French see red over Chinese wine grab

French wine connoisseurs are up in arms over China’s nouveau riche setting their sights on Burgundy’s finest, expressing fears that they are paying inflated prices for fashionable wines.

Local wine growers and experts claim that wealthy Chinese are more interested in splashing out and speculating than appreciating great quality wine - which has already led to price bubbles hitting Bordeaux’s top grand crus.

‘‘After having made the market price of certain Bordeaux explode in an irrational manner, they’re now logically interested in Burgundy and its niche wines,’’ Laurent Gotti, a Burgundy specialist, told Le Parisien. They want everything that is the most expensive and are prepared to fork out incredible sums.’’

He said that ‘‘not long ago, all they could talk about was Romanee-Conti’’ - the world’s most expensive wine whose annual output of 6000 bottles cost thousands of dollars each.

Last year, a single jeroboam of 1999 Romanee-Conti sold for more than $A72,000 at a Hong Kong auction.
‘‘Today, a dozen domains have taken their fancy. But they don’t really give a damn about what’s inside the bottle,’’ Gotti said.

The warning comes three months after a chateau producing Napoleon’s favourite red from one of Burgundy’s most prized vineyards was bought by the Chinese gambling tycoon Louis Ng Chi Sing.

An increasing number of Chinese are ruffling feathers in the conservative region when they arrive via minibus or in small groups.

One owner in Chambolie-Musigny said: ‘‘They never say hello or goodbye. All that matters is the price. If it’s 60 euros ($A74), they’re not interested. If it’s 250 euros, they take six. They don’t give a stuff about the wine itself. And if we refuse them something, they get aggressive. They’re spoiled kids who think they can act as they like.’’

Paul Vallin, a wine specialist and Asia connoisseur, said their approach reflected cultural differences. ‘‘It’s just that for them, wine is also a business,’’ he said. ‘‘In business relations over there, one is obliged to provide gifts of great value whose buyer will recognise the price.’’

The local gripes coincided with Burgundy’s famous annual wine auction at the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable organisation in the region’s wine capital, whose president this year is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

The auction, which has been going for 152 years, saw a Ukrainian buyer pay 270,000 euros for a 350-litre barrel of Corton grand cru Charlotte Duma. The former French First Lady joked: ‘‘At 200,000 euros, I’ll deliver the wine. At 250,000 my husband [Nicolas Sarkozy] will deliver it with me.’’

Organisers said they had seen rocketing interest in the sale from Asian buyers. China is now Burgundy’s fourth largest export market behind Japan, Britain and the United States.

But Louis-Fabrice Latour, the chairman of the union of Burgundy winemakers, said talk of an Asian invasion was exaggerated.

‘‘In simple terms, [annual sales to] China represents less than one month of sales to the US,’’ he said.

The Daily Telegraph

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