Book review: 'The Chinese Wine Renaissance', by Janet Z. Wang

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

06 April 2020

China’s alcoholic drinks culture stretches back over some 7000 years, and it’s such heritage that the ‘renaissance’ part of this title refers to. The pages recount China’s longstanding relationship with booze, which according to the author culminates with its much more recent love affair with grape wine.

To grasp Wang’s key message however, the reader must be willing to accept China’s (and the author’s) interpretation of the English word ‘wine’ as a translation of jiu, an umbrella term used to describe all sorts of alcoholic beverages, from beers to distilled liquors. Throughout the book, the use of ‘wine’ constantly fluctuates between it western and its Chinese definitions, allowing the author to link great clarets to Chinese philosophy, kung fu, or the concept of ‘garagiste wines’ to homemade booze during the Song dynasty (960-1279).

As they enjoy this philosophical exercise, the reader is left wondering whether the final purpose isn’t simply to forcefully fit grape wine into a culture that found in a number of western luxury products the essential means to define status.

By the end of the read, skeptics are proved – partly – wrong: ‘[The growth of] western-style grape wine [in China],’ the author explains, ‘is not, as many believe, merely the result of fashion and a new taste for western things and lifestyle brought about by globalisation, but a revival of age-old drink of choice, updated for the modern age.’

Modern China, says Wang, has welcomed western grape wine into its millenia-old boozy history by giving it a place within its customs, its traditions, and by adding to wine layers of meaning totally foreign to western culture. 

It’s in communicating such a cultural shift that The Chinese Wine Renaissance is fully successful. Like no other book currently on the market, Wang’s work is a fascinating and trustworthy window into Chinese culture, opened wide by an author who boasts an unmatched, equal understanding of both the western and the Chinese worlds. This book offers an unmissable source for any wine industry professional aiming to tap into China’s ever-growing interest for wine.

£25, Ebury Press

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