The Bed Head is Dead, and the Fine Wine Market Has Evidently Lost a Major Buyer
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il—he of the bouffant hairdo—died over the weekend. He was 69. Typical of such tyrants, Kim lived lavishly while inflicting appalling hardship on his people. He was a sybarite, who particularly enjoyed indulging at the table—an especially grotesque twist, given that 2-3 million North Koreans starved to death on his watch and malnutrition has severely stunted the growth of millions of others. Kim regularly dispatched minions to bring him the finest foods, wines, and digestifs from Europe and other parts of Asia. He also imported chefs, two of whom wrote about their experiences of catering to the Dear Leader.
The pseudonymous Kenji Fujimoto was Kim’s personal sushi chef from 1988 to 2001. After returning to his native Japan, he wrote a tell-all called I Was King Jong-il’s Cook, which became a bestseller there. According to Fujimoto, Kim had a 10,000-bottle wine collection and would typically open multiple bottles before deciding what to drink with a meal. Fujimoto reported that Kim got heavily into wine after his doctors advised him to ease up on the cognac (he was a Hennessy man, and reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the finest French brandies). Fujimoto also indicated that Kim was an alcoholic who was prone to wild benders.
In 1997, an Italian chef named Ermanno Furlanis spent several weeks in North Korea making pizzas for Kim and teaching some North Korean army officers how to do the same. Furlanis subsequently wrote a series of magazine articles about his visit to the Hermit Kingdom. He said couriers would routinely show up in the kitchen bearing luxury foodstuffs from abroad. One day, a deliveryman arrived with two large boxes of French cheeses and a case of pricey French wines. “That evening, dinner—a feast worthy of Petronious’s Satyricon—was served with an excellent Burgundy and delicacies from around the world,” wrote Furlanis. But the Italian chef did have one complaint: he let it be known that he thought Kim’s wine collection leaned too heavily French. Three days later, a shipment of Barolos arrived.
(Not all tyrants have such cultivated taste; Saddam Hussein’s house wine was Mateus Rosé.)
I suppose we’ll have to wait until the North Korean regime collapses, as it almost surely will, to learn more about Kim’s wine stash. I assume that a lot of the wines were procured via China, but it would be interesting to find out how the pot-bellied monster amassed his 10,000 bottles, and I personally look forward to the day when the cellar gets ransacked by a mob of his newly liberated compatriots. It appears they’ll have some good stuff to drink in celebration.