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“Wine and Diplomacy”

Etienne Rolland-Piègue - Séoul, République de Corée - 31 janvier 2014



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In 2014, Korea, like much of Asia, celebrates the Year of the Horse, meaning it is time for me to go online to check the price of a bottle of Château Cheval Blanc (White Horse Castle) for my New Year’s gifts. Unfortunately, however, it is way beyond my budget. I thus settle for their second wine, Le Petit Cheval (The Small Horse) and for most of my contacts I spot another Saint-Émilion, Cheval Noir (Black Horse), which is a lot more affordable and has a fetching horse silhouette on the label.

Am I the only one to choose wines based on their labels ? Apparently not. A colleague informs me that the court of the King of Thailand serves Cos d’Estournel, a Saint-Estèphe wine whose storehouses are topped by pagodas which also appear on the label. The Chinese are fond of all wines with a dragon motif, from the Saint-Julien Château Beychevelle, adorned with a junk featuring a Chimera on the bow, to the Domaine du Dragon from Côtes de Provence and the second wine from Château Quintus, Le Dragon de Quintus.

Gastronomy and protocol

A journalist friend of mine, Megumi Nishikawa, has written several books on the customs of diplomacy, and more specifically on the protocol surrounding summit meetings. Unfortunately, his books are only available in Japanese, but their titles speak volumes : The Table of the Elysée Palace, Wine and Diplomacy, The Diplomacy of Banquets. I have unearthed the following excerpts from my reading notes :

“Choosing a bottle of wine is not just a question of gastronomy or cost. It is a symbol to commemorate an event by adding a historical or cultural touch which can bring great pleasure to foreign guests. For example, the 1989 vintage, which is ideal for festivities marking the legacy of the French Revolution, can also bring to mind the fall of the Berlin Wall. French-German banquets are often accompanied by Corton-Charlemagne, a fine white Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune subregion which goes well with starters, and is also an allusion to Charlemagne who made Aachen the capital of his Carolingian Empire. The wines served at the White House reflect the ethnic diversity of the United States : in early September 2001, George W. Bush served a wine called Mi Sueño (‘My Dream’, owned by former farm labourer Rolando Herrera) when hosting Mexican President Vicente Fox ; a Mitsuko vintage (named after the Japanese wife of the owner of the Clos Pegase winery in the Napa Valley) to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in June 2006 ; and a wine from the Stag’s Leap vineyards founded by Warren Winiarski (in Polish, “winegrower’s son”) for the State visit of Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski in July 2002.”

There is no doubt that wine and diplomacy make a great match. I remember that the greetings card issued by the French Embassy in Tokyo a few years ago was an autographed drawing by the authors of Drops of God, the manga which introduced oenology to new customers in Japan and beyond. Is it available in Korean ? Indeed it is, and a few clicks later on Amazon the order is on its way.

Carte de voeux de l’ambassade de France au Japon 2008
The Drops of God / Tadasi Agi / Shu Okimoto / KODANSHA

Maybe I should stock up in advance for next year. So what’s after the Year of the Horse ? Ah yes, the Year of the Goat. A quick search reveals La Ferme Julien, from the Côtes du Ventoux region, with a splendid goat on the label, as well as some aptly-named wines, including Réserve de la Chèvre Noire (Black Goat Reserve), a Burgundy, Le Brin de Chèvre, a Touraine wine, and Le Bouc à trois pattes (The Three-Legged Billy Goat) from the Languedoc. Safe to say that their sales in Asia will increase in 2015.

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