La revue du vin de France (RVF) reports on a session during Vinexpo (June 19, 2013) focusing on the Chinese approach to wine. Moderated by RVF editor Denis Saverot, the discussion extended beyond questions of taste differences to the definition of quality and the potential of the Chinese market.
Senior RVF taster Olivier Poels indicated that top French wines were sought out for prestige, “not at all for their taste.” He suggested the Chinese prefer tea with food, turning to alcoholic beverages later in the meal. Acquiring a predilection for wines of quality, Poels concluded, “requires a long apprenticeship.” He was also critical of many Chinese wines, saying some harvest when grapes are still green, and that many wines are riddled with faults or “undrinkable.” It will take another 50 years, he claims, for China to produce “true terroir wines with a soul.” Mei Hong, a wine buyer living in Burgundy, countered with the observation that new middle class Chinese consumers “drink for pleasure and seek to educate their palates.” Saying the situation is positive and evolving rapidly, she remarked that “China is vast and very diverse – there is not a single Chinese taste but an infinity of perceptions.”
This optimistic view was tempered by Stéphane Derenoncourt, consultant to many estates in Bordeaux and elsewhere. He said that he had encountered many Chinese in the wine business who “did not even know what they were selling.” Saying that he is approached twice a month to consult in China or for Chinese-owned properties in France, Derenoncourt indicated he refuses such offers because the projects are motivated by the aim of making money rather than “the desire to make wines of quality.” Furthermore, he does not want to see certain Bordeaux appellations transformed into “Chinatowns.”
On the central question of taste, it was reported that French and Chinese subjects were given the same molecule to evaluate. The French identified strawberry while the Chinese recalled pineapple. It turns out that the molecule is found in both: each group recognized a fruit found more commonly in their own culture. On the other hand, it is clear that perceptions of tastes differ significantly. Given the intensity of the exchanges, RVF concludes that these questions warrant additional debates.