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China Triumphs In Chardonnay Olympics

by Linda Kennedy14/10/2016  

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Linda Kennedy

China just trounced snooty sommeliers in the 100ml final of the Chardonnay Olympics. That’s millilitres. China’s medal haul in Rio was judged poor – but they don’t lose in booze.

The nation’s wine tasters won a blind-tasting competition, vanquishing in ‘vin’ the French and Americans.

The event was the fourth world blind tasting championships and took place in France, at Chateau du Galoupet. 21 national teams identified grapes, vintages and countries of origin.

The self-esteem of previous olfactory champions was crushed. More so than their grapes. Expect a new wine, Pinot Ego Grigio. The Chinese will identify it next year.
But let’s stop for a moment and let all this fine information breathe. Is China – hitherto associated with mixing red wine and coke – becoming a global sophisticate? What does this mean? Lots, frankly.

As well as being prime plonk tasters in competition, China is raising its glass game at home. It recently announced its first national sommelier association. Here’s where the implications kick in. You know that dreadful point when you’re asked if you’d like to taste the wine in a restaurant? The person you’ll have to pretend in front of might soon be Chinese. Hereafter, China may become associated with disdainful wine superiority, giving France a national character break.

But it’s also a sign of a changing Chinese workforce. Becoming highly skilled – first in tech, now tongue.

Who knows, Donald Trump’s restaurants, from his hotels to his golf course in Scotland, might one day employ Chinese sommeliers. ‘This dessert wine goes very well with humble pie, Mr Trump.’

The wine world continues to surprise in China.

In September, Alibaba, the e-commerce platform, held its first nine-day wine and spirits shopping festival. It was called 9.9, meaning customers saw double before they started drinking.

It’s usually the number eight that is revered, and especially so in wine. Is this the end of the era of the eight, and a new order in China? Nine comes before eight in the auspicious sales stakes?

Many top restaurants in London are also hearing their number is up. Warnings came this week of dining rooms facing closure because of rents being too high. Other cities, especially Hong Kong, experience this frequently.

The report, by property agents Cedar Dean Group, said London restaurants coming up to a five-year rent review face a 50% increase. And rents in the Mayfair area, it noted, have gone up by 400% in the last year, from £150 a square foot to £600 a square foot.

Restaurants like Michelin-starred Arbutus have left Soho.

The message was ‘adapt or die’. One suggestion, made by the report’s property authors, was a move to all- day dining. This was duly nixed by mostly French chefs, showing national reluctance to change the working hours even of haute cuisine.

But globally, you do have to wonder if fine dining restaurants use a business model which reflects the modern world. Do people go for dinner anymore? As in ‘dinner dates’?  Mightn’t there by higher turnover serving ‘Tinder coffees’? Fancy. Big profit margin. Advance settlement of the bill on new app PayParamour, not PayPal – come on, coders – would avoid that awkward dilemma of who coughs up on a hook up.

Or fine dining lunch trucks. Rescue us from sandwich tedium at Pret a Manger.  Sure, they change – just not fast enough.

To fine dining restaurants, I’m tempted to suggest something more: wine-pairing dinners with Chinese food. Nine courses. With Chinese sommeliers, of course – who better to say which Cabernet Sauvignon goes best with congee?

Wine and dine. And number nine. It’s a new world.