China Currently World’s Fifth-Largest Wine Consuming Nation
Though Chinese wine buyers remain largely polarized, purchasing mostly cheap domestic plonk at the low end and French Bordeaux and Burgundy at the high end, Chinese winemakers continue to make significant strides in their efforts to improve their products and target the potentially lucrative mid-range. (A segment now largely populated by New World wineries.) Though these efforts largely fly under the international radar, a string of successes by domestic Chinese wineries indicate that China’s burgeoning premium wine market has the potential to become a greater domestic, if not regional, force. Last year, the Ningxia-based winery Helan Qing Xue’s Jia Bei Lan Cabernet Dry Red 2009 won China’s first-ever “International Trophy” at the Decanter World Wine Awards — where Chinese wines took home 11 medals in all — and soon after, Ningxia-based wineries took the top four spots in the “Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge” in Beijing, a blind tasting of 10 wines judged by Chinese and French judges.
This week, at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards in London, Chinese wineries increased their medal haul yet again, receiving 18 accolades in total: five commendations, 10 bronze medals, two silvers and one gold. China’s single gold medal was won by Chateau Reifeng-Auzias in Shandong province for its Cabernet 2010 (which also took a silver medal for its 2010 Syrah). A little-known name compared to more established Chinese premium wineries like Grace or Silver Heights, Reifeng-Auzias is a joint venture between Domaine Auzias in Cabardès in the south of France and wine lovers (and oil-business execs) Wu Feng and his wife Mei Ling. According to the winery website, Reifeng-Auzias, located near Penglai (where Domaines Barons de Rothschild and CITIC recently broke ground on their joint vineyard) grows 10 hectares of Syrah, 10 of Cabernet Franc and three hectares of Chardonnay, and “is located on an excellent clay and limestone terroir and sand, on the same latitude line as Barcelona.”
Every Chinese wine included in this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards originated from Inner Mongolia, Hebei province, Shandong province or Shanxi province. As Decanter notes today, the majority of winning wines were Cabernet blends, but the list also included a Reserve Traminer 2010 from Château Sun God – part of Great Wall – in Hebei, Domaine Helan Mountain’s Reserve Pinot and Reserve Merlot, a Chardonnay and the white grape Dragon Eye, both also from Great Wall. Overall, accolades were distributed fairly evenly to independent wineries and much larger state-owned plots; the respected Shanxi-based winery Grace Vineyard took home five medals, as did China’s largest wine company, Great Wall.
Reflecting on this year’s results, Decanter publishing director Sarah Kemp said China’s continuing success at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards “yet again confirms that it is a country to watch,” adding, “We are just beginning to see a glimpse of its potential.”