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Friday Fishwrap
$600 Chinese Wine

By Stephen Eliot

A long time ago in my now dimly recalled youth before I abandoned good sense and chose wine as my profession, I spent my time in the study of all things Chinese and was on track for an academic career in modern Chinese history. We called ourselves “China watchers” in graduate school, and the object of our fascination was still removed and mysterious. I enjoyed a good glass when I could, and the interest in wine was beginning to take hold, but the thought that Mao’s China might ultimately impact the world wine market the way that it has was beyond imagination.

Anyone with even a remote interest in wine is well aware of the dramatic influence that latter-day China has had on the prices of the world’s finest wines over the last several years. The great growths of Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundies have become dearer than ever as a result of Chinese demand. The “cult” Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa Valley such as Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family and Harlan have similarly become trophies in a transformed economy marked by wild and sudden success, and ambitious projects such as Yao Family Wines of Napa Valley have clearly targeted the very lucrative Chinese market.

Now, word comes of an aspirational home-grown bottling from Chateau Hansen in Wuhai near the Gobi desert. The “chateau” which already produces wines from varietals such as Riesling, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and the mysterious, not-quite-sure-what-it-is Cabernet Gernischt (sic) and makes close to 200,000 cases of wine is planning to release a special, single-site, organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon from nearby Ningxia. Labeled as “Red Camel”, the wine is intended to sell for the equivalent of 500 Euros a bottle or about $650.00 US in the domestic Chinese market.

Made by Bruno Paumard, sommelier and winemaker late of the Loire Valley, Red Camel apparently consists of a blend of early- and late-harvested grapes from the 2010 vintage, the latter of which are picked when the vine has effectively shut down and the grapes have begun to shrivel. Mssr. Paumard refers to Red Camel simply as “the best wine we can do.”

I have yet to taste the Red Camel, and, even if it is ever imported to the USA, I am not likely to do so unless someone else picks up the tab. Still, I wonder at what goes on in the new world of Chinese viniculture and marvel at the very idea of a $650.00 wine from the North China plain.

The world may have become a smaller, more homogenous place, and the exotic, incomprehensible Orient may not be what it once was, but for all of its western trappings, it seems that China is still a land of surprises.


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