Archive for ‘Chinese Wine’

December 6, 2010

Is China Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon Great Wine?


When you order wine in China, be specific. You may get a glass of high alcohol distilled liquor, such as rice wine, rather than fermented noble grapes. But never fear it is possible to get a decent glass of Chinese red wine. Modern wine production has been going on in China for more than 100 years, but I took an incursion from the French in 1980 when Rémy Martin set up a joint venture for wine production to flourish. And flourish it has. Chinese grape wine sales revenues were approximately $2.8 billion in 2008, a growth of 20 percent over 2007.  Domestic consumption has grown rapidly in the past decade and it is now the fastest growing wine market in the world.

 There are now hundreds of vineyards producing wine, including Grace Vineyards, which I reviewed in September 2010. This month I went back and tried Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon. China Great Wall Wine Company, a subsidiary of COFCO Wines & Spirits Co. Ltd., is one of the top three largest wine producers in China along with Changyu Pioneer and Dynasty, and is the largest exporter. It was established in 1983 and has vineyards in the Shacheng region of China. In addition to making distilled spirits and off-dry wines, the company makes red and white table wine using state of the art wine producing equipment imported from France, Germany and Italy. Great Wall wines have gained notoriety in China and it has been named the official wine products of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and is the provider of the only designated wines for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

Does that mean the wine is any good? Here are my tasting notes.

Look Here is the first clue that this Cabernet is not going to beat premium wines from established wine regions in blind tastings. It looks more like a Pinot Noir than a Cabernet. It is bright, translucent garnet rather than inky, midnight eggplant.   
Smell Great Wall has a timid nose. I had to snort deeply to get a whiff of boysenberry, plum, hickory smoke and bacon.    
Taste It has gentle fruit musings of strawberry and cherry overlaying saline red meat on the mid pallet and then finishes quickly with charcoal and light tannins. Its light bodied and mellow: much less robust than a California Cabernet or a Cab driven Bordeaux.

 Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t readily available in the U.S. I wasn’t able to find it for sale on any of the large online retailers like Wine.com or Snooth.com. It’s certainly not worth the price of a plane ticket to go and taste it in China. But, if you find yourself in China, give it a try to get a baseline measure of where Chinese wine is today. Great Wall Cab is reasonably pleasant and drinkable. Chinese wine producers have a way to go to catch up with the established wine industry, but I don’t doubt they will. Try it again in five years and let me know if I’m right.

What are you drinking?

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September 16, 2010

Red Wine from Red China: Grace Vineyard


Wine is made in most countries in the world that can sustain grape vines. Those gnarly creepers are pretty hardy, so there aren’t many places that can’t produce wine. I’ve never seen Chinese wine in the shops in the U.S., but in fact there are about 400 wineries there. The Chinese like their drink as much as anyone, so of course there is a market for fine wine. Some estimates suggest that China is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with the vast majority of it consumed in the country.

I had the opportunity to go to Beijing this week and of course I had to try the local wine. I ordered a couple glasses of 2008 Grace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany my lunch.

Grace Vineyard is a family-owned winery, based in Shanxi province, south of Beijing. It was started by Chan Chun Keung with the first plantings in 1997 in 168 acre vineyards and the first vintage was 2001. It is now run by Chun Keung’s oldest daughter, Judy Leissner, who studied at the University of Michigan – and I hold that against her. The winery produces Bordeaux style wines which are aided by its location in spirit at least as its situated approximately on the same latitude as Bordeaux.  OK, so they don’t speak French to the grapes, the climate is cold in the winter and hot and wet in the summer, and the soil is more loamy, but they at least grow some of the same grapes that are prominent in that famed French region including Cabernet Franc (24%), Merlot (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (38%), oh and also Chardonnay (8%).   

Grace bottles nine wines categorized in three quality levels: Flower Series, aka Vineyard Series (Rosé, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon); Bronze Series (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Winemakers Selection – a Bordeaux blend); Gold Series (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot). They produce about 700,000 bottles a year. I tasted the ’08 Vineyard Series Cab, which is made to be drunk young. Hmm, young and drunk. Rings a bell.

Look Dark ruby with a tinge of age at the edge like the smoggy midnight sky in Beijing.  
Smell A box of raisins left in the sun a lunch box for a few days: warm with aged sweetness.
Taste A front of soft plum, quickly followed by prune on the mid-palette and slipping away in a fast finish with mild insinuations of oak.  
Price 45.00 RMB/ glass or about $6. Bottles go for about $28 retail.

Did I buy a few bottles to bring home with me? Nope. Would I drink it again in my next visit to China? Yep.

What are you drinking?