‘Better ways to spend £200’ | Robinson’s sobering take on Ao Yun, Purple Air

Talk about a sobering take on Chinese wine.

English critic Jancis Robinson just wrote in The Financial Times about two “ambitiously priced” Chinese wines, Ao Yun from LVMH in Yunnan (£200 per bottle) and, as Robinson describes it, the “cumbersomely named” Purple Air Comes from the East (£150) from the cumbersomely named Changyu-Moser XV in Ningxia.

(She also tasted The Summit from Silver Heights in Ningxia, though the price is not listed.)

How’s this for an opening paragraph?

“Would you pay more than £100 for a bottle of Chinese wine? In the current political climate, perhaps not. You would therefore be unlikely to shell out for either of the ambitiously priced Chinese wines being launched so hopefully in the UK this month,” she writes, in reference to Ao Yun and Purple Air.

Those hoping to at least get her judgment of how the wines taste were out of luck, too.

Robinson doesn’t review them except to say Ao Yun has “greater resonance” than the Ningxia wines “even if I could think of many better ways to spend £200 on wine.” In short, Ao Yun is preferable to Purple Air and The Summit, but simply not worth the price. Ouch.

In fact, the article mostly covers the efforts of Tony Jordan (who died last year) for wine in Yunnan and Ningxia — she notes that “Sino-Australian relations were more cordial then” — and background on the three wineries covered, particularly winemaker Maxence Dulou of Ao Yun.

Robinson often expands these Financial Times pieces on her website to include tasting notes, scores and other details. She did in this case, too, though it was to even more damning effect.

In a post titled “Chinese ambition, non-Chinese value“, she listed 23 wines she saw as providing “much better value”, the majority just 5% to 10% the price of Ao Yun. Ouch again.

For example, you could buy 10 bottles of Chateau du Gazin 2016 from Canon-Fronsac in Bordeaux for the same price as one bottle of Purple Air.

Or use her list to create a buffet of wines from Argentina, England, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa and Spain for far less than a bottle of Ao Yun.

Perhaps these trying times played a role in such a sobering piece — she does mention the “current political climate.” Whatever the case, for those in China’s wine scene expecting more kudos to add to their trophy room, this take will be a downer.

And no one can say Robinson hasn’t walked the talk. She went to Ao Yun in 2014 before the first vintage, visited Silver Heights in 2012 (see my photo essay here of her Ningxia trip), and no doubt has contact with Lenz Moser of Changyu-Moser XV. Over the past 15 years, Robinson has swung between impressed and disappointed by Chinese wine, and in this case it’s clearly the latter. £200 is £200!

It’ll be interesting to see if this piece inspires any reaction. Despite falling production and sales, many in the domestic wine trade seem pretty inflexible on prices. Maybe they intend to make their money in Mexico–more on that soon.

(Note: James Suckling gave the Ao Yun that Robinson tasted 96 points. See my post “90 on that.” Also see my article “Wine with Altitude” about the Yunnan wine scene.

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