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When Bordeaux Meets Beijing

China discovers it has a taste for Chateau Lafite Rothschild—possibly mixed with Sprite.

8:25 AM, Dec 27, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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In his recent Wall Street Journal column, Jay McInerney returned to the wines of Bordeaux. They might not be trendy but they are still very drinkable (such as a $28 bottle of Chateau Jean Faux, Bordeaux Superieur, 2007). Of course it's also hard to beat the Grand Cru's and First Growths he samples (awfully nice friends he has). But McInerney makes the interesting observation that the most expensive bottles are being purchased by the Chinese.

More recently, [Lafite] has become the object of a kind of cult in China. A November Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong ratcheted up the market even further. Three bottles of the 1869 vintage sold for $232,692 each, about the price of a new Ferrari California. This wine is obviously a great rarity, but cases of the 1982 vintage, still widely available on world auction markets, sold for $131,859, or more than $10,000 per bottle. This kind of madness may gladden the hearts of auctioneers and first-growth château owners, but it tends to depress the average wine drinker and to harden the perception of Bordeaux as a commodity rather than a beverage.

A liquor lobbyist informs me India and China are the next big markets for booze, and that the Indians, who much enjoy Scotch, are a bit more knowledgeable than their neighbors to the north (perhaps owing to their colonial past). In passing, McInerney notes, "One hopes at least that [the Chinese] don't really mix their Lafite with Sprite, a persistent rumor." But a brand ambassador to one whisky distillery recently told me he actually witnessed on a trip to China one fellow mixing what he thought was a Chateau Margeaux with Coca-Cola.

The horror! The horror! Which is why, as I have stated on many occasions, education is so important. Hence, the brand ambassadors. The Indians are quite aware of this—on a trip to Champagne, France, I met a small group from India who were learning all about the bubbly. Meanwhile, our good friends at the Distilled Spirits Council recently invited another Indian contingent to Kentucky. For if they like Scotch, one hopes, they're probably going to enjoy Bourbon. (Just imagine a billion drinkers of Maker's Mark!)

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