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September 24, 2017

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Tastings in China reveal shared beauties of tea and wine

Wine and tea have much in common. A tasting last week showed just how similar they are.

 ASC Fine Wines, headquartered in Beijing, organized an event headlined as "Burgundy Wave" to compare burgundy wines and tea. It was the first such event held in China.

Pierre-Henry Gagey, CEO of Maison Louis Jadot in Burgundy, and Pang Yin, a tea master from China, were invited to talk about burgundy and tea, respectively — initially in Hong Kong, and later in Shanghai and Beijing.

Pang Yin founded the "He" brand of tea houses in China 13 years ago.

Matt Kramer, wine critic of Wine Spectator magazine, acted as master of ceremonies.

Gagey admitted it was his first experience of a tasting that linked the two beverages despite his having visited China and Hong Kong scores of times in the past decade.

He said wine producers from Burgundy had a lot in common with tea producers in China. Both used the same language to describe what they make.

"When a tea expert talks about tea in China we in Burgundy have the impression they are talking about wine, because they are using the same words — terms like complexity, harmony and precision of flavors.

"We are talking about finesse, elegance and delicacy."

Tea and wine also contain tannin. Gagey said tannin carried with it the flavors of the location where wine is produced — that elusive concept known as "terroir" that Kramer described as "a sense of somewhereness" in his book "Making Sense of Burgundy," published more than two decades ago.

Kramer gave a very lucid explanation of the mysteries of Burgundy wines, noting that Jadot wines were not so much about the flavors as the emotions they evoked.

Gagey described the tasting as a "bridge between two cultures that have much in common." Tea makers from Yunnan province in southern China have visited Burgundy to learn about wine, and Burgundy winemakers plan to travel to Yunnan.

Some of the teas tasted were from bushes more than 100 years old, older in some cases than the vines from which Burgundy wines are made. Burgundy is one of the world's oldest winemaking regions in the world. Vines from Italy were first planted there about 2,000 years ago.

Many of the teas were rare and expensive, as were the burgundies tasted. One of the teas, known as Dahongpao from Zhukeyan in the Wuyi mountains, was from the 2005 vintage and sells for about 6,000 yuan for 500 gm — about US$963.

Despite the complexity of Burgundy for most Chinese consumers, China has embraced these wines. Exports from Burgundy to China increased almost 65 percent last year compared with 2011.

In 1972 during his first visit to China, President Richard Nixon received a gift of 200 gm of Dahong Pao tea from Chairman Mao. Nixon thought this a trivial gesture, until Prime Ninister Zhou Enlai explained that the total annual production of Dahong Pao tea was only 400 gm.

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