Sunday, November 29, 2015
The Evil Chinese Conspiracy to Cripple American Wine Appreciation
It is the nature of the rise and fall of civilizations that the elites of the rising civilization by their very nature impose their aesthetics on the world. And that the aesthetics of the elites of the fading power must accommodate themselves to their new and impoverished position. That is the way of the world.
Therefore it is not a surprise that China's influence in the world in a variety of different areas of culture becomes more manifest as the years go by. Independent of that, America's influence could be predicted to decline, at least as far as its former middle class goes. The American elite will still go forward buying their racecars and whores, but the former middle class, now impoverished, must scale back its ambitions to consume to fit its new role in the globalized economy.
I am aware of four specific examples of this rise in Chinese influence, but two of these I only heard about in the last week. The four are: the impact of Chinese purchases for investment on real estate prices in North America, the role of the Chinese in the final extinction of the various remaining species of elephant, and the two surprises are the role of the Chinese in certain bizarre changes in elite car design in Germany and the spectacular changes in the prices of certain genre of French wine, in particular certain name brands from Bordeaux.
To get the first three out of the way so we can concentrate on wine, the following seems to be true. First, that the purchase of real estate for investment purposes and for bragging rights is resulting in a sustained demand and increased prices for real estate in certain prestige areas such as Manhattan, already expensive, and results in properties owned by the Chinese but not lived in. Second, and most unfortunate, Chinese traditional medicine has always made use of the ground up body parts of various endangered species. One in particular, the elephant, is being targetted for its ivory and this is leading to a catastrophic decrease in the remaining populations. The Chinese will probably be responsible for the final extinction of this wonderful animal after centuries of abuse by other cultures. The third, and actually quite odd, example is that (of course) the demand for elite automobiles has exploded in the Worker's Paradise and Mercedes in particular has been catering to this demand by changing their formerly understated and discreet design and making it wildly tacky, ostentatious, and even stupid in order to pander to the nouveau riche of Communist China.
Two of these examples are trivial, but the extinction of the elephant is a tragedy.
The fourth example was also a surprise to me because I have not been able to indulge my taste in French wine for many years. But I was going to a friend's house on Thanksgiving and I thought that this would be an opportunity to do so. What a surprise! Oh my!
To digress, I am a wine snob. When living in NY, one of my roommates was a Flamenco guitarist, and since you can not make a living at that, he also worked in the wine trade. I had him teach a class in the wines of Europe, and while we ventured into Italy and Spain, we mostly concentrated on red wine from the Bordeaux area. Wines in this area are highly esteemed by many groups and have been for many hundreds of years. But in one year in particular, the French government worked with industry to bring order out of chaos in conjunction with the planning for the Exposition of 1855, and at the request of Napoleon III, and as a result created the famous Classification of 1855 which ranked French wine from the Bordeaux region into five classes: the so called first growth wines through the fifth growth.
This classification has been very stable over the years with very few changes since 1855 and has in a sense become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A first and second growth winery will by definition be worth more, get more investment, and therefore be able to afford to make the changes necessary to maintain or increase the quality of their product.
Among the wines of this classification are some of the most famous wines in the world, including the wines of Chateau Lafite Rothschid, Chateau Mouton, Chateau Margaux and so forth. These wines of course commanded a premium price.
But there were some good deals among these classified Bordeaux and not all the great wines of France were out of reach of even the most modest of middle class American as long as they did a little homework to understand which vintages were worth buying and could plan a bit in advance. The more willing one was to plan in advance and make a modest investment, the better one would do.
Well those days are over, at least for certain name Chateau, and it is all because the Chinese have gone a little nutty, so some say, over certain of these wines.
For example, a well known and esteemed wine was the third wine of the Chateau Lafite Rothchild. This wine, the Carraudes de Lafite, was deliberately styled to be a well balanced, very drinkable wine, ready to drink as soon as it was on the market. Made from the vines that were not yet ready to contribute to the great vines of the estate, this wine was a fabulous wine that did not have to be kept for decades to be drinkable, would never be the very best wine, but was better than nearly any other red wine at a reasonable price. In the absence of the availability of something that has been around 20 years and commanding a high price at the last minute, one could pick up this wine of nearly any vintage and be very happy and pay no more than $35.00 a bottle.
So I look this wine up on the Internet and find it listed for $350.00 or so. I am confused. I wonder, maybe this is for a case (12 bottles) and not a single bottle?
No, the Chinese have gone nutty for Lafite and several other name brands and prices have gone up a factor of 10 or 20 in just the last few years. A better bottle of wine which formerly went for a few hundred dollars, still expensive by any measure, will now sell for over $1,000 or even $2,000 a bottle.
Not all wines have exploded this much in price, but in general the wines of the Bordeaux region are for the most part, out of reach.
I just want to thank the Chinese for this little exercise in free market economics in the service of the rich and hope that they find the opportunity to choke on their wine and die.
Thanks again guys for reminding me how little I count for in the world.
I appreciate it.
Classification of 1855
Chateau Lafite Rothschild