By Jim Boyce
According to this story by Jonathan Kaiman in The Telegraph, the Aussie wine that aficionados love to hate — Yellowtail — played a part in the recent demise of a Chinese official:
Zhang Aihua did what he could to appease the outraged mob that burst into his private party, shocked as they were to witness tables strewn with rare Yangtze river fish and imported wine. He knelt on a table, picked up a loudhailer, and begged for forgiveness….
But his pleas went unheeded. When Zhang was fired on Monday, he became the latest victim of president Xi Jinping’s frugality and anti-corruption drive – an effort fuelled in no small part by an exasperated public set on exposing the country’s extreme wealth gap with mobile phone cameras and microblogs.
“I was outside and saw a lot of people, so rushed up to see what the commotion was,” said Jia Hongwei, a web forum administrator in Taizhou who captured the video at the industrial park’s “entertainment centre” where Zhang was hosting at least 20 colleagues and investors around three well-stocked tables.
Jia’s video shows a rambunctious flow of people cascading through narrow hallways and blowing past a smattering of helpless police officers in white safety helmets. The camera hones in on plates of mostly-eaten fish – poisonous pufferfish, long-tailed anchovy and largehead hairtail, according to onlookers – as well as top-shelf bottles of Chinese rice liquor and Australian Yellowtail wine.
Given his fate, I wonder if Zhang laments choosing Yellowtail over Lafite — or a bottle or two of Penfolds Grange. In any case, the story underscores the current risk to officials of spending too much on food and drink. While there is an argument that the government’s austerity program has simply served, at least in part, to push spending underground and that emptier restaurants belie increased private entertaining, the wine distributors I have talked to say they are feeling the pinch and cite up to 50-percent drops in sales for their highest-end imported bottles. It would be interesting to know the situation with the Chinese equivalents, and I mean equivalent in terms of price not quality, namely, those local wines that cost a hundred Euros or more but would fail spectacularly in a taste test against the much cheaper Yellowtail. Given that context, maybe Zhang wasn’t spending so recklessly on wine after all.