Beijing wine notes: coal, exhaust… and is that a hint of asbestos?

– By Jim Boyce 

Like a mysterious fog slowly drifting in from the Grand Banks… like a heavy morning haze that like an unwanted guest forgets to leave for three days… like baby mice playing in cotton balls… I’m trying to find a way to describe Beijing’s record-breaking air pollution for this year, which hit 421 parts per million today. Perhaps a fellow patron describes the scene best: “It’s like watching a [figurative] skull and crossbones cross the sky.”

Those engaged in wine tasting tonight might want to skip taking notes, unless they prefer ones that read, “hints of coal, notes of car exhaust, and a faint whiff of asbestos.”

The past three days are by far 2007’s worst stretch, as measured by China’s government, which typically ranks Beijing last of the 84 cities it monitors. Check these before and after photos – the latter is for yesterday, 140 parts per million better than today. (Not surprisingly, China is far more liberal in defining pollution levels than the United States, Europe and Hong Kong.)

No wonder my Christmas stocking hung empty this year. There is no way Santa Claus, even if led by a dozen red-nosed reindeer, could have found my place.

Perhaps, it’s best to pick a wine tonight with some earthiness, minerality and petroleum on the nose….

Note: Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, we beat yesterday’s record – today it’s 500 parts per million, which is the maximum on the pollution chart.

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