By Jim Boyce
I have been fortunate over the past year to taste a world of wines with fellow consumers and to meet some of China’s and the world’s key wine figures. Last night offered another such occasion when I met Jean-Michel Cazes of Chateau Lynch-Bages to chat about China’s wine scene. First, a handful of things I learned from Cazes during our talk:
- He made his first visit to China 18 years ago. “My first organized tasting was in 1990, just for the local consumers, and they didn’t like wine at all,” he said.
- He thought China’s wine market would develop slowly, but a psychological shift happened: “People started to talk about red wine being good for health.”
- Despite increased interest in wine in China, he still sees it, including on his current trip, being used more as a traditional social tool (bottoms up!) than for pleasure.
- He visited several wineries around Beijing. His talks with management and observations of the equipment convince him that some producers in China are serious about making better wine.
- China is still a fairly small market for Lynch-Bages, taking about 5 percent of production, but is growing fast.
Cazes should qualify for a gold medal for Olympic event attendance: On Sunday, he caught the US-Brazil volleyball finals and then jumped into a car and made it to the US-Spain basketball finals. “The Olympic lane [on the highways] is excellent,” he said, with a laugh.
I brought a bottle of “Vintage” 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, an export brand manufactured in Xinjiang and that has a back label in Dutch and French. Ironically, Cazes discovered on that label the name of a friend who had been involved in his early wine tastings in China. Even more ironically, the friend’s wife and Cazes’ wife were next door having dinner. If that doesn’t call for uncorking the bottle, I don’t know what does.
Fairly light in color for a Cabernet Sauvignon, it had a simple body with some cherry flavors and a good shake of pepper, and not a great deal of tannin or acidity. “It doesn’t have the focus or the body of a general Bordeaux, but it’s decent,” said Cazes, and he upped his opinion after trying it with his steak as we polished off the bottle.
See also: This Wine Spectator video with Jean-Michel Cazes.