Food + Wine
As Le French May celebrates its 25th anniversary in Hong Kong, Champagne is in the spotlight as the year's featured region. Could there have been a more appropriate choice?
Le French May was launched in 1993, and I remember it well. I was assistant editor of the Special Reports Desk at the Hongkong Standard, and covering national days was one of my beats.
My responsibilities entailed interviewing consuls-general, trade commissioners, and cultural attaches on commercial, political, cultural, and educational ties between their countries and Hong Kong, and I must say – most of them were very interesting people.
I really enjoyed meeting them and chatting with them. They seemed able to discuss any topic intelligently, in depth, and with enthusiasm.
It was during one of those interviews that I first heard of plans to launch Le French May. There had not yet been any publicity about it in the media. Part of my job was to help spread the word about the forthcoming event.
I’m not sure why May was chosen for the festival since Bastille Day, a.k.a. French Independence Day, is celebrated in July.
But my guess it that it had something to do with the weather (summers in Hong Kong are unbearably hot and humid) or perhaps it was because of school holidays.
Many members of the then small French community (it was about one-fifth then what it is now) were likely to return to France during the summer months.
So maybe it was better to schedule the festival in spring.
I remember the excitement at the French Consulate as I was briefed on the event, which they said was to be the first of its kind in Asia.
But who could have known that what started out as a relatively modest schedule of performances and exhibitions and films would quickly evolve into one of the largest cultural events of the year – not only in Hong Kong, but in all of Asia?
The original one-month format quickly expanded into two months. This year more than 150 programmes are expected to attract an audience of more than 1 million attendees.
Not bad for a city of fewer than 7.5 million people!
Le French GourMAY
With a focus on French gastronomy and wine, Le French GourMAY was added to the mix in 2009.
Each year, a different region of France is in the spotlight, with more than 200 suppliers representing the region being featured.
Burgundy, Bordeaux, Midi-Pyrenees, Provence, and the Rhone Valley are among the regions that were featured in previous years.
As 2017 is the 25th anniversary of Le French May, what could be more appropriate than to feature Champagne in celebration of the festival’s Silver Jubilee?
The fact that 2017 is also the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty only adds sparkle to the event.
"For special moments, Champagne is the answer!" said Thibaut le Mailloux, director of communications, Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, at a press conference to brief the media on this year's Le French GourMAY.
"This year, we celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the French May and the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Champagne is a must!"
A lot has happened since I covered national days at the Hongkong Standard 25 years ago, and a lot has changed.
It used to be said that you couldn't pair Chinese food with wine - as in Western wine - because too many different kinds of dishes were served at a typical Chinese meal.
At everyday occasions it was beer. At celebrations it was cognac. When it came to wedding banquets and birthday parties, cognac was definitely the beverage of choice, and it was served in copious quantities.
It has only been within the last 20 years that wine - as in Western wine - has slowly become popular at Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong.
It has, in fact, gone mainstream. Most decent Chinese restaurants now have wine cellars, and many - especially those at five-star hotels - even have sommeliers.
Is Champagne finally getting the recognition is deserves in Hong Kong?
Champagne consumption has, in fact, been increasing at a steady rate.
"The Champagne market has doubled in volume over the last 10 years, and its pattern shows both the appreciation of Champagne by Hong Kong wine lovers as the symbol of celebration ...
"Special curvees represent 9% of the imports compared to an average 4.4% globally, and as a great wine, too, vintage Champagne represents 9.7% of the imports compared to an average of 1.6% globally."
From Michelin star chefs to restaurateurs, wine distributors, and wine importers, more than 220 partners will promote Champagne during Le French GourMAY this year.
Included will be pairing menus, special promotions, and educational workshops.
"Champagne growers and houses have already dedicated themselves to offering consumers a deeper understanding of Champagne from a wine perspective with Champagne Campus, an e-learning website as well as a mobile app.
"Now, a larger audience will be able to explore the diversity of Champagne and to experience it beyond celebrating, cocktails, and aperitifs as a great wine to be paired with cuisine."
Melanie Gaudin, head of the Hong Kong office of Business France and the French Trade Commission in Hong Kong, also made a presentation at the press conference.
As the close of her speech, Melanie quoted Napoleon Bonaparte, which drew chuckles from the gathering.
I googled “famous champagne quotes” to make sure I got the quote right, and I found several other quotes that I liked during my on-line search.
A list of my 10 favourite champagne quotes follows.
Top 10 Quotes About Champagne
- “Champagne in victory one deserves it. In defeat one needs it.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
- “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of Champagne.” – Bette Davis.
- “I only drink champagne when I’m happy or when I’m sad.” – Lily Bollinger
- “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” – Mark Twain
- “Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector.” - Graham Greene
- “My only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne.” – John Maynard Keynes
- “Champagne … it gives you the impression that every day is Sunday.” Marlena Dietrich
- “I only drink Champagne on one of two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.” – Coco Chanel
- “There is nothing more beautiful than a sunset viewed over a glass of chilled champagne.” – Jared M. Brown
- “Champagne should be cold, dry and hopefully, free” – Christian Pol Roger
Following the press conference, 25 champagne houses showcased their wares in an adjoining room. Look over my shoulder as I stroll through the room and sample the best of the best.
I'm afraid that's as far as I got, not even half way around the room. My apologies to the champagne houses I didn't get to.
And special thanks K-Element, the purveyor of artisan cheese, food, wines and spirits, which are available at B.A.M. at 6 Po Yan Street in Sheung Wan and Stan Cafe in Stanley Village - both on Hong Kong Island.
That yummy one square inch of mouth-watering cheese was the only piece of non-liquid food I consumed all afternoon!
The event was held at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, Hong Kong, in Wanchai on Hong Kong Island. It is located adjacent to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
According to Hailey So, Digital Marketing Specialist, the above pictured items will be served at the hotel's buffet restaurant during Le French May.
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