A bubbly to honor a Communist icon. A blend of Cabernet and cabaret. And a bottle that brings DRC and Lafite together at last. Some of the weird and wonderful wine labels spotted in China over the past few years.
I included 15 labels in a special issue of my China wine newsletter GWoC Talk last night. From ‘Old Man‘, with its hint of spent youth, to a back label that doesn’t give — or rather does give — a “sweet fuck”.
I’m posting them here, too, and hope you enjoy them as much as I do. And look for more labels at this tumbler account and occasionally on this blog. Finally, if you are a regular reader, you might have seen a few of the labels below, but most of them are making their debut.
Moistens your lung
What does Foreign Girl taste like? Strawberries. I got this bottle, made by Chang Bai Shan in the northeast province of Jilin, at Carrefour a few years back. Along with grapes, it includes wolfberry, which is commonly used as medicine. The label description (reproduced with typos):
“The wine is clear and transparent with bright color and lustre, mellow and tastelasting with charming fruity taste. Thanks to the nut ritions such as amino acid,vitamin C,vitamin B1, vitaminB2, schisandra element, schisandra alcohol, volate oil and multiple microelements, the wine moistens the lung,enriches the.”
OK, it moistens the lung. But it enriches the… what? I would say the global stockpile of unintentional humor.
Imagine the tasting notes for this bottle of Old Man. ‘Prune and faint tobacco aromas, with a whiff of spent youth. The body is a bit flabby but still shows complexity, providing a wrinkle of dried fruit and a finish that strongly disapproves of today’s youth.’ Perfect for retirement or sixtieth birthday parties. Spotted in Yantai in Shandong province.
A sweet, er, screw up
It might not exist on the “aroma wheel” but the translators didn’t shy away from using “sweet fuck” on the back label of this Alice White wine from Australia. Consider it the equivalent of when Robert Parker describes a wine as “rich“. Which is all the time. But don’t expect it to apply if you blend the Foreign Girl and Old Man wines.
Silver Heights in Ningxia makes my favorite Chinese wines and some of the best labels. The subdued paper color, elegant typeface, and imagery based on thousand-year-old rock art from the nearby Helan Mountain range all work to evoke history via modern design. Plus, the wine comes in regular and big sizes. (I believe the latter are called ‘magnums’. I will drink one and find out.)
Wine of the times
China witnessed turbulent times as the grapes for this vintage grew in Shandong. Yangtze River floods killed millions, the Mukden Incident saw Japan push through Manchuria, and former China leader Mao Zedong established the Chinese Soviet Republic as the Kuomintang sought to stop him. This label is evidence of a wine-making history in China that is older than most think but, ultimately, it evokes something much more significant — a crucial year in China’s past.
Pairs well with spam
E-mail Dry Red Wine from top-three producer Great Wall speaks to an era that might so easily have produced LOL Wine, Hacker Wine and Pwn Wine. Hate it? Click delete. Love it. Forward to friends. Hungry? Pair with spam. Etc. Modern times suggest we might need an update, perhaps 50 Cent Party Wine or Weibo Wine.
This annual Chinese New Year wine by Grace Vineyard gets a new name each spring. The bottle at right? It’s called Tao Fu and is a nod to the lucky charms hung during the holidays. It’s also a family affair as the owner’s children take turns picking poems for the labels. And the source of many squabbles. Forget the wine, I’ve seen people argue over who gets to keep the bottles.
I can’t place the accent
You don’t see a lot of white wine from Romanee-Conti here in Beijing. Made at a winery in southern France. That apparently involved the Rothschild family, of Lafite fame, given the use of that “five arrows” logo. But… well, I’m not an expert or anything, but something just doesn’t seem right with this bottle. Oh, wait, I know. There should be an accent aigu on the first “e” in “Romanee”! Almost fooled me! (Photo provided by Dominique Bonnel.)
For thinkers and drinkers
This bottle is named for Li Hua, who graduated from University of Bordeaux in the mid-eighties and returned to China to become something of a legend. He teaches at Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi Province. This bottle is said to date from the early 1990s and is more proof of the close link between studying and drinking.
Makers of The Grunge and Pin 82?
An extra stroke when writing Chinese characters makes a big difference. Add a stroke to big (大) and get dog (犬), one more to king (王) and get jade (玉). Similarly, add a stroke to “P” in Penfolds and you get something that would not impress chief winemaker Peter Gago, although I bet Beter Gogo of Benfolds just loves it. (This isn’t actually taken from a bottle but from a promo bag spotted at the Chengdu wine fair. If anyone has a bottle shot, please let me know.)
Waiting for ‘3000 BC’
1421 is made in Xinjiang, bottled in Shandong, sold throughout China, and gets its name from a book that claims legendary Chinese admiral Zheng He discovered Australia, Antarctica, South America, North America, well, pretty much everything else except Atlantis. This theory isn’t so much hotly disputed as it is dismissed by academics but it does make for an interesting brand and label. From the back:
“1421…..the year Admiral Zheng He, leading one of the largest fleets ever seen, sailed to many, many parts of the world. Wine much like travel, has served as a link between different cultures, people and countries. Today at the beginning of the 21st century, 1421 follows the same mission as Admiral Zheng He, sharing his spirit for a better world.”
You can find 1421 in Metro stores and in restaurants and hotels. But I’m holding out for a wine called ‘3000 BC‘. It’s based on an upcoming book about an ancient catapult in remote China used to send someone to the moon five thousand years ahead of the Americans. Just saying…
The yolks on Cru
This label takes a playful shot at the fascination in China with Premier Grand Cru. It depicts egg splattered on images of the chateaux of Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild. Imported to China by Label France, and spotted at The Loop, it’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Oh, you said cabaret
If you plan to do a vanity wine, don’t mess with peace signs, silly grins or deer-in-the-headlights looks. Instead, make an effort — dress up, strike a pose, affect an attitude. Own that label. Some might smirk at this bottle, on display at Changyu Moser in Ningxia, but they probably can’t carry that dress as well.
The finish has kick
People love to ape Lafite by simply changing a letter or two of the name or lifting the imagery. Thus, one April Fool’s Day we had local producer “I.P. Hu” merge two legends — French wine and Chinese martial arts — to create “Chateau Lafight“:
“Hu offers several grades of wine that he… denotes by colored belts on the necks of the bottles. A white belt contains imported bulk wine from Bulgaria, while a blue belt and black belt contain imported bulk wine from Chile and Australia respectively. Although Hu is considering a platinum belt, the highest level at the moment is the red belt, since that color is considered lucky in China…. It also retails for RMB888, as Hu also says 8 is a lucky number….”
Meanwhile, the ‘brown belt‘ was described as a ‘durian fist in a stinky tofu glove’.” Which might well answer the age-old question: “What wines pairs with durian and stinky tofu and gloves?” (Image by ET)
A sparkler is haunting China
Communism is a somewhat important part of the last year 60-plus years of Chinese history, to say the least, and, well, hey, it’s Karl Marx. It only makes sense that my local supermarket in Beijing once stocked this German bubbly. Let’s hope the collective bon mots are as sparkling as the wine, or vice versa.