Interview: Chantal Chi on wine, wineries and wine books

– By Jim Boyce

Chantal Chi is the newest contributor to The Grape Wall of China. To kick off Chantal’s participation, I interviewed her about how she got involved in wine, her upcoming books, and more.

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How did you first get interested in wine?

It was 1998. I was working in France and one day I ate in a Michelin-star restaurant. The sommelier did some “magic” by pairing my wine and food. I asked myself, “How can this liquid – meaning the wine – be so magical?” This fabulous experience brought me into the world of wine.

I only started to write about wine after I spent three years tasting and learning, since I understood at once that wine is something you need to try and to study a lot. It’s not something you can start writing about after drinking a few bottles.

I also took several courses at the Universite du Vin in the south of France, then in Bourgogne and Bordeaux. But I learned much more on the spot, when I visited and talked with people in the wine industry.

What do you see as the biggest consumer trend in China’s wine market and where are things headed?

Right now, there is too much emphasis on drinking wine because it is fashionable. Over the next few years, we will see wine “beginners” become much more knowledgeable. The more wines they try, the more they will upgrade their palates. As this happens, they will become interested in more complex wines and fulfill their dreams of going to wineries.

You’ve interviewed wine personalities worldwide. What is their attitude toward China’s market and Chinese wines?

They are curious about China and its market, although they assume that Chinese wine itself is probably bad. They are both happy at the potential of selling wine to China and worried about how to succeed here.

Based on your travels to wineries, which regions are your favorites?

In terms of landscape, my favorites are Alsace in France, the central Otago region in New Zealand, Cachapoal Valley in Chile, and Tuscany in Italy. In terms of the people, I would say Alsace, Bourgogne, and anywhere in Italy. And when it comes to wine – well, the region does not matter. All that matters is if the wine is good.

When you want to relax in Shanghai and have some wine, where do you go?

I stay home. One reason is that I dislike the smoke in bars and restaurants.

What I drink at home depends on what matches with the food I am eating – this goes back to that first French sommelier in 1998 and my “baptism” in pairing food and wine. I try to select wines that are mature or appropriate, so I often open my fridge and then decide not to drink anything. The wines are simply not suitable or too young.

Patience is worthwhile and a “must” if you want to get the best out of your wine. Many drinkers are in a hurry and they open bottles that are not yet ready.

Tell us about your upcoming books.

The book covers five major wine regions in France and 150 wineries – my partner and I visited all of them. The book is in Chinese, took three years of visits and interviews, and will be published around Chinese New Year. I hope to give basic information to beginners as well as insights to more knowledgeable wine people.

I have two more books in the works. One is about New World wine and will cover the key areas in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. The other will look at three wine regions in Italy and five in Spain, based on my trips there.

There are many people now writing about wine, but not because they’re deeply passionate about it. My goal is  to share my wine experiences and my passion. I want to show people how they can enjoy wine, and that they do not need to be influenced by things such as wine ranking systems.

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