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Christie’s to translate whole of Bordeaux 1855

Alongside its project to provide original Chinese tasting notes, Christie's is also working on faithful translations of chateau names.

Grand-Puy-Lacoste – at the Sign of the Crocodile
Image: Bordeaux Undiscovered

Bordeaux chateaux, Burgundy domains and Champagne houses are known by a mishmash of oddly-rendered names in Chinese, the auction house’s head of wine in China, Simon Tam, told Decanter.com.

Some are obvious: Chateau Beychevelle is known as ‘Dragon Boat’ because of the Viking longboat on the label, and Angelus is ‘Golden Bell’.

But while dragons are auspicious in China, crocodiles are not. So Grand-Puy-Lacoste, known as ‘Crocodile wine’ because of the association with the Lacoste clothing brand’s logo, which is not related to the chateau in any way, is not in the best position.

‘Crocodiles are not popular animals in China,’ Tam said. ‘They didn’t even make it into the top 12 for the horoscope.’

Such solecisms can do serious damage to a brand, Tam says. ‘We are simply not going to put Crocodiles, Dragon Boats and Golden Bells in our catalogues. It is not what Christie’s is about.’

Most popular translations of wine name involve saints, kings, dragons and gods, Tam says. ‘Dom Perignon is known as King of Champagnes. It’s cliched Chinese.’

Christie’s project – in Bordeaux to start with – involves contacting members of the 1855 classification.

They find out how much they looked into the pitfalls of translation – the differences between northern and southern Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese, for example – and whether they are registered in China or not.

The team is putting together a list of faithful phonetic translations of the chateau names. ‘It’s a question of having the language and the cultural knowledge to find the right characters,’ Tam said.

‘It’s essential for our catalogues to be accurate and to have relevance.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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