At the welcoming banquet hosted by Zhou En Lai, the Chinese orchestra played “Home on the Range.” Americans at home were grooving to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and the Fifth Dimension’s “Last Night I Didn’t Get Any Sleep at All.”
At the official welcoming banquet, the Chinese were equally inept with wine selection. A potent libation called Maotai was served. Maotai is named for its town of origin and is made from distilled sorghum.
At Nixon’s reciprocal departing banquet, he served a blanc de blanc California sparkling wine from Schramsberg. The Chinese dignitaries likely found it as repulsive as Nixon found Maotai (although it is said that Nixon matched Zhou En Lai glass for glass of this noxious substance).
In 2012 — the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s historic visit — the Chinese would likely have no problems with wine selection.
Last year, California wine exports to China were valued at $62 million — up 42 percent from the previous year, according to The Wine Institute, a California wine advocacy wine group. This does not include exports to Hong Kong of $163 million, up 39 percent from the previous year.
China is now America’s fifth largest export market by value, and continued growth is expected.
In Bordeaux, China and Hong Kong account for 60 percent of the region’s total export market. The affluent Chinese love Bordeaux. (Ironically, Nixon did as well.)
Needless to say, wine trade agencies from all wine-making countries are lobbying the Chinese to allow importation of their wines.
Bordeaux is leading the way in trying to encourage the Chinese to ease trade restrictions and excessive tariffs on wine. Bordeaux has more to lose than other wine-producing regions. Bordeaux’s excessive pricing for classified growths has driven away some of its more loyal customers from Europe and America.
Because there is such demand for pricey Bordeaux wines in China, there has been an upsurge in Chinese counterfeits (not surprising for a nation so adept at making knockoffs of every designer bag known to man).
Chinese authorities have approached the CIVB, a Bordeaux wine trade body, for help in identifying forgeries.
Many counterfeit Chinese wines use a play on words to attract buyers. Wines have appeared in Chinese markets with names like Forlatour or Margaux Grand Reserve Chateau French Tour — pirating parts of the names of pricey Bordeaux first growths Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux.
Lax Chinese wine laws permit wine to come from anywhere and be called anything.
China does produce domestic wines from real grapes like chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, but this ancient culture’s wine industry is in its infancy.
Affluent Chinese eschew their native wines, instead buying fine Bordeaux — not necessarily for their own consumption, but to give as gifts to dignitaries and tycoons. To give a lesser wine would result in loss of face.
It will be interesting to see how basketball phenom Yao Ming fares in the Chinese wine market when his Yao Family Napa Valley cabernet hits the market at $289 per bottle in China.
As more Chinese young people gain affluence, interest in wine is growing. With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, there is a lot of room for growth. Domestic production will inevitably get bigger and better.
Already, a Chinese wine — He Lan Qing Xue’s Jia Bei Lan 2009 cabernet blend — won a gold medal in Decanter Magazine’s 2011 World Wine Competition.
Decanter, a London-based wine magazine, plans to launch a Chinese language version of the magazine this fall.
Contact Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org.