Hu Gets the Best Wine

China’s Central Propaganda Department warned domestic media not to hype gourmet food served at the recent Two Sessions, hoping to avoid stoking resentment over the country’s growing wealth gap. Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev reports that the Obama White House has faced a similar dilemma over its hospitality spending, and has drawn a veil over state dinner wine lists which were previously released to the public:

Part of a tradition observed by previous presidents, including George W. Bush, that disclosure stopped after Obama’s dinner last year for Chinese President Hu Jintao. One of the wines served on Jan. 19, 2011, was a top-rated 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington state that originally sold for $115 a bottle and went for as much as $399 by the time of the dinner. The price the White House paid per bottle was not made public ….

The day after the Hu dinner, the anti-Obama website Gateway Pundit carried a posting entitled, “Sacrifice Is For the Little People… Obama White House Serves $399 Bottles of Wine at State Dinner.”

Comedian Stephen Colbert said that, given the U.S. debt held by China, the Hu dinner “should have been a sweatpants- potluck with box wine and a sleeve of Oreos.”

Wine selections might send signals to guests, as well. If Xi Jinping hoped for similarly generous refreshment from his counterpart Joe Biden in February, he was to be disappointed, with the wine selection ranging from just $22.99 to $48.99 a bottle. He can console himself with the expectation of more lavish choices after his presumed succession to the presidency. But while the new secrecy may spare some foreign visitors’ feelings, it denies American winemakers a potent boost in the booming Chinese wine market. The maker of a relatively modest Chardonnay also served at Hu’s dinner reported that sales in China quadrupled with the resulting publicity.

China’s wine imports increased sixfold between 2006 and 2010. 262 million bottles were imported in 2011, a figure expected to double again by 2015. This growth has led both state-owned and domestic Chinese companies to invest in vineyards abroad, while foreign winemakers establish beachheads in China: Chateau Lafite, which produces some of the country’s most sought-after imports, broke ground on its first Asian winery in Shandong a week ago.

Lafite’s China campaign is two-pronged. Its second front is an assault on piracy which, according to Shanghai Daily, has brought a string of court victories in recent months:

By the end of last year, the company had filed more 160 trademark lawsuits against companies trying to benefit from Lafite’s reputation and 5,000 bottles of fake wine had been seized by police and market watchdogs, the company said. “If things go well, with the cooperation of the Chinese government, fake Lafite will be eradicated within two years,” Christophe Salian, CEO of Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, said in Shanghai yesterday.

The amount of wine passing itself off as Lafite in China has been a major challenge, the French company said, not just in grabbing market share but also harming the brand’s reputation.

It is estimated that nearly 70 percent of Chateaux Lafite Rothschild in China is fake.

China’s annual quota of Lafite wine from France is around 50,000 bottles while the Lafite consumption in Zhejiang Province alone last year was around 30,0000 bottles, China Central Television reported.

For more on Lafite counterfeiting, including the vigorous trade in empty bottles and rumours of a piratical rebottling plant hidden on a cargo ship, see ‘Lafite Counterfeits Afloat?‘, on CDT.