Competition – Zekun Shuai

Zekun Shuai writes about himself: ‘Originally made in China and having been aged for 26 years so far, I am a wine consumer, drinker and sometimes if I want, a wine taster as well. As a matter of fact, this is my second attempt to win something from the Purple Page (Oh, don’t take it seriously!) My “seminal” wine article was about Mexican wine and Lafite in China. That was nearly two years ago!’ Currently based in Beijing, I am now employed as a freelance wine specialist for a start-up App about wine: Redsip. I also do some other freelance work, including wine training and teaching Chinese, which was what I used to do in Mexico. These days, I divide my spare time by writing about Chinese wine (in Chinese, and this is very personal stuff), enhancing my French and amusing myself with Chinese Calligraphy Art.’ This is his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.

For many years, I have been asking myself, why would I drink wine? Is it the taste that digests the food and enhances the mood? Is it the perception that “wine comes from the vine, and vine essentially comes from the soil” that fascinates me so much? Or is it the books that I read and the knowledge that I gained from my thirst ultimately quenched my ignorance and vanity? Or maybe is it a bit of everything?

I remember the first wine that I have sipped in my entire life was probably a non-vintage Chinese red Cabernet -- a ”Great Wall,” be it 3 Stars or 4 Stars, as such it was labelled, it tasted horrible. Back then, I was 15 years old, and it was poured to me in a family dinner just for the hell of it -- For one thing, my uncle was saying that I should try some “Jiu” (a catch-all term for any alcoholic beverage in Chinese) so as to grow up into a man. And proudly, he poured himself a handsome glass of that red liquid and drank it up to demonstrate his manliness. I have to say, I was impressed. For another, drinking wine was not taken seriously in China 10 years ago. The distilled spirit “Baijiu” was what most people would drink with their food. For westerners, this may sound appallingly bizarre. Just try to picture pairing your starter with a whisky. I doubt if anyone but Sir Winston Churchill would do that.

So I didn’t like my first encounter with wine. Not at all. As a matter of fact, I didn’t touch wine for the next two years. I remember it was in a time when many people would blend Sprite or Coke with wine, just to avoid the astringent taste by adding sugar and bubbles. I was also under the impression that such a thing was fashionable, as my dear mom didn’t think twice about blending the two components together when there was nothing else to drink. Now as I think of it, for wine, it could be a sin, but as an RTD beverage, it might be really successful in China if marketed smartly. But back then, I just stuck to my straight Coke and Sprite anyway.

Compared with my first experience, my second encounter with wine was definitely more “seminal.” I remember a friend of my father sent him a case of wine, but sarcastically, my father was by no means a wine drinker back then. So he practically let me dispose of the 12 bottles, and asked me if I want to give them away. Then the manhood thing about alcoholic drinks that my uncle once talked about came to me. I was 17 years old and was ready to give it another shot. “Just to see if I was manly enough to like it,” I thought.

So I clumsily uncorked the first bottle and poured some into the only wine glass that I had back then. I don’t remember if I smelled it. What I remember was that I gulped, and choked myself. The alcohol rose fiercely from my throat to the back of my nose. I nearly cried. But I didn’t give up. Instead, I gave it another try. Only this time, I sipped. I held it for a second in my mouth, and the drops of liquid oozed with sap and flavours. For the first time, I have found flavours in wine, sour or sweet, real or imaginary, they tasted fine. I could still recall that it was a sensation that I loved, and it was so personal and intimate. And soon I got a bit slaphappy. Secretly, I told myself: “This must be what it feels like to be a man, and this purple portion is the answer to it.”

Sadly, I hadn’t remembered what exactly was my seminal wine even I quaffed the whole case, until it reappeared to me after some 8 years, in a wine fair in Beijing. It just came back to me when I had this occasional rendezvous with it, and I recognised the label. It was as vivid as 8 years ago, like a long-lost friend that just came back to me. It was a Bergerie de l’ Hortus from Domaine l’ Hortus of Pic St-Loup!

Now as a semi-professional wine aficionado, having done an MSc in wine and a WSET Diploma online, I worked hard to remember everything I taste. So every time when I think back and talk about my seminal wine experience, it was like recalling the purest moment of drinking and enjoying wine, without any mission or assignment, without any deliberate affection or intellectual harassment. And that was beautiful.

So I smiled when the Purple Page invited wine lovers to recall his or her seminal wine experience. Who would have thought that particular bottle of wine could have such an enchantment that haunted the drinker ever since? From the moment that the nectar slipped through the throat and relaxed the nerve as if unwinding the strings of a violin, then the aftertaste went all the way up to enlighten that logical mind to accelerate heartbeat, finally playing a dulcet note. Voilà, it is wine, it is music to ears. It is magic. 

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