What exactly is wine?

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'Wine is an alcoholic beverage made by fully or partially fermenting freshly crushed grape or grape juice.’ If I answer this question like this, I will probably get stoned on the internet.

In the last decade, wine has been a hot topic in China and it continues to attract more and more attention. Although drinking wine is not really a part of traditional Chinese custom, as more and more Chinese people discover the beauty of wine, they start to enjoy it as part of their lives. At the end of the last century, the health benefits of wine were largely publicised thanks to the famous ‘French Paradox’, attracting many loyal drinkers who drink wine for the sake of maintaining a good health— the really serious ones would even use measuring cups to decide how much they should drink.

However, when a tale is told for too long, people will start to raise doubts. Wine is an alcoholic beverage after all, and alcohol can be a double-edged sword for the human body. The fact that the intake of alcohol may damage the liver, and that French people are more likely to suffer from liver diseases — have somehow been dismissed, intentionally or unintentionally. As for the constantly-referred-to ‘French Paradox’, which claims that the French suffer less from heart and brain diseases because they drink more wine is probably preached by those who are trying to make a living in the wine business. As a matter of fact, the famous research also shows that the French consume more olive oil; exactly what should take the credit for the lower risk of CHD, is yet to be found out.

After convincing consumers that “wine is a choice for good health”, the smart advertisers soon come up with some brand-new selling points — the one “drinking wine is a fashionable lifestyle” is among the best of them. The exotic goblet-shaped wine glasses (some made in crystal) contributed the most to this — just imagine the atmosphere of a formal dinner, where everybody is dressed-up, holding the glittering wine glass (elegantly on the stem), exchanging conversations while swirling the tempting liquid in the glass…all of a sudden wine becomes a fashion trademark and a proof of good taste, as highlighted in the commercials.

The reality is, while the word “wine” is on fire in China, the value and amount of wine consumption in the Chinese alcoholic drink market remains lukewarm— far lower than that of beer, baijiu (the white spirit) and Huangjiu (the yellow liquor). When the contentious excessive production of the international wine industry is met with global recession, it’s understandable that everyone is pinning their hope on the fast growing Chinese consumer market. But the sharp contrast between hope and reality is reminding us there must be something wrong in the way we promote wines in China.

So we are back to the topic — what exactly is wine? It is but a type of beverage that conceals rich flavours. If you look at the origin of wine and its thousands of year’s development, you will find that wine has always been treated simply as a part of a meal, and a beverage that has certain functions.

The birth of wine is a simple process in which human-beings comprehend a natural phenomenon, and make it work for them. Don’t forget in Old World countries like France, the average consumption of wine used to be above a hundred litres per capita every year. Wine was embraced by the general public, and there were no worries for a glut. Today more and more people are fuelling the ‘apotheosisation’ of wine, and wine is increasingly regarded as a ‘noble’ drink. The problem is there are not enough ‘nobles’ in China to enjoy such luxury, and the ‘noble drink’ inevitably becomes excessive.

It seems wine has to come down from the clouds and serve the mass public instead of the minority nobles, to be the only effective solution to the product surplus situation.

So stop preaching and let people drink first — as long as they are drinking wine, and don’t worry too much about the formality. When wine has gained a wider audience, naturally there will be someone who start to study about wine themselves. Only when wine is being drunk by a much wider consumer base can the mature consumers become a driving force in the wine market. Don’t set so many rules when we’ve just started—we’ve got to allow the consumers to raise their glasses with ease.

Translated by Nina Fan Feng / 冯帆

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