With wine as one of the fastest-growing sectors in the auction market, it comes as no surprise that Christie’s is expanding its team of passionate and talented experts to serve the growing appetite of clients around the world. This season we welcome Simon Tam, recently appointed Head of Wine in China, whose longstanding experience developing and nurturing the Chinese Wine Market will be highly valued by Christie’s international network of clients and specialists. Eva-Maria Dimitriadis catches up with him after his first few weeks in the Hong Kong office to find out his views on the Chinese Wine Market, the language of wine, and his pioneering iPad app, Flavour Colours.
When did you realise you were passionate about wine?
I literally grew up in my family’s restaurants in Australia where good food, good wines and good friends were daily norms. But I must admit that I only became truly passionate about wine when I was old enough to drink. It has been a large part of my life since then. It is almost cliché but my first memorable mouthful of wine was an orgasmic taste of 1961 Château Lafite tasted in the early ‘80s. It was actually a half bottle that I ‘borrowed’ from my mother’s cellar. I loved the perfume but my high school friends thought it tasted better with a splash of coca cola!
How did you acquire the wealth of knowledge that made you an award-winning wine consultant?
It was a wonderful recognition from the Wine Industry ‘bible’ Wine Business International. It has taken 20 years of hard work and an intimate knowledge of the China market, and of course a lot of satisfied customers as well.
What inspired you to join Christie’s?
It was a very natural progression. China is currently the epicentre of the fine wine market, and Christie’s is synonymous with the finest in the world. To head up Christie’s ever-expanding China team is a great honour and I am filled with excitement to be here.
You recently developed an iPad app called Flavour Colours. Could you tell us more about the theory behind it?
The principles of Flavour Colours consider taste holistically: not just the science of four basic flavours but also seasonality, our mood and our individual expectations of what wines and foods will make a good match. Flavour Colours divides wine and food flavours into just four categories: Blond, Ivory, Tan and Brown. By accurately defining which colour tone each food and wine belong to, pairing them is made simple. It is intrinsically delicious and it will work time after time.
For example: The Blond Flavour Colour brings to mind the zestiness of fresh lemon, delicate white flower blossoms, an invigorating sunny day with gentle sea breezes. The freshness of young Riesling and vividness of fruity Sauvignon Blanc... Steamed fish with heady ginger or the penetrating freshness of green peppercorn.
The Brown Flavour Colour offers warmth; a sense of safety and comfort. It is fulfilling and satisfying. It has a heartiness that feeds the soul. A matured old red, dark chocolate truffles, braised ox tail, the scent of an old leather Chesterfield and exotic spices of cigars are all Brown Flavour Colour.
I developed Flavour Colours with the goal to demystify and introduce some common sense in food and wine pairing. I hope it will be useful to anyone who loves to eat and drink.
What is your best experience so far at Christie’s?
On my fourth day I took telephone bids for the first time ever. The client I spoke to was very happy because I secured his favourite wines at good prices. I had butterflies in my stomach each time the gavel came pounding down on the rostrum. It was truly exhilarating.
What is the biggest change you have noticed in the wine market within the past year?
Wine prices are veering towards those seen in the real world of luxury, a realm of limited collectables. But this is still so far off and investment opportunities are still incredible! Fine wine is still undervalued when you compare the scarcity and pleasure that it offers to say art or antique. This current era is just the beginning of true growth in the wine industry.
In addition to your role as Head of Wine for Christie’s China, you also serve on several advisory committees in the wine industry. What do your responsibilities involve?
I serve on a number of the Hong Kong SAR wine industry’s related committees. The primary role is to advise the government departments and safeguard Hong Kong’s reputation and future growth as a world wine trading hub. These committees involve wine storage and best practices in the wine industry.
You also have experience in wine education and have spoken at major wine conferences worldwide. What is the greatest lesson you have learnt from doing this?
Speak the audience’s language! I don’t mean Greek or Italian, but words and references that relate to their culture and cuisine. When I was in Portugal, one of my stories involved Cristiano Ronaldo, possibly Portugal’s most famous export! Having a sense of humour also helps, especially when technology is not behaving the way it should.
What is the most important rule for wine collectors?
I would say ‘follow your nose’ and buy what you like. Do not be swayed by critics’ scores and points. However good a wine critic is, he can’t predict what you will like. But buying based on critics’ high ratings may also end up costing you more than necessary.