When the Chinese wine market first started taking off in earnest a few years ago, there were reports of consumers who mixed classed-growth claret with Sprite or Coca Cola. I’ve never been able to verify just how widespread that practice was, but things have moved on since then – thank goodness.
A few dozen Bordeaux properties are already under Chinese ownership and more deals are in the making. China has surpassed both the USA and Japan to become the largest export market for Bordeaux outside the EU.
When outsiders buy famous wine properties, lamentations follow. In 1987 the AXA insurance group bought Chateau Pichon Longueville, and some of the protests made you think that KFC had just opened a branch in the middle of Stonehenge.
But AXA invested lots of money, the wines improved, and the company went on to buy several other Bordeaux estates – always with good results. And I assume that the Chinese investors will be similarly enlightened.
If China keeps buying so much claret, we may all have to turn to other sources of Bordeaux-style wines. Wines like Viñalba Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010, from Patagonia. This Argentine beauty is lush with cassis and nice milk-chocolate notes, and a bargain at £6.99 (from £8.99) at Co-Op.
Or an old favourite of mine, Château Pennautier Terroirs d’Alti-tude 2009, Cabardès. A native of the Languedoc containing some non-Bordeaux grape varieties, this is well structured and tied up with a soothing wrapper of softening oak. £8.99 at Majestic, and 10 per cent of that goes to Comic Relief this year.
But of course, we’re in no danger of running out of claret: China’s purchases represent just 10 per cent of production, and far more is drunk in France than anywhere else.
If you want to push out the boat, consider trundling along to M&S for their Château Boutisse 2009, a St Emilion with the hallmark lushness that comes from a Merlot-dominated blend. At £25, it’s certainly worth it. But hold the Coca Cola.