I took our bottle around town for two weeks (it's fortified, so it keeps just fine) to get impressions from other people. I'd usually have to cajole or beg people down from "hell no" to "just a sip." To a one, my guinea pigs — F&B people, teachers, financiers, the strangers I drink with in bars — started with "this is not a good idea," followed by a tentative sip, followed by a pause, sometimes that slurpy mouth thing refined wine people do, then some variation on a begrudging "huh." By the third sip (or glass), everyone would say something like "that's actually okay." Huh.
I asked Penfolds themselves to put this baffling concoction in context.
Penfolds Special Bottling Lot 518 is a new innovation that targets wine consumers looking for something new and different, and also baijiu consumers that are interested in wine. We don't necessarily have one specific demographic that we are targeting as we see wine consumption growth in multiple segments of the Chinese market... The palate will surely surprise and enchant! A (very) textural, savoury and balanced acidity from the Baijiu is complemented by the rich fruit flavors of the shiraz––
etc., etc. Looking for an expert's opinion, I went to Philippe Huser, who has been a respected guy in Shanghai's wine scene for ages, since before he started Napa Wine Bar & Kitchen. He was also the only one who spat it out. Because that's what refined wine people do.
"The baijiu aroma as you drink is very obvious, but not obnoxious," he said. A lot of fruity notes, with the baijiu only really coming through at the end. He did note that Napa keeps a couple bottles of baijiu in the back for when large business dinners turn serious. Wine just won't cut it if you're close to sealing the deal. Lot 518, however, is 21.5% ABV. "If you're looking to get drunk, maybe this is a more efficient way," he said. Joking! I presume.
He seemed interested in throwing it into blind tastings to befuddle the palates of wine drinkers. By the third sip, he seemed okay with it existing. I asked if he'd serve it at his restaurant. He said, well, no, but if he had to serve it with something, it'd be spicy food and dark chocolate, and serve it chilled, "around 14 degrees." So, basically anything to cover up the flavor.
I don't see what problem this solves. There are not a lot of wine drinkers who love the fiery charms of refined petroleum. Nor are there a lot of baijiu drinkers who appreciate the sissy pants fetishism of old grape juice, either. The middle of that venn diagram mostly features men who made their fortune in coal in the early 2000s.
Penfolds Lot 518 Spirited Wine with Baijiu. It's around 800rmb (!!) of enchanting "innovation".
Now, can anyone help me finish this damn bottle?