Contemporary Chinese art is all the rage in China
and around the world. When the Shanghai Daily editorial team asked me
to examine the relationship between wine and contemporary Chinese art in
this week’s column, I thought why not; after all doesn’t wine qualify
as art?erspective of another artistic
discipline is an expansive experience that delightfully divorces us from
the technicalities that often bog down wine experts and bore their
audiences. Analogous to the contemporary art world, there exist wines
that are overpriced and of questionable artistic quality while others
are clearly inspired.
Wine as art
differentiates an artist from a craftsman, or a mere commercial
fabricator? I grant that much of the wine consumed worldwide is more
commercial than artistic. But in some regions artistic winemakers and
their art still exist. Like contemporary Chinese artists they take
inspiration from the past but are also quite modern. One of the best
examples is Burgundy, a region with a rich history that with the
generous help of Mother Nature is still creating bottled art. For
purposes of brevity, I shall focus on the Pinot Noir variety and leave
the equally artistic and noble Chardonnay white variety for another
Contemporary Chinese art evolved from
a rich history and the same can be said of the Pinot Noir wines of
Burgundy. The earliest documented proof of winemaking in Burgundy was in
1 AD by the Romans, however it is now widely believed that the Celt
tribes that inhabited the region before the birth of Christ were the
first to cultivate vines in this area. By the end of the 6th century the
wines of Burgundy were famous throughout the Roman Empire and were used
as a currency for trading. In the Middle Ages, Benedictine monks
drafted meticulous instructions on the cultivation, pressing,
fermentation and aging of Pinot wines.
Pinot Noir wines reached a
new zenith of popularity and quality during the period of the Dukes of
Burgundy from 1364 through 1477. This is sometimes referred to as the
golden age of Burgundy when the magnificent court of the dukes rivaled
that of the kings of France. From the Renaissance to modern day the
commercial success and prestige of Pinot Noir wines from Burgundy has
continued to grow and today they are some of the best and most prized
wines in the world.
At least for a casual observer like myself, contemporary Chinese art takes some time and effort to understand.
deciphering the wines of Burgundy is challenging. There are over 600
appellations and sub-appellations and countless producers. The space
allotted to this column permits me only the most rudimentary of
The simplest way to understand the quality levels of
Burgundy Pinot Noirs is to understand that wines from smaller or more
specified areas are usually better.
The most basic wines are labeled as Bourgogne Pinot Noir and can be made of grapes from anywhere in Burgundy.
next step up the quality latter is village level wines that are named
after villages like Pommard, Beaune or Chambertin. The quality of
Bourgogne AC and village level Pinot Noir wines ranges from fair to very
good. The top tiers of Burgundy reds start with Premier Cru wines.
Cru reds are produced from specific vineyards that have been rated
high-quality vineyards and comprise about 12 percent of Pinot Noir
production in Burgundy. The labels of these wines specify the village of
origin and often the name of a single vineyard. The quality of Premier
Cru wines varies with the worst not as good as top village level wines
and the best often on par with Grand Cru wines.
masterpieces of Burgundy are the Grand Cru wines. These wines account
for only 2 percent of production and are the most profound expression of
the terroir of Burgundy. Not surprising they’re also the most
expensive. Like the best of Chinese contemporary art they often
appreciate in value.
Artistic Burgundy Pinots
domaine owner and winemaker Etienne de Montille is unquestionably a
modern artist. He’s a purist at heart who’s able to elegantly express
all the delicate and nuanced qualities of the Pinot Noir grape. His
Domaine de Montille Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Malconsorts is an inspired
wine that offers layers of rich cherry and other red fruit flavors with
a long clean finish.
I also highly recommend his Beaune 1er Cru
Les Perrieres and Pommard 1er Cru Les Pezerolles. Another
winemaker-artist in Burgundy is Albert Ponnelle, who carefully crafts
all his wines.
His Beaune 1er Cru Bressandes features subtle red
and black fruit flavors and a silky texture that will delight even the
most artistically demanding palates.
Even some very large
Burgundy producers like Louis Jadot are able to make delightfully arty
wines. I’m particularly fond of Jadot’s Santenay Clos de Malte and
Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules Pinots.
While these beautiful
Burgundies are delicious anywhere, they are even more thought and taste
provoking while consumed in the artistic confines of a Shanghai modern
art gallery like LGMY Art Space.
Gallery owner Zhou Qin has
created an inspirational environment to view contemporary Chinese art
while also savoring a artistic red wine.
Inspired by the fire
element she favors red wines while viewing the beautiful engravings and
religious themed paintings at her gallery.
Personally, I think it’s the perfect place to savor both Chinese modern art and Burgundy.