Christie's new head of wine in China is aiming to introduce Chinese tasting notes to auction catalogues as soon as possible.
Simon Tam, the founder of Shanghai’s Independent Wine Centre, took up the Hong Kong-based position in February.
His brief, he says, is to bring the ancient auction house ‘closer to the Chinese community’.
One of his first moves – apart from serving vintage tea in the auction rooms – will be to begin adding original Chinese tasting notes alongside the traditional translated notes.
The main reason for this, Tam says, is that many western descriptors – such as blackberry and blackcurrant, or concepts such as ‘forest floor’ – are so uncommon in China as to be meaningless.
‘You can describe a rare old Burgundy as having “forest floor” or “earthy” characteristics – but when you translate that literally, you’d be lucky to find a forest in the middle of Shanghai.’
So the earthy characteristics of a 1982 first growth, for example, will be now be described as reminiscent of Chinese dried plums. A Grand Cru Montrachet will not have ‘honey and toast’ flavours, but aromas of sugar cane juice, known for its woody, toasted flavours, or Jin-Mao tea, also known as Golden Hair, a rare tea with scents of undergrowth, mushroom, truffle, wax, honey, vanilla and tobacco notes.
Similarly, the earthy notes in fine old Burgundy may be described in terms of the aromas to be found in some Chinese herbal soups.
‘The idea will not be to highlight individual components, single flavours, in a wine but to take a more holistic approach, to talk about the integration of flavour. We are going to use the whole of the vast Chinese culinary repertoire.’
Christie’s catalogues will continue to carry tasting notes from Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine, and by Christie’s Asian head of wine Charles Curtis, as well as newly-written tasting notes in simple script Chinese.
Tam stressed that his role is not to ‘educate’ but to ‘nurture’.
‘The Chinese are sharp operators and very knowledgable. They know about taste and what they should pay for wine, so the idea of educating them is condescending. We want to nurture – to bring East and West closer together.’
Written by Adam Lechmere