If you grew up in China, a phrase like “hints of blackberry” in regards to an expensive Bordeaux would mean little since you’ve probably never tasted a fresh blackberry. This becomes a problem for people describing and marketing European and American wine to the Chinese wine market, which is now the fifth largest in the the world. As The Wall Street Journal reports today, arguments about how to describe flavors and how best to translate the names of grapes or chateaux are erupting constantly among wine writers and burgeoning Chinese oenophiles, since the Chinese language itself doesn’t offer characters to directly express, say, “Merlot.”
Instead of trying to translate English tasting notes directly, writers and wine sellers in China are turning to new, more relatable flavor comparisons, like those from Chinese cooking and herbal medicine. Take, for example, the below translation of a pricey 2002 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti:
English: There are sweet, pure and classic Pinot fruit aromas enhanced by subtle nuances of floral flower notes, damp earth, crushed cherries and fleshy raspberry, even a hint of aged game meat.
Chinese, back to English: There are fragrant aromas of dates, Chinese herbal medicine and Chiuchow master stock, enhanced by sweet, fruity and lasting tastes, with even a hint of the sweetness of dang gui [an herbal medicine].
If anything, such cultural differences point to the often slippery and subjective art of describing wine, which has always brought chuckles from newbie wine drinkers (and non-wine drinkers) in Western culture anyway.
More amusing, though, is an incident in which Christie’s China printed up a poster featuring the 61 most prestigious grand cru Bordeaux wineries, giving each their own Chinese name. Many of the chateaux were livid, since they were also working on trademarking their translated names in China and didn’t like these translations, and called for a boycott of the poster. Christie’s ultimately dropped it.