Learn about Wines in Tokyo

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Is Kim Jong-un a Wine Searcher User?

It might be one of the world's poorest countries, but someone, somewhere in North Korea has a taste for Bordeaux, Brunello and $3 fizz.

It turns out that Wine-Searcher is a truly global resource – our usefulness extends beyond capitalism and has made it as far as the totalitarian regime on the northern side of the 38th parallel. That's right, North Korea is periodically searching for a handful of wines a month.
If you're wondering (like I did), how North Koreans are even allowed to use the internet, you should know that we are talking about a tiny number of searches – 32 in total, perhaps a similar amount as Google has a year for "Kim Jong-un Naked". We think the searches could have been made by the Kim family or high-ranking officials; a co-worker suggested that perhaps they were cheekily looking at how much people had spent on gifts for them rather than trying to find bargains.
From what I can tell, whoever is searching in North Korea has a predilection for reasonably priced Bordeaux wines and a healthy penchant for dreaming. A few Bordeaux wines at around the $20 mark sit comfortably alongside the likes of Margaux and Petrus. Biondi Santi's Riserva Brunello di Montalcino is on the list as well, and searches in previous years include some top Cognac and some quaffing whisky.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the deep animosity between the two countries, there is a single American wine on the list, Cinnabar Mercury Rising, a Bordeaux blend that hits around that same $20 mark. The same interest is not shown for white wines – the only white featured is Caldirola Maestri Cantinieri lightly sparkling Italian wine with a high average price on Wine Searcher of ... $3.
All of this got me thinking about North Korea's culture around drinking, which is something I couldn't possibly hope to experience firsthand, at least not for the foreseeable future; my country has advised against travel in the DPRK. While I'm up for a bit of danger and adventure, I'd rather get that by traveling in a taxi in Rome than risk being imprisoned and tortured. At any rate, if I'm getting sent anywhere for work, North Korea would be pretty far down the list.
So my information comes courtesy of the WWW. The bustling metropolis of Pyongyang is home to any "nightlife" the country might have, servicing mostly foreigners and I guess some of the city's middle class. Intrepid explorers from the most hipster of US media outfits have done my research for me – by all accounts the beers brewed here are pretty drinkable, and on days of national celebration – Kim Jong Il's birthday, for instance – the locals get loose. Notable North Korean tipples include wines made from blueberries, ginseng, and snakes (if you read how this is made, you can't unread; just a word of warning) and a wine made from wild North Korean grapes which is, by all accounts, deeply disgusting.
But the Pyongyang middle class is a tiny proportion of the population and, for most North Koreans, food is a more pressing need than alcohol; choosing between feeding your family for a month and buying a single bottle of liquor seems like a no-brainer. But there are ways around it – families can collect a kind of spirit distilled from acorns on national holidays (although they have to provide their own acorns). Many families also ferment their own wines at home.
But drinking alcohol signifies wealth and power – quite the alternative motive to Europe's discourse of wine in everyday situations, and the United States' ever-growing affinity for the stuff. Which is what makes the searches particularly interesting – are North Koreans searching for nice wines for their cellar? Or are they searching to get a few steps in front of their neighbors?

Source: http://www.wine-searcher.com/