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The Bed Head is Dead, and the Fine Wine Market Has Evidently Lost a Major Buyer

2011 December 19
by Mike

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.

19 Responses leave one →
  1. Milagros permalink
    March 6, 2013

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  2. Jack Bulkin permalink
    December 20, 2011

    Evan, if you read Klapp’s last comment, you know who I meant when I said “we”. LOL

  3. December 20, 2011

    Well-played, Bill. I wish he’d focused on hedonistic fruit bombs instead of the nukes that he bequeathed his country.

    Sam, that’s a great story. I wonder if Kim was insulted by the non-reaction and if it somehow influenced his attitude in the negotiations. The guy was nuts enough that it might well have.

  4. Bill Klapp permalink
    December 20, 2011

    “Typical of such tyrants, Guess Who lived lavishly while inflicting appalling hardship on his readership. He was a sybarite, who particularly enjoyed indulging at the table…”

  5. Sam K permalink
    December 20, 2011

    An anecdote I heard about Kim Jong Il’s oenophilia (which I have not verified, but interesting nevertheless) – at one North-South summit, he decided to play the generous host and served Latour at the table. This was before wine became fashionable in South Korea, so none of the senior South Korean officials recognized it for what it was and no-one commented on his fine tastes. Consequently, the Latours did not make a second appearance…

  6. Bill Haydon permalink
    December 20, 2011

    Word is that he was devoting considerable resources into the People’s hedonistic fruit bomb program.

  7. December 20, 2011

    Listen, Bill–I’m happy to still have a full head of hair; it would be avaricious in the extreme to wish to have locks as splendid as Dear Leader’s.

  8. Bill Klapp permalink
    December 20, 2011

    “Wouldn’t that be something if there were back issues of The Wine Advocate floating around his Pyongyang lair?”

    Translated into Korean, by a translator who goes on to commit various frauds under the aegis of The Wine Advocate and using its stationery?

  9. Bill Klapp permalink
    December 20, 2011

    Mike, dude, I have seen recent photos of you, and I have to believe that this piece is all about hair envy. Maybe Parker and his flock have it right about you and your fellow bloggistas: you have to tear decent wine lovers and humanitarians like Kim Jong Il down to make yourselves look better!

  10. December 19, 2011

    Nice one, Dave! That would be an interesting revelation. Given all the craziness of Kim’s world, I suppose it is conceivable that he moonlighted as a wine blogger.

    m marcellus, that’s a good point. From what I understand, Hardy has always been quite active in Asia, and it’s entirely possible that some questionable wines made their way to Pyongyang. Would have served Kim right.

  11. m marcellus permalink
    December 19, 2011

    I wouldn’t be so sure that his cellar will yield a lot of great wines. How many do you think were supplied by Hardy Rodenstock or his ilk?

  12. December 19, 2011

    “… it would be interesting to find out how the pot-bellied monster amassed his 10,000 bottles … ”

    Maybe he was a blogger on the samples gravy train …

  13. December 19, 2011

    Jack – Fair enough.

  14. Jack Bulkin permalink
    December 19, 2011

    Evan we have compared the “apparatchiks” as followers of the fearless leader for a while now. A little much? Sure, I can’t argue that, but not as much as having to respond to their ire once incited.

  15. December 19, 2011

    Jack, I don’t think Kim could claim sole possession that title, and surely not now that he’s dead!

    Fair point, Evan; it was probably First Growths, Grand Cru Burgs, and maybe Napa cult cabs. Wouldn’t that be something if there were back issues of The Wine Advocate floating around his Pyongyang lair?

  16. December 19, 2011

    Mike – Let’s not ascribe credit for a “cultivated” palate in Kim Jong-Il’s case. I’m confident in guessing he went by point score alone; I highly doubt Cru Beauj or Loire Chenin graced his table, which would be far more impressive to me…

    Jack – I’ve got plenty of problems of with Parker and his apparatchiks, but using the North Korean dictator as a comparison is a little much, no?

  17. Jack Bulkin permalink
    December 19, 2011

    Dear Leader is finally thankfully dead. I guess I can’t use that term against the clueless EBOB Parkerites anymore. All marching in step to over extraction, huge oak and high alcohol as they raise their hands in unison..

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  1. Worth Reading This Week: Toasting Kim Jong-Il, Foppiano family feud, and consumers gain a voice | Dave McIntyre's WineLine
  2. Terroirist » Daily Wine News: Losing a Major Buyer

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