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Simon Tam: "Buy what is a pleasure to drink!"

by Marion Topitschnig
Simon Tam is an internationally sought-after expert for fine wine and wine auctions

The international wine auction and fine wine expert reveals ahead of his appearance at Arlberg Weinberg in Lech, he reveals what is important at wine auctions, why you should always trust your taste and which wine he believes has legendary status.

Simon Tam is one of the most sought-after wine experts in Asia. He will be coming to Lech as a speaker for the first time to discuss the topic of 'International Fine Wines' on December 12 together with a top-class panel at Arlberg Weinberg.

"I have been so looking forward to Arlberg Weinberg (what a clever, catchy name!). I hope to meet some old friends while making some new ones. I am sure there will be lots of exchanges and new things to learn," Simon Tam told Wine+Partners from Macau.

Champagne & Bordeaux

"Even as a young child, I worked in my parents' restaurant," says Simon Tam, whose family emigrated to the South Australian city of Adelaide in the 1970s. At first, he peeled carrots and descaled fish. When he was old enough, Tam switched to service, where he came into contact with wine for the first time. "My family did not know much about wine they they knew what was expensive and therefore mainly sold good Champagne and Bordeaux Premier Crus," he laughs. Eventually, he followed Tim, his best friend from high school, to wine making college. His path into the wine industry was sealed.

Breaking down barriers

"In my 37-year career, there is very little I haven't done," says Simon Tam. One of the highlights of his career was undoubtedly his time as head of the wine department for the auction house Christie's in Asia. He held this position for more than ten years.

"Auction houses can be quite intimidating and the process of bidding is rather daunting," Tam notes. After his time at Christie's, he therefore founded his own company, AEOS Auctions, with the aim of making exceptional wines and wine auctions more accessible to a wider audience.

"I wanted to make the auction process friendly and enjoyable - not intimidating."

Simon offers wine lovers and collectors a low-threshold offer. At the same time, he also sees a dynamic development on the buyer side. More experience and awareness leads to more critical customers – and that's a good thing! "People have learnt that the bulk of wines offered at auction are not as rare as they claim." It is therefore often not necessary to "bid to the maximum", he says. In addition, according to his observations, the prices for quite a few "trophy wines" have stabilised, and in some cases they have even fallen slightly.

What is Fine Wine?

Even before Simon Tam discusses this question in an international context with industry colleagues in Lech, he has a very personal answer:

"For me, a fine wine is a wine that offers incomparable drinking pleasure. Importantly, it is not always reflected by a lofty price tag or in auction world records."

Of course, "fine wines" are mostly legendary wines. "I'm a big, big fan of Madeira. I find it amusing that the style as we know it today was actually created by an 'accident' in the 15th century. Since then, the effect of this historic voyage has been imitated in vinification. With rare wines, one bottle opened is one fewer in the world. This is particularly true for very, very old Madeira. That's why we treat these wines with great respect."

Sorting fine wines in a cellar
Wine buyers should pay attention to a few things at auctions.

Tips for wine auctions

Simon Tam has five tips for anyone starting to build up a wine collection and thinking about buying at wine auctions:

  1. Know what you like to drink. Although your taste will change over time, only buy wines that you enjoy drinking.

  2. Keep tasting and tasting and then taste some more. Never stop and observe the development of your own preferences.

  3. Be open-minded and do your homework. The world of wine is incredibly vast. You will therefore often find wines that you like, even though they are not "famous". And then that's a great bargain!

  4. Be disciplined as it is very easy to get caught up in the bidding frenzy. Bid only on what you really want, and here you go for the top price for each lot. Most wines will reappear in future auctions anyway. 

  5.  Keep all receipts and proof of purchase, including auction catalogues and associated documentation. Provenance is an extremely important factor for valuable wines. The documentation will be invaluable if you wish to bring wines to future auctions.

About Simon Tam

Simon Tam grew up in Australia as the child of Chinese migrants. He worked in his parents' restaurant from an early age and came into contact with fine wines for the first time. After studying at wine college, Tam worked as a wine consultant for the South Australian government and, as he says himself, "worked as a winemaker for a few years". He then moved to Hong Kong, where he opened the megacity's first wine school in the early 1990s.

The demand for wine experts grew, and many wine producing countries discovered the great potential of the Chinese market. Simon Tam took on an important role as a bridge between the two worlds. "I worked closely with the Swiss, Portuguese, New Zealand, Italian and French winegrowers' associations to promote the sale of their wines in China". Tam travelled around the world, tasting and evaluating wines.

"It was an amazing education and I got to meet the most amazing wine professionals from all over the world."

After around ten years, Simon Tam was appointed head of the wine department at the renowned global auction house Christie's, initially for China and then for the entire Asian region. He is particularly proud that he was "the first Chinese in the 250-year history of the company to head the wine department."

Ten years later, Tam founded his own fine wine auction house, AEOS Auctions, to make wine auctions more accessible. "A year ago, I also launched a new project: Flavour Colours - a revolutionary and comprehensive wine and food pairing tool."

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