Burgundy in Beijing: The Louis Latour wine dinner

By Jim Boyce

I had neither eaten at the Whampoa Club in Beijing nor drunk the wines of Louis Latour, so when Pernod Ricard invited me to try both at a “launch” dinner on May 31, I jumped at the chance. I put some mileage on my legs finding the club and, once inside, some strain on my eyes trying to spot a familiar face in the courtyard. I finally walked over to a stranger who stood alone. “Is this where the Latour dinner is being held?” I asked. “I hope so,” he replied. “I’m Latour.

Pernod Ricard Louis Latour Dinner at Whampoa Club

That was fortuitous and gave me a chance to talk with him briefly about the recent visit of Robert Parker (“he’s a good guy”), the “wine bubble” (have sales really kept pace with imports?), and his experience in China (he’s been to Hong Kong many times, but this is his first trip to the “mainland”). The 40 guests were then herded inside to try five wines paired with Chinese cuisine.

Latour began by talking about the winery’s history in China. He said it entered the market 15 years ago and holds a strong position in Hong Kong restaurants. He also described an early visit his father made with a group of “friendly competitors” from Burgundy and added that promotion of the region’s wines remains a challenge. “China is known as a big Bordeaux market,” said Latour. “We want to be here with our Point Noir. This is the biggest challenge today.”

As for the wines, I enjoyed the whites very much. The Macon-Lugny ‘Les Genievres’ 2006 (Chardonnay) was lovely and fresh, while the Corton Charlemagne 2003 had a complex nose – I smelled honey and white flowers, then pears and tropical fruit (pineapples?), a clean body, nice minerality, and a good finish.

As for the reds, both the Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2006 and the Aloxe Corton 2005 had red fruit (cherry) aromas, with the second having more fruit and earth flavors. The last wine, the Chateau Corton-Grancy 2003, had ample dark fruit and some spiciness, though I found it a bit too tannic.

As for the food-wine pairing, this is rarely easy with Chinese cuisine. Take the starter: it included cucumbers in vinegar, vegetables in a spicy sauce, a tofu roll, fungus, and other items, a difficult combination with which to pair a wine. Of the dishes we tried, my notes indicate the reds did best with the roasted pigeon with Sichuan peppercorns and scallions, primarily because the spice was turned to low.

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