How Does Chinese Wine Stack Up? Experts Weigh In

    In recent years, domestic Chinese wine producers have been hard at work trying to convince wine lovers that they're moving up the value and quality chain. But how do their wines taste?
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    China Currently The World's Seventh-Largest Consumer Of Wine, In Terms Of Volume#

    Grace Vineyard is widely considered one of China's best wineries (Image: Shanghai Expat)

    With China hungry for all things luxury, from handbags to yachts, private jets to diamonds, demand for wine continues to soar, increasingly among the country's growing middle class. Over the last two years, Chinese buyers have flocked to auctions in Hong Kong in the hopes of outbidding one another for every bottle of Chateau Lafite 1982 or Domaine de la Romanée Conti they could possibly get their hands on, a development which has seen Hong Kong surpass New York and London to become the world's largest single wine auction market. Pretty impressive, considering mainland Chinese consume only around 1 liter of wine annually per capita. (Compared to 4.5 liters in Hong Kong and a whopping 58 liters per year in France.) This weekend, a predominantly Chinese buyer base spent US$12.4 million at the Sotheby's "Ultimate Cellar" auctions in Hong Kong, the second-highest total ever for a Sotheby's wine auction series, which goes to show that China's current wine craze shows no signs of slowing down.

    While we've established that Chinese buyers are willing to spend thousands on marquee bottles from imported brands, generally with the intention of sharing with (or presenting them as gifts to) business acquaintances, domestic Chinese wine producers have been hard at work trying to convince these buyers -- and, to a lesser extent, the world -- that they're moving up the value and quality chain. Recently, several Chinese winemakers have gone as far as building massive châteaux and purchasing vineyards in France and Chile in order to secure a steady supply of higher-quality grapes and technological know-how in the hopes of improving their image. But how do their wines taste?

    Last year, Stan Stesser of the Wall Street Journal rated a handful of Chinese wines, ranging in price from US$2.87-$72. With tasting notes varying from "An aroma that evoked dirty sweat socks and cleaning fluid and a foul chemical taste" (Changyu nonvintage Cabernet) to "Real wine...that could have held its own with Cabernets from other countries" (Great Wall Cabernet 1998), Stesser's reviews were decidedly mixed. More recently, a panel of experts weighed in on the state of China's wine industry at the Shanghai Literary Festival, with the overall consensus being that China does produce several good wines -- you just have to know what to look for.

    From Shanghai Expat:

    According to Denis Lin, a Mainland-based wine educator, there are great wines being made in China. Denis cites the Symphony Series (made by Grace Vineyard in Shaanxi Province) as indistinguishable in terms of quality from wine made from Europe, Australia, or the Americas. He also notes grapes from Xinjiang to have potential. Referring to a Niya brand Cabernet Sauvignon, “The quality is good, but still has some distance to be qualified as premium by international standards.”

    In addition to Grace Vineyard in Shaanxi, [wine writer] Chantal [Chi] points to Silver Heights in Ningxia as a domestic winery producing top-notch wine. “Emily Gao [proprietor of Sliver Heights] is a hard-working woman who knows how to make wine.” Many of the panelists and participants agree. One of Denis's recent favorites is the Silver Heights Family Reserve.

    Winemaker Emma Gao Yuan of "micro-winery" Silver Heights

    The article goes on to cite a post by the Chinese wine portal, which rated the top four wines in China as:


    Grace Vineyard#

    Chairman's Reserve 2008 (488 yuan (US$75)/bottle): Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Merlot 25% & Cabernet Franc 5%


    Grace Vineyard#

    Deep Blue 2008 (288 yuan ($44)/bottle): Merlot 40%, Cabernet Franc 12% & Cabernet Sauvignon 48%


    Grace Vineyard with Torres#

    Symphony Series 2008 (178 ($27)/bottle): Muscat 100%


    Silver Heights#

    “The Summit” 2007 (no price listed): Cabernet Sauvignon 60%, Cabernet Gernischt 30% & Cabernet Franc 10%

    Even to those who haven't yet tried Chinese wine, a quick search of domestic brands will virtually always lead you to Grace, the 14-year-old boutique winery located in central Shanxi province -- an area known more for coal than grapes. In a recent review of 20 Chinese wines by Lisa Perrotti-Brown -- 13 from Grace Vineyard, six from Dynasty (one of China's "big three" producers), and one from Silver Heights -- four Grace wines scored above an 82 (the highest, Grace Chairman’s Reserve 2008, scoring an 85), with the rest scoring anywhere from a 68 (Grace Cabernet Sauvignon 2008) to an 80 (Grace Tasya’s Reserve Cabernet Franc 2008). Silver Heights, too, is proving popular among many wine experts, with the Ningxia "micro-winery" gaining plaudits for its Cabernet blends.

    While Chinese winemakers don't yet inspire the same excitement as their European or "New World" counterparts, the increasing quality and consistency of wines from smaller producers like Grace, Silver Heights and Inner Mongolian newcomer Chateau Hansen could see them showing up on the radar screens of more wine enthusiasts worldwide in coming years.

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