By Jim Boyce
Arcy Yin has been wine editor at Food & Wine since the magazine was launched by the Trends Group in 2006. I asked her about China’s wine scene, her favorite tastings, how she got interested in wine, and more.
Although grape wine represents only about 2 percent of the alcohol market in China, it gets a great deal of media attention. What makes it such an interesting topic?
I think one reason is the nature of wines themselvesâ€“ they are very diverse and come with many stories. Also, many upper-class and middle-class Chinese have lived abroad and acquired some Western habits when it comes to eating and drinking, so they have an interest in wine. Finally, China’s booming economy has meant more frequent business activity between Chinese and foreigners and they have influenced each other. For example, Chinese have become more interested in wine, while foreigners have become more interested in Chinese food.
For many people in China, the definition of wine seems to be “dry, red and French.” Do you think this trend will continue? What wine trends do you see emerging in China?
There are historical reasons for the popularity of French wine. At the same time, the French have done a lot of wine promotion in China. Even irregular wine drinkers here have the idea that wine should be dry, red, and French.
As people learn more about wine, they will discover different wine cultures. The past two years have seen many wine shops, importers, and websites emerge. The abolition of the wine tax in Hong Kong is stimulating more competition in the wine business. Because of all these things, consumers will benefit from a more diversified wine sector, with more tastings, dinners, and other activities.
This relates to your second question: one of the trends is this diversification. I also think that more and more regular wine drinkers will increase their focus on mid-price wines and lessen it on Grand Cru Classe wine from Bordeaux. And for house wine, even the “rich” will stick to wines that offer the best value for money.
You attend many wine tastings. What are you three favorite events of the past two years?
There are too many to list here. For me, it is exciting to attend these tastings and to find wine I really enjoy. Luckily, I have the opportunity to taste fine wines and rare vintages even if I can’t afford them.
The latest tasting I attended was the Chateau Haut-Brion lunch organized by ASC at the newly opened Maison Boulud restaurant in Beijing. The wine and food went very well together. I tasted Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion 2003, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 2002, and Chateau Haut-Brion 1995.
I was also very impressed by the tastings of Penfolds Grange and Chateau Margaux organized in May by Ch’ng Poh Tiong, the well-known Singapore wine critic and publisher. The tastings were part of the ICCCW [International Congress of Chinese Cuisine and Wine] launched by him. Penfolds’ Peter Gago and Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier hosted the tastings respectively. It was more than just an enjoyable event; it was a rare chance to learn about and know deeply wine from different vintages.
Another memorable event happened last October when Aussino held a wine dinner in Jaan, the French restaurant in Raffles Hotel Beijing. We enjoyed Italian wines while eating in-season truffle and listening to an Italian tenor. Each wine came from a unique region of Italy, so we could experience many different styles of wine in just one night.
You interview many people from foreign wine producers. What usually surprises them about the China market? What kinds of questions do they ask you?
They are often surprised that many wine lovers in China are very knowledgeable about wine and keen on what’s happening in other wine-producing countries. In terms of questions, mostly they ask things such as, “What kinds of Chinese food would pair well with this wine?“
How did you get interested in wine?
I was invited on an unforgettable food and wine tour of Provence and Burgundy by the French Tourist Office and Sopexa in June 2005. I started from with RosÃ© in Provence and fell in love with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Burgundy. I was not a regular alcohol drinker at all before the trip, but it was amazing to discover the rich aromas and flavors of wine. Though I could not yet distinguish all of the smells and tastes, I was totally fascinated by them. After I returned to China, I got to know people from ASC and was invited to their tastings. I also got to know many wine experts like Frankie Zhao, Ma Huiqin, and Li Demei.
At that time, I was a food editor at Modern Weekly. I started to include more content about wine in the publication. In late 2005, one of my best friends, who worked at Trends Group, told me that Food & Wine magazine would launch in China in 2006. I thought being a wine editor was probably the best way to learn about wine. Since Trends Group is the most established media group, I was confident about the future of the magazine and I applied for the job. I think I made the right choice. As wine editor, I was supposed to organize a monthly blind tasting with my colleagues from the very beginning. And it was also the blind tasting with the wine experts at home and abroad that made me learn so quickly.
If you could have one bottle of sparkling wine, one bottle of white wine, and one bottle of red wine that is available in Beijing, which would you choose?
To be honest, I always try to find wine that offers the best value for money for everyday drinking, since my job allows me the chance to taste the best wines. I find the Food & Wine blind tastings are the best way for me to find these value wines. I also ask my friends for advice on wine.
I only drink sparkling wine with friends or my family at dinner. Without food, I will have a glass or two at most. With food, it is easy to match with different flavors. Currently, I prefer Marcarini Moscato D’Asti, a food-friendly wine that even beginners will easily accept.
For white, I find that Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris go well with cold dishes in the summer. I have several bottles of Arabella Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from South Africa, which costs around RMB60.
And for red, I recently bought some bottles of Bourgueil at RMB95, which is a quite good price.
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Glad to know that value wines can be found for less than 100 RMB. However less than 50 RMB would really make the average Chinese drink wine. It is an outdated conception that only people who have travelled outside China would drink wine. On a trip last May to Changsha, Hunan, by no means a western savvy city, I observed factory and office workers drinking wine, albeit red and on special occasions. But 130 million special occasions make a sizable market.
Arcy is just awesome; a future leading figure in China’s wine scene!!!