WineSleuth 6: China’s Rear Wine Label Law

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In China the rear labels on imported wine bottles have to be written in Mandarin, by law.

I mention this, as recently, a couple of customers have shown their concern about seeing Chinese characters on the back of the bottles, believing horror of horrors they were being Shanghai’d with Chinese wine. They thought they had the measure of me and ‘knew my game’ and frankly, told me so. Intrigue? no. Ignorance and mistrust, yes, but I do understand why. They have been paying some attention to the horror stories about Chinese wine and perhaps unscrupulous dealers in SH.

Aside: I hope one day they might sample Silver heights or Grace Vineyards wines: Chinese magic and as good as many twice the price from La France.

However, that neither one of them seem to believe me 100% was a little humbling. Once again, I am reminded of the need to educate.

I know I may well be telling you something you already know, but Chinese law is pretty strict in this labelling matter. Ironic , I know.

If the avid rear label searcher is lucky, the ‘country of origin’ text will still clearly be visible (and readable!) because some importers actually go out of their way to avoid hiding that rear label.

Others tailor-make their rear labels in the country of origin and attach them prior to export for the China market, with or without English at their whim (as a second language choice) to reduce costs.

Still others, I am told, slap a Chinese label on beside the ‘foreign’ text, at customs here in SH. I doubt this story, as the cost of opening, handling and resealing each container (or pallet or case) of estate bottled wine would be very costly and therefore counter-productive. (Edit: Update Feb 2013: Yes, in some instances, they really open up every box of wine and stick the obligatory Chinese label onto the bottle, by hand, bottle by bottle if it has not been affixed in the winery/producing country. That cannot be desirable, from an economic point of view.)

Unfortunately, there are many occasions when the ‘Country of Origin’ text is completely hidden. That’s when you may need to take a leap of faith, ask the vendor about the wine, or simply move on.

So, a head’s up, if you were not aware of this China labelling issue.

For a different perspective…I remember reading not that long ago an interesting piece in a wine buying guide where the writer remarked that he believed rear labels were best avoided by prospective customers for the limited, bland, non-informing, self-promotional, marketing nonsense they were. I do get his point, as sometimes they are about as useful as a rubber spanner. There are glimmers of info if you can read between the lines.

Me, I try to gather every bit of available information. It all helps to, well, inform. I like the stuff on the back being ‘available‘. It does help me choose. Along with bottle-weight, bottle-design, glass-colour, closure-type and punt (yes punt), not to mention country of origin, appellation or region, year, name of wine (if it has one), name of the producer or grape variety, it offers some insight into the contents of the bottle that sadly, many consumers simply have to take a gamble on.

If you are interested, you may want to have a look at the series Choosing wine in the Grapevine, especially Part 2: Presentation Matters.

Alternately, if you have a question or a comment get writing and we’ll do out best to help you navigate the ‘wine-field’.

When I get the chance, I’ll post some rear labels, to illustrate.

The Wine Sleuth  February 2012

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