By Jim Boyce | Fake, funny, old or odd, we have no shortage in China of intriguing wine labels. I took most of the photos below during the past decade, with the rest mostly from friends or wine groups in which I am active. I’ll start with the fun wine labels, then look at riffs on the best-known foreign brands in China, Lafite and Penfolds, before turning to countries and then finishing with vanity labels and “blasts from the past”. You can also click one of categories below and jump to it.
A sparkler is haunting China? Nope, that’s just Karl Marx bubbly, one of many curious wines I have come across during the past decade. Place your mouse over the image for more details. Or click one to open a gallery.
Lafite is the best-known foreign wine brand in China, in part, the story goes, because a gangster in a Hong Kong movie once said that if it isn’t ’82 Lafite, it’s not worth drinking. Translations of Lafite—La Fei / 拉 菲—are found not only on wine bottles but everywhere from bank ads to housing estates. I started this gallery with a photo of the Lafite bar that once operated up the street from me, followed by labels that use Lafite and many approximations of that name.
The ‘new world’ sibling of Lafite is Penfolds, a brand that gained great favor among officials, especially before the big government crackdown five years ago. Consumers at large are also big buyers of Penfolds. As with Lafite, there is no shortage of labels that feature similar names, fonts and designs as the original from Australia.
Beyond Lafite, there is a wealth of chateaux with which the creative draw inspiration, from Latour to Petrus do Domaine Romanee-Conti, and sometimes several of these at the same time. A white from Romanée-Conti Made in southern France. By Lafite. Yes, a label claimed that.
A few labels that evoke Australia brands, including Hill of Glory, a tribute to Hill of Grace. More to come.
And a few with links to the United States. That Silver Oak-ish label was spotted while I took a group of Napa Valley wine trade people on a tour of Beijing.
Why bother with famous brands when you or your company can be the focus on a label? Major producers like Changyu and GreatWall do a good business with vanity labels, but smaller operations are active as well. Weddings, parties, anything is apparently a good time for a commemorative wine.
I’m a fan of the Changyu wine museums at regional operations in Yantai, Ningxia and elsewhere, partly due to the old labels on display. Note the popularity of Riesling. As has been noted many times before, there is plenty of evidence that China is not inherently a “red wine” country, as many pundits and producers would have us believe, and here is some of the historical kind. (See this “The East is White” piece for more.)
MORE HISTORICAL LABELS
And here are a few more, including from Gansu province and from Grace Vineyard in Shanxi. This is a section I intend to grow.