Was the Ningxia-Bordeaux Challenge unfair to French wines? Non

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It depends on your perspective. Different wine contests are designed to discover different things.

Our Grape Wall Challenge at Modo asked Chinese consumers to judge wines that retail for under rmb100 and to tell us what they liked.

The more recent North by Northwest Challenge at Hilton Beijing asked three groups — wine experts, reporters, and chefs and bartenders — what they thought of 24 wines from wineries in regions such as Shanxi, Gansu and Xinjiang.

Yesterday’s Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge, organized with TasteV at Zun Cellar, also had a purpose. It asked five Chinese and five French judges to blind taste five Ningxia and five Bordeaux wines. Ningxia took the top four spots in the challenge and there has since been criticism of the Bordeaux wines we used.

We never claimed this was the Beijing version of The Judgment of Paris. Or that we were pairing Ningxia wines with the best of Bordeaux. We used a price range to compare top Ningxia wines with bigger and better-known Bordeaux brands sold here by major distributors — brands consumers are more likely to know and have access to. That is the basis I used when working with Tony Wang of TasteV and sommelier Nicolas Carre to create the lineup of wines.

In China, a bottle of Grace Vineyard Deep Blue is rmb298, a bottle of Barons de Rothschild Collection Saga Medoc is rmb350 and a bottle of Silver Heights The Summit is rmb416. That is a price reality consumers face in China. To have the opinion of ten judges on these wines — to see whether they chose Deep Blue, Saga or Summit — is of interest.

Let me address two specific criticisms of the contest.

The first is that Bordeaux wines face 48% in taxes and this makes it unfair to compare them with Chinese wines of the same price.

Today I called Alberto Fernandez at Torres China re the ~50% in taxes on imported wines. Torres distributes three of the wines in the contest — one French (Mouton Cadet) and two Chinese (Grace, Silver Heights). Fernandez told me French wines face ~48% in taxes. But he said Chinese wines also face a consumption tax and a value-added tax. These reduce the gap from ~48% to just under 20%. This would significantly diminish the claim about pricing unfairness.

The second is that Bordeaux would have done better if we used estate wines.

Maybe. Yesterday’s tasting suggested Ningxia wines can hold their own against bigger Bordeaux brands, which are not only enjoyed the world over but also, in the case of our contest, retail for up to rmb350. I think that is of interest to consumers at large and hope it gets people opening some bottles. A nice follow up would be to compare those Ningxia wines against smaller hand-picked Bordeaux estates. I think that would be of more interest to those knowledgeable about wine. Someone should organize such an event and I would be willing to help out if needed. I can be reached by email at beijingboyce (at) yahoo.com or via my Weibo or Twitter accounts.

3 Comments on Was the Ningxia-Bordeaux Challenge unfair to French wines? Non

  1. Matt Kawecki // December 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm //

    Isn’t Grace Vineyard in Shanxi?

  2. @ Matt,

    Good question. Grace Vineyard is based in Shanxi but has a vineyard in Ningxia (and in Shaanxi, for that matter). I guess the contest could have been called Ningxia & Shanxi vs Bordeaux, but it wouldn’t have been as catchy.

    Speaking of Shanxi, a former Petrus wine maker is now consulting on a vineyard there. Should be interesting to see what he is putting out in a few years.

    Cheers, Boyce

  3. “A nice follow up would be to compare those Ningxia wines against smaller hand-picked Bordeaux estates” This is what I meant in my previous comment. When do we do it? ^-^

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