Wines from China

I’ve been in China for the last 10 days on a guided tour aptly named A Taste of China, and that’s what I’ve been doing – tasting the history, culture, food and of course the wine. To sum it all up, China has huge potential for producing and exporting quality wine – it’s just not there yet.

My exposure to Chinese wine started on the plane out to Beijing where I saw 2 ads in the in flight magazine. The first featured a distinguished looking Frenchman and a picture of chateau which I guess was trying to be aspirational – drink this Chinese wine made in conjunction with a French company and live like the French do. I did try some but unfortunately it was oxidised. Coincidentally each of the first three bottles I drank were oxidised. I was beginning to think this was deliberate and the way the Chinese liked to enjoy their wine, but I was wrong as well as plain unlucky.

As this was a group holiday, opportunities to taste wines were limited to whatever was available in the restaurant we were in that evening. I would hazard a guess that in at least 75% of them, we were treated to a quizzical look when asking for the wine list. This is simply a reflection of a number of things including the limited English vocabulary many Chinese waiting staff have plus asking for the wine list is still slightly unusual. When asked for a bottle of red wine, few staff had any problems with this and we were then offered whatever was available, whatever the price or grape variety. These restaurants by the way were usually local ones rather than expensive tourist frequented places.

The grape varieties and vintages caused me to scratch my head a few times. The producer Great Wall who are to be the official wine of the 2008 Olympics had a cabernet and a cabernet sauvignon. Unfortunately the cabernet was oxidised so that didn’t really give me any clues as to how different it was to the cabernet sauvignon.
Over at the UK Wine Show Robert Joseph the wine writer was emphasizing the potential of the Chinese, as was Jancis Robinson in a recent Grape Radio podcast. The Chinese have taken over the world when it comes to socks, underwear, toys, electronics etc etc. There is absolutely no reason why they won’t do the same with wine in the medium future. They have the space, growing grapes does not detract from other food staples such as wheat, they are highly motivated and a large number of them are aspirational. They want the luxury goods the West have and wine is one of them. If I could buy shares in Chinese wine producers I would.

And the story behind the picture? That’s my profile done at Xi’an airport on the way back to London via Beijing having seen the famous Terracotta Warriors. I was standing waiting to check in when I became conscious of a small Chinese man standing next to me studying me while cutting something out of paper. It turns out he was doing my profile. Now that’s a unique talent!

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Reader Comments

Hi! I live in Beijing and have also served as judge at several Chinese wine shows (lately at a huge one in Yantai where I was the only -albeit Chinese speaking - foreign judge).
The Cabernet from Great Wall is most probably Ruby Cabernet or may be Cabernet Gernischt. Unfortunately, with the large domestic brands of Great Wall, Dynasty and Changyu, you were most likely drinking a mixture of Chinese and import bulk wine. This mixing is not indicated on the label but is common practise given the demand for domestic red wine and the need to keep price points down. The more ‘honest’ brands such as Grace and DragonSeal all use Chinese-grown grapes only. I am just sorry you never got to taste the Grace Premium Chardonnay. For the money, this is one of the best wines made in China and of a taste remarkably similar to a high-class SA Chardonnay.