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Wine: Vino and vending machines

Having recently finished a round of tastings for clients in other parts of Asia, I’ve found myself missing the good old (and bad old!) days when wine was all about drinking instead of collecting and prestige.

At one particular event, I was doing my usual song and dance about a range of high-end wines for a corporate client and their customers. One bloke came up to me and cut my banter short with a sharp question: “Yes, this is all very interesting, but which is the most expensive?” Clearly after his pound of flesh, he proceeded without further comment to swan-dive into a series of decanters of a high-ticket Bordeaux from the 90s.

Plenty of people seem to be into wine acquisition for the sake of status or commercial gain. They rarely pause to consider the simple pleasures of well-made wine. It’s a lot about show. The urban legend about cola being mixed with expensive Lafite seems totally believable given my recent experience in a chi-chi Hong Kong hotel. After being ushered into a dimly lit wine bar and million-dollar shrine to designer Philippe Starck by a very serious looking blonde with bodywork about as real as a Stelvin screw-cap compared with cork, I was presented not with a wine glass but with a plastic key-card.

The woman pointed sternly in the direction of a row of new-fangled wine-vending machines, where my plastic key-card was inserted into a slot, resulting in the delivery of my first strictly apportioned and oxidised taste of Lafite Rothschild 2002. I have not felt as processed and depersonalised since trying to buy a rail pass at a Tokyo train station in rush hour.

After also tasting an awkwardly depressed Opus One 2005 and Tiganello 2004 from said vending machines, I asked my host if the system was popular. Beaming, she announced that the wines can keep for as long as three weeks in these machines, and that business is booming. I reached for the whisky list with a sigh.

Moral of the story: never take a plastic key-card from a stern blonde with bodywork unless you’re really sure what you’re getting yourself into.

Robert Rees is Manager of Sales and Marketing for www.wineexchangeasia.com .

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