Everyone knows that the Chinese speak a different language. Surprisingly though, most wineries and distributors assume that translating their tasting notes only requires a word for word translation to Cantonese. It actually requires a lot more.
Language is rich with cultural references. While in Chile some of us may struggle to get to grips with how a lychee tastes, imagine the quandary in China when wine drinkers are presented with descriptors of flavours they have never tasted nor imagined: strawberry, blackberry, gooseberry etc are all fruits which aren’t widely accessible in China and you can forget completely describing a wine with aromas manjar or merken.
Tasting notes and marketing in China need to not only be translated into Mandarin or Cantonese but also into a wine language they understand. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled ‘Lost in Translation: The Lingo for Tasting Wine’ cited tasting notes by Christie’s auction house for a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, culturally translated into Chinese:
“There are fragrant aromas of dates, Chinese herbal medicine and Chiuchow master stock, enhanced by sweet, fruity and lasting tastes, with even a hint of the sweetness of dang gui. This can be drunk now for its fruity flavor, or aged for another 20-30 years. Best to pair with crispy barbecue pork.”
See how alien the tasting notes would seem to someone who hasn’t lived in China? It’s the same principal.
But all is not lost for Chilean vintners hoping to break into the fifth largest consumer market in the world. Judge for this year’s Annual Wines of Chile Awards Fong Yee Walker says that you just need to remove the cultural descriptors and think more universally. “Use more words like refreshing or rich, words that don’t require a cultural context,” the Chinese wine educator recommends. As well as careful translation of words, she also advises that wineries translate their packaging correctly too: “Make sure you have a good Chinese name and good Chinese labeling.”
One of the best ways to get your tasting notes just right is to not just with a native language translator, but someone who is native to the tastes of China.
By Amanda Barnes
To read the WSJ article on translating tasting notes for the Chinese market, follow this link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324735304578354481799586190.html?mg=id-wsj