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Contemporary Chinese art and wine
2015-06-25
By John H. Isacs

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.

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Wine as art

What 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 column.

History

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.

Complicated

At least for a casual observer like myself, contemporary Chinese art takes some time and effort to understand.

Similarly, 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 explanations.

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.

The 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.

Premier 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.

The modern 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

Burgundy 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.

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Viewing wine from the p

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