The Chinese connection
by Dereck Foster
For the Herald
Today, when world economics and politics are discussed, nobody is surprised if the name of China crops up. Rather, surprise is evident when China is not mentioned at all. This is true, surprisingly, in the world of wine as well, even though the popular image of China is of many things, but hardly of a wine drinking nation. However, recent indications of the surging presence of China on the world stage clearly tell us that wine is an increasingly important item on the Chinese shopping list.
The consumption of wine in China, spurred by the birth of an ever expanding middle class, was of around 100 percent in 2011 and is showing no signs of slacking. The greatest proportion of this consumption was of French wines. The image of France is largely based on the image of its wines, its chateaux and its countryside. As a result slick Chinese businessmen are taking advantage to meld this image into one of wine consumption and tourism. The method is simple: buy French wineries and not only make and sell their wines, but convert their chateaux into luxury hotels to cater for the Chinese tourist.
According to recent statistics, the number of French wineries already in the hands of Chinese owners total around 15 and the end is not in sight. For the present, however, the great Bordeaux chateaux and Burgundy estates are not in danger. The Chinese are aiming for the smaller. Less known wines which are less expensive but which bear the necessary “Product of France” label.
Some 80% or more of these wines go to China, and most of its white Grand Cru wines are avoided for the present because they are still a cut above the average Chinese wine drinker, but who knows when a Laffite-Gung Ho appears on the market?
All this activity — still small by today’s standards — is carried on in spite of the fact that China ranks as 10th in the ranking of wine producing nations. The attraction of French wine over local brands is evident but could cause confusion in years to come. One minor problem has already shown up. Many Chinese purchasers of wine estates discover — too late perhaps — that the fact that they have bought a chateaux does not mean buying a stately home or castle. In many cases, they find they own a rundown edifice which produces wine — yes, but not much visual pleasure.
Which is the most expensive wine in Argentina? This question is occasionally asked, and rarely properly answered. Several factors have to be considered, not least of which is whether the wine is openly on sale or kept back for special occasions/people. According to Descorchardos, the recently published guide to Argentine wines, the most expensive red wine is the Weinert Malbec Estrella 94 quoted at 1000 pesos. This wine is not the best red wine, however, as according to the points the guide has given, it only merits 94 points, behind the Carmelo Patti Malbec 2007 (95 pesos), the Benegas Libertad Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (99 pesos) and the Lagarde Pimeras Viñas Malbec 2008, (160 pesos). All merit 94 points, save the Patti, with 95. How does one analyze this difference in prices amongst wines which are, for all practical reasons, equal? It is the strong argument possible in favour of avoiding the purchase on a price basis. Frequently the lowest price offers the best quality, (and pleasure).
And speaking of pleasure, I discovered that amongst the bottles of Antología XXV (mentioned last Sunday), I discovered a bottle of the Antología X — a 2003 Malbec . Again, I discovered a world of complete pleasure, although this wine is not a blend, but a mix of two Malbec vineyards, grown at different heights. In the 350 peso price range, this wine is as good as — if not better — than those mentioned above.