Swirls: China’s wine frenzy, Bill Foley’s growing wine empire, what sommeliers like to drink

SWIRL: The New York Times has an interesting piece today on the fast-growing French expat community in China, particularly Hong Kong, which, with its growing wealth and Bordeaux barrels hunger for luxury goods, is drawing more and more wine and other entrepreneurs eager to bring their products to the Chinese market.

SWIRL: Speaking of China, Bloomberg reports that at least a dozen Chinese investors have recently bought wine estates in Bordeaux, mostly small and sometimes distressed  properties.

SWIRL: New York is planning to increase its wine presence in China. The Watertown Daily Times says hundreds of small New York wineries will have a better chance of getting exposure for their wines in China at a New York state wine outlet at the free trade zone in Shanghai. The aim will be to sell New York wines at Chinese chain stores, supermarkets and hotels.

SWIRL: In case you missed it, Jay McInerney’s weekend WSJ column on the increasing importance of sommeliers was notable for, among other things, pointing out that most sommeliers favor leaner, lower-alcohol wines because they match better with foods.

SWIRL: Bloomberg has a good read on the fast-expanding wine empire of Bill Foley, the former mortgage title executive who is buying up wineries in California and beyond.


Swirls: Bordeaux-crazed China not ready for Burgundy – yet

Hardly a day goes by without a headline about the frenzied wine market in Asia, particularly China. This week, Wine Enthusiast Magazine announced that it will produce a Mandarin edition for circulation to 100,000 “Chinese VIP consumers.” France’s Federation of Wine and Spirits Exporters announced a 29 percent increase in shipments to Asia last year with a value of $3.3 billion. And in the city of Bordeaux, a négociant that specializes in Bordeaux sales to China and is staffed by seven Mandarin-speaking employees, opened a street-level shop to increase itsFaiveley Gevrey visibility to the growing number of Chinese buyers coming to town, according to Decanter.com.

Indeed, the red-hot Chinese market for all levels of Bordeaux shows no sign of cooling. But what you hear almost nothing about is the Chinese and Burgundy. I had the chance to discuss this last week with Vincent Avenel, export manger of Domaine Faiveley, one of Burgundy’s biggest and best-known producers, at a dinner featuring some top new releases from Frederick Wildman and Sons, the New York importer that has been bring wines from the region to the United States since the 1930s. When I asked him whether the Chinese were taking to Burgundy the way they had to Bordeaux, his answer was quick and emphatic: “Not at all.”

In fact, China accounts for just 1.5 percent of Faiveley’s exports, Avenel told me. This surprised me as we tasted some top Burgundies, among them Faiveley’s 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Cazetiers” and Alain Burguet’s 2009 Chambertin Grand Cru “Clos de Beze.” Don’t wines like this qualify as the kind of luxury items the Chinese are embracing? What followed was a fascinating and candid conversation about money, taste, and sophistication.

For the Chinese at the moment, Avenel said, the hot wines are from Bordeaux and Australia because they are “bombs in a glass” and more easily understood and embraced than Burgundy. “We all started with Bordeaux,” he said, “because it’s the entry-level thing. The U.S. started with Bordeaux. The Japanese started with Bordeaux.” He said that Burgundy, on the other hand, “is never love at first sight. You need to build some maturity in terms of taste.”

He continued: “Burgundy is not about power. It’s about charm and secret things. You need to improve your ability to taste subtle things.” How long does it take? “It’s not something you get in just a couple of years,” he said. “I think it takes 10 to 15 years.” His conclusion: for all its newly minted wealth, China is simply not yet ready for Burgundy. “What we notice,” he said, “is that very often Burgundy is about old money and that Bordeaux is about nouveaux riches.”

(For some of my latest wine suggestions, go to my new weekly column on the Bites on Today blog at MSNBC.com)


Sips: More on the Super Bowl food and wine showdown

At least one of my NBC colleagues shook his head when I told him I was preparing a story on wines that would work well at a Super Bowl party with all its varied food possibilities. Like many, he's a beer man when it comes to the big game. But for those of you wondering about wines to serve with a Super Bowl spread, I have some suggestions, plus those of some of my wine friends, in my latest Weekend Wines post on the Bites blog of MSNBC.com. Beyond that, Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg, authors of the new "Food Lover's Guide to Wine" and other books, offered me some of their suggestions.

They write: "For Super Bowl parties, we're all about the flexibility of bubbles for their food-pairing prowess, and all about whites so you don't have to worry if your friends spill on your couch (or you spill on theirs!) during a dramatic moment in the game -- so a good Prosecco would probably be our first choice (even though we also love good cava, we just got back from Italy!)."
Their choice for a red? "In honor of Andrew's hometown team (the 49ers, which was one good kick away from this year's Super Bowl), he'd pour a lighter-bodied, fruity California Zinfandel with the vegetarian chili he's hoping to get around to making."

And their recommendations for some of the most popular Super Bowl fare:

"Chicken wings: sparkling wine; or riesling, syrah/shiraz or zinfandel.
Chili: Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, syrah/shiraz or zinfandel.
Guacamole: Champagne, unoaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, torrontes.
Nachos: sparkling wine, torrontes (with white meat), zinfandel (with red meat).
Pizza (pepperoni or sausage): barbera, Chianti, lighter-bodied zinfandel.
Popcorn: Champagne or other sparkling wine.
Fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies: Banyuls, port or Pedro Ximenez sherry."

Thank you, Karen and Andrew.