young founder Martin Perino.
Hailing from a third-generation wine-loving family who own the Hotel des Bains restaurant in Charavines (a small town just outside Lyon), Martin grew up alongside his parents’ winemaker friends, who were regular patrons at his family’s restaurant – and who also happened to be featured on the eatery’s wine list. These weren’t just any winemakers; the restaurant was acknowledged as having one of the “best wine lists” in France by the Gault&Millau guide in 2017. Now, as his parents’ generation of winemakers are passing the reins to the next generation, Martin is keen to be the first to discover these up-and-coming winemakers and share the stories behind their wines.
After relocating to Asia a few years ago with his family, Martin now divides his time between France and Hong Kong, but his dedication to discovering new wines for clientele is a full-time job. Premier Cru follows the same pricing philosophy as the family’s restaurant in France. “Our philosophy is selling really reasonably priced wine. Our markup is two times compared to typical three to five times at retail. We buy direct from winemakers, and they love us because their wine gets exposure and is appreciated.”
The ambience feels very much like stepping inside a local Parisian wine shop, except that even Martin will admit this of his culture – there’s no snobbery here about any lack of wine knowledge. He sees himself and his team of “wine lovers” as advisers who provide recommendations based on their latest “wine crushes” and develop relationships with their clientele. The team itself has been curated, much like the wines – for example, Martin loves Burgundy and team member Étienne is a specialist in southern France, particularly the Languedoc region.
The atmosphere is intimate and inviting. There is a communal wooden island in the middle, similar to something you might see in a home kitchen. On most days, you’ll find customers convening there with the bottles they’ve purchased, along with some cheese and bread, which are also available on site. Or others may choose to sip their wine at the lovely terrace in the back.
For those who are serious about discovering new wines on a regular basis, Premier Cru’s Wine Lovers Club offers monthly curated wine shipments. They also hold biweekly events including an educational Winery Discovery series featuring winemaker guests and a more informal Wine Pairing experience that usually features wine and food sourced from the same region.
The current focus is on retail – “We tried trade initially, but wanted to be able to speak to the customer directly,” says Martin – and very high-touch. According to Martin, 60 per cent of the wines sold are drunk on the premises. “They come in here, buy a bottle or two of wine, grab a few glasses and go to the terrace to drink. Our target market comes into our shop because they want to try something new or just discover new gems. Our focus is on educating them – 60 per cent of our wine list is from rising stars, and the rest is from well-known producers and winemakers.”
Premier Cru aims to democratise wine, offering an experience similar to what the winemakers who dined at his family’s restaurant envisioned for their wines on the global market. “We don’t want to make it like an experience in high-end restaurants with sommeliers. Our focus is on education. Taking a bottle off the shelf is like taking a book and asking what’s the story behind the label,” Martin explains.
On trends, Martin doesn’t believe in following them because he thinks wine critics set the tone. His focus is on the winemakers and telling their stories. “The winemaking business is changing so quickly. Organic and natural wines are now the big thing, but we are always just focused on the wine and the winemakers.”
For wine enthusiasts who are searching for a curated experience or who would like to discover emerging winemakers, we recommend giving Premier Cru a try. While the downside is that the wines are only available by the bottle, many of the bottles are reasonably priced, starting at $250, and they have glasses available for on-site consumption.
15 High Street, Sai Ying Pun, 9522 5267