By Jim Boyce | A sparkling wine for a Communist icon. A blend of Cabernet and cabaret. Labels that give a playful twist to Penfolds, that unite DRC and Lafite, that lovingly call a wine a “sweet what!?” While I usually cover quality wines, it’s useful to occasionally scout quirkier and dodgier brands. Hence, this updated list of intriguing labels spotted in China…
A sparkler is haunting China
Communism is a somewhat important part of the last century of Chinese history, to say the least, and, well, hey, it’s Karl Marx bubbly. Perhaps we need to create a new niche called Marxling wine?
Moisten your lung
What does Foreign Girl taste like? Strawberries. I bought this bottle from Chang Bai Shan, in the northeast province of Jilin, at Carrefour a few years back. Along with grapes, it includes wolfberry, oft cited for its medicinal properties. The label description (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.”
Yes, Foreign Girl moistens the lung and enriches, well, it doesn’t say but I’ll fill that in as “the global stockpile of unintentional humor”.
Imagine the tasting notes for this bottle of Old Man. ‘Prune and faint tobacco aromas, with a flutter of misspent youth. The body is slightly flabby but shows signs of past vigor, with a wrinkle of dried fruit and a finish that strongly disapproves of today’s millennials.’ 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 from using “sweet fuck” on the label of Alice White from Australia. Consider it the equivalent of Robert Parker calling a wine “unctuous”. Which he does all the time. Because Parker apparently doesn’t give any sweet fucks. Anyway, don’t expect this wine description to apply should you blend Foreign Girl and Old Man.
Makers of The Grunge and Bum 82?
An extra stroke whilst writing characters makes a significant difference in meaning. Add one to big (大) and get dog (犬), one 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, though I bet Beter Gogo of Benfolds just loves it. (This image isn’t actually of a promo bag. If anyone has a bottle shot, please let me know.)
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, Hacker Blend and Pwn Reserve. 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 Semillon or WeChardonnay..
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 use of that “five arrows” logo. 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”! (Photo provided by Dominique Bonnel.)
Speaking of five arrows
It’s not a post about quirky labels without something that inspires thoughts of Lafite…
DRC vs DGC
Much like the chicken and egg conundrum, it’s still an open question with wine historians as to which came first, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Domaine de la Guangdong-Conti.
The Causby Show
I don’t know Leigh Causby but, during an era when mass producer Changyu wasn’t exactly putting out world-beating wines, he added a Robert Wagner-ish sexiness to the marketing campaign. The perfectly arranged hair, the intense gaze, the appealing juxtaposition of worldly wrinkles and supple skin were enough to make a viewer’s heart melt like soft tofu on a hot grill. As actress Jill St. John once said: “You can’t look in those eyes and see that smile and not smile yourself.”
Take me to Dragon Boat Island
Let’s quit messing about and go for eight labels at once, all spotted at the China Food & Drink Fair in Fuzhou. What to do when faced with such a bounty? Does one gamble on the relaxing times that Shunyi LIFEISFREE promises, embrace the enthusiasm in the energetic-sounding name Latour Heymo (surely even better with an exclamation mark) or buy both Ben 389 and Ben 707 and mix them in a playful but misguided attempt to create Ben 1096? Frankly, I like the sound of Dragon Boat Island, a place where one spends long days resting in a hammock, enjoying the breeze, enjoying local delicacies and waiting for Leigh Causby to bring his latest finely crafted wine for approval.
For thinkers and drinkers
This bottle is named for Li Hua, who graduated from University of Bordeaux in the mid-eighties, returned to China to become something of a legend, and is a fixture at Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi Province. This label might be from the early 1990s but it delivers a timeless message that studying and drinking are closely related.
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 former 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 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.
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)
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