Posted on | November 5, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
“Bubbly is a distant competitor to still wines in China, a modest spume in the glass of total consumption, an effervescent afterthought. But as the market grows and more pockets of drinkers move from their typical tipple – notably reds from France – opportunities are increasing for sparkling wine. This has not gone unnoticed when it comes to producers at home, including projects backed by a global drinks giant, the country’s top family-owned winery, and a top-three domestic player.”
I didn’t know much about the sparkling wine market in China when I started the above story for Wine Business International. Now I can say I know a little. Which is sometimes the best you can do in a market as huge and hard to read as China’s. In any case, click here for the full story, in pdf form, including statistics, some insights on market conditions in China and details on three local producers.
Thurston: Advice for brain surgeons, white wine from red grapes, crocopotamus vino, Parker points, Pinotage & more
Posted on | November 4, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
During eight-plus years of writing about wine in China, I have learned much from winery owners, winemakers, vineyard managers, importers, distributors, retailers, academics, trade representatives and, notably, fellow consumers. I haven’t done so well with wine educators.
Always the optimist, I decided to find an educator for the blog who can help me and other vino misfits. This inaugural post, which first appeared in my free newsletter last week (subscribe here), comes from the author’s radio show and covers everything from making white wines with red grapes to mixing wine education with brain surgery, from Parker points to Pinotage. I hope you enjoy it.
[Sound of a popping cork, pouring wine and then an announcer]
Why does Champagne have bubbles? What happens if I eat a cork? Will mixing 95-point and 85-point wines give me a wine worth 90 points?
These are the kinds of questions covered by ‘Get Your Thirst On with Thurston‘. While everyone else in the wine trade talks about consumers, Thurston talks to them, and quenches their burning desire for knowledge. Here he is!
Hello, I’m wine educator Thurston H. Freude-Schaden. Welcome to — [sigh] -– ‘Get Your Thirst On with Thurston’.
A warning: my wife ‘accidentally’ drank my last bottle of ’61 Margaux last night, my subscription to jancisrobinson.com ran out this morning and my dog Vouvray just chewed the latest issue of The World of Fine Wine to bits. Things are not going well.
Let’s turn to today’s callers.
- Hi, it’s Perry from New Zealand.
What is your question, Perry?
- My mate said Sauvignon Blanc usually smells like cat’s pee and gave me a glass that stank worse than a portaloo. It tasted like piss, too. Turns out he made his cat leak in the wine as a joke.
Fascinating, Perry. No doubt film producers are frantically seeking screenwriters to immortalize this tale. Do you have a question?
- Yeah. Are there any health risks?
What brand of wine?
- Cloudy Bay.
No obvious ones spring to mind although your friend is in danger of boring himself to death with such a pedestrian choice. Next time, suggest Springfield Estate from South Africa, St. Supery from California or Greywacke from New Zealand.
- I don’t know. He really likes his Cloudy Bay.
Then inform him those other wines are more urine-absorbent. Next caller.
- Hello, it’s Alexis in New York.
Alexis, how might I help?
- I don’t have much time to learn about wine, so–
A common refrain. What is your profession?
- I’m a brain surgeon. And I manage an institute focused on curing cancer. And in my spare time I run a shelter for homeless pets that have cancer and need brain surgery.
And you claim there is not much time for wine?
- Yes, but–
Count your blessings, Alexis. Operating room lighting is ideal for judging wine. The next time you finish surgery, simply go from asking for a scalpel to asking for a glass.
- Yes, but–
Take several vintages of your favorite wine and do a vertical tasting. Or take a handful of wines from the same vintage and do a horizontal tasting.
- Yes, but–
Trust me, a blind tasting of five or six wines will both relieve the stress of performing a lobotomy and boost your wine knowledge. You could easily taste 30 wines a day.
- Yes, but–
- It’s Tom from South Africa. I’m ready to ‘get my thirst on’.
- Here’s my question and I think it’s a good one. If I take a 95-point Parker wine and an 85-point Parker wine and I mix them together, does that give me a 90-point Parker wine?
I’ll make this culturally relevant for you, Tom from South Africa. If I smash you in the face 95 times with a crocodile, then smash you in the face 85 times with a hippopotamus, does that mean I smashed you in the face 90 times with an crocopotamus?
- I think it means you’re bloody strong.
It’s apples and oranges, Tom. Round hole, square peg. Burgundy bottle, Champagne cork. Next caller.
- Hi, it’s Sunny from Shanghai. One of my friends claims you can make white wine from red grapes. Is that true?
Let me ask you a question, Sunny. Have you ever mistakenly stuck a red shirt into the laundry with the whites?
- No, but I did it once with a pair of red panties.
Oh. Uh, let’s imagine a shirt instead, shall we?
The juice from red grapes is clear — think of it as those whites in your laundry. But the skin of the grapes is like that red shirt. Add it to the whites and they become red. Leave it out and they stay white.
- So… is my friend right?
As surely as my cellar is missing a ’61 Margaux.
- So… is my friend right?
Yes. Red grapes, white wine, entirely possible. Next caller.
- Hi, I’m Sue, in Seattle.
Greetings, Seattle Sue.
- Well, everyone calls me Cabernet Suevignon, like Cabernet Sauvignon, since I love wine so much. When I can’t get any, I call myself Suevignon-less in Seattle, after that movie with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, and everyone cracks up and…
Why not call yourself Suener Veltliner?
- Because. Because. What do you mean?
Gruner Veltliner is a grape associated with Austria. I simply changed ‘Gruner’ to ‘Suener’ to indulge your attempt to gain acceptance through light-hearted humor.
- ‘Sue-ner-less in Seattle’ doesn’t have the same ring.
- I kind of like Suevignon. Anyway, my question–
Trust me. My examples are far more exotic. And you can get a thousand more by buying the book Wine Grapes. Sue long! Next caller.
- Hi, it’s Bob from Hong Kong.
What is your question, Bob.
- A salesman at my local wine shop says the difference between Pinot Noir and Pinotage is that Pinotage is an older grape. That’s why it has ‘age‘ at the end. Personally, I think he is full of…
Allow me stop you there, Bob. Your instincts are correct. Pinotage is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault and is thus a newer variety. It also tends to divide wine critics, although some drinkers – certainly not you – wolf down this often game-y plonk by the one-liter tetrapak.
- So why would he claim that–
Let me put it this way. Imagine that salesman is a grape. He is a cross between a dumb grape and a dumber grape and thus acquired the characteristics that lead a person to make ridiculous claims. It’s science, Bob. Next caller.
- Hi, it’s Neil calling from New Zealand.
What is your question, Neil from New Zealand?
- I was at this house party last night where a guy made his cat pee in a bottle of Cloudy Bay and…
Neil from New Zealand, are you familiar with Perry from New Zealand?
- Well, sure. Old Per’ and I go way back.
He already called about this fascinating episode. I suggest you talk to him. By the way, did you enjoy the wine?
- I wouldn’t pay money for it but I wouldn’t turn down a free glass.
Then get to know that cat.
- Actually, I don’t–
And that is all of the time we have for today. My gratitude to those callers who made it possible for a wine educator like me to talk to ordinary people like them, so we can all – [sigh] – get our thirst on.
[Announcer] Got a question or comment for Thurston, the wine educator who talks to consumers? Email him c/o grapewallofchina (at) gmail.com.
(Note: Thanks to JennyHat, Swoffy, ET and GWS for suggestions.)
Posted on | November 4, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
This week UK wine writer Jancis Robinson will start posting a five-part series by Nick Bartman on fake wine in China. Who’s Nick Bartman? An investigator who started The Wine Protection Group a few years ago to encourage industry players to join forces and fight counterfeit wines. He says the plan didn’t work due to industry inertia and stopped his anti-counterfeiting work in China about a year ago.
I first came into contact with Bartman in January of 2010 and met him several times later that year and in 2012. Last year, I posted some points covered in our initial meetings. An excerpt:
Boyce: Where did you go during your five-week tour of China and what did it reveal to you about the scope of the fake wine problem?
Bartman: My itinerary included Beijing, Yantai, Qingdao, Guangzhou, Wenzhou, Shanghai and Ningbo. I visited retailers, including small shops and supermarkets, wineries, and even distributors that operate out of apartment buildings.
I estimate I saw 300 to 400 different fake wines during my five weeks in China. The more I look at my 2,000 pictures and study details on each label, the more that number increases.
With a few exceptions there were fake wines dispersed among the originals in the one hundred or so shops visited. Unless buyers are wine savvy, they don’t stand a chance of knowing whether what they are buying was real or not.
As for a percentage, I might take a stab and say 50 percent of the foreign wine I saw is fake. There are a lot of tricks being played. For example, a supermarket buyer may taste and order a selection of foreign wines, but what is then delivered is fake. Of course, many outlets also knowingly buy fakes.
The full post is here.
Bartman says the upcoming series is a whopping 10,000 words long and hopes it will “wake up” many in the industry. Five thoughts on this:
- From May to July 2010, Robinson wrote at least five posts about Bartman’s findings, and it didn’t seem to get many people out of their slumber. (About that time, I sent details of Bartman’s work to several journalists here but found little interest.) Does that mean this current exercise is futile? No. Food safety is increasingly at the forefront as an issue in China. Even though people have tended to hit the “snooze” button in the past, perhaps we are at the point where they are starting to get out of bed. We’ll see.
- Counterfeit wine is a broad topic that could describe everything from a liquid called wine but containing little or no grape content to a cheap wine labeled as an expensive one. These obviously can present different levels of concern in terms of food safety. It will be interesting to see the examples given by Bartman and whether there are any suggestions for prioritization.
- It will also be interesting to see if Bartman quantifies the problem. In the excerpt above, he estimated about 50 percent of the imported wine he saw was fake. Based on my experience with industry people, I expect some to say it confirms their suspicions, others to say that number is far too high based on their experience, and still others to say Bartman has an interest in the figures being high since it would underscore the need for action.
- Those diverse reactions also underscore how hard it is to get a grasp on this market. People find it difficult to calculate how much land is planted with vines or how much wine is produced or how much of the imported wine coming into this country is actually sold or how many bottles of wine the average consumer drinks. The same goes with counterfeits.
- Finally, while Bartman has focused on foreign labels, Chinese producers are targets, too. I’ve seen knockoffs of Great Wall and police raids have turned up fakes of both imported and big local brands. Smaller wineries, such as Helan Qing Xue in Ningxia and Chateau Hansen in Inner Mongolia, are among those who also tell me they have problems with copies.
There is little doubt there are plenty of intellectual property issues, including counterfeits, in the China wine scene, so hopefully this series of posts will give us some balanced insights and be part of a movement that leads to action.
(Note: Earlier this year, I wrote an article re fake California wine in China. It also touched on the growing importance of food safety as an issue in China. You can read it here.)
Posted on | October 31, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
It seems every grape, like every dog, will have its day.*
For Malbec, that date is April 17. For Chardonnay, May 23. Fans of Grenache open their bottles on the third Friday in September while those of Tempranillo will do it November 14 this year. Etc.
Given this, it might be fun for those of us in China to celebrate a grape commonly associated with this nation — Cabernet Gernischt. And given the grape’s name, one option would be to do so right after Cabernet Day, usually held in late August or early September. Three reasons why:
- Etymologically, Cabernet Gernischt fits neatly under the Cabernet umbrella.
- Gernischt is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc.
- We could drink all kinds of Cabernet on Cabernet Day and then — at midnight — switch to a lineup dedicated to Gernischt and thus prolong the party.
I realize there might be objections.
There are some people who worry about Cabernet G – as Cabernet Gernischt is informally known — being positioned as “China’s grape“. They cite wines that are too green and suggest Gernischt be used for blending at most. Thus, they would rather downplay than celebrate this grape.
Also, some state that Cabernet Gernischt is actually Carmenere – I didn’t find a Carmenere Day so we could have a dual day of celebration. Or that it is actually Cabernet Franc — this would fit nicely under Cabernet Day. Or that is is actually a kind of Syrah — there is a Syrah Day in February, thus another opportunity to celebrate Gernischt.
Finally, some might feel we should focus on grapes native to China such as Long Yan (Dragon’s Eye). Hey, I’d be happy to celebrate those, too!
Anyway, it’s just an idea. Any thoughts? Anyone up for ‘Cabernet G Day’? Should we discuss it over a few bottles?
* The book “Wine Grapes” lists 1368 varieties. If each gets its own day, we’re talking about an average of 26 celebrations per week!
Posted on | October 30, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
The wines Pernod Ricard makes in Ningxia under the lable Helan Mountain are both fruitful and frustrating. On one hand, much of the wine coming from this operation ranks among the best by value, and in some cases overall — try the 2011 ‘Special Reserve’ Chardonnay — in China. On the other hand, finding it in retail or in bars or restaurants is not easy for consumers.
So it’s good news that Pernod Ricard now has a shop at tmall.com. It currently lists 10 wines, ranging from rmb78 for entry-level reds and whites to rmb268 for the ‘special reserve’ Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon — that Chardonnay is not up just yet. You can find Helan Mountains from other places online but it’s good to have it available direct from the source.
Posted on | October 30, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
My third “Made in China” column for The Beijinger magazine takes a cue from Halloween and looks at vampires, zombies, body-snatchers and other monsters of the China wine scene. Full text below. You can also read it by clicking the image above, using the clearer iPad version here, or picking up a copy of the magazine. Here’s the horror story…
As if on cue for Halloween, vineyards become graveyards in northern China this time of year. After the grapes are harvested, and before winter descends, the vines turn into The Living Dead as they are buried beneath a foot or more of soil as protection against the coming cold. They spend months entombed before seeing another ray of light. But dealing with winter is not the only monster problem facing the wine industry. Here are a few more.
Among the biggest challenges with Chinese wines is finding value, that elusive mixture of quality and price. Just as creatures of the night drain their victims of blood, poor-value wines suck cash from consumers’ wallets and purses. It’s all take and no give. The Count Dracula of this scene is a wine from Shandong priced at rmb28,000, higher than all but a few of the world’s best bottles. Drive a wooden stake into that one.
Like mad doctors using a mishmash of body parts to create a composite creature, some domestic producers combine local and imported bulk wines. It is estimated that 15 to 25 percent of what is found under Chinese labels is of foreign origin. Blending is not illegal so long as labeling laws are followed. But it might explain why a label you bought from a Chinese producer reminds you of something from Spain or Chile, the two current key sources of bulk wine.
Consumers tend to buy wine as gifts, with a focus on brand or price, or to drink it for assumed health benefits, thus taste has not been the main priority. This has been reflected in the industry through a lackadaisical attitude toward quality. Farmers are often paid for grapes by weight and thus grow not the best but as many as they can. Those grapes might well get harvested too early for fear of loss due to averse weather and thus be unripe. And the ensuing wine tends to inspire descriptions such as “thin” or “watery“. That wine is a ghost of what might have been had someone cared about the fruit.
When it comes to fake wine in China, people typically talk about imports from places like France and Australia. But well-known local brands are also at risk of “invasion”, with variations or outright copies of Great Wall but one example. (Note: Be careful of anything called Grave Wall.) It happens to smaller wineries, too, with Chateau Hansen in Inner Mongolia and Helan Qing Xue in Ningxia reporting cases of brand-snatching. It’s best to buy direct from official distributors or trusted restaurants and bars.
Take a light fruity wine that is overwhelmed by too much time in new oak barrels. Or made undrinkable due to a cheap faulty cork. Or suffered severe damage from excessive heat or cold — or both — during transportation. Or even made it to the wine shop intact only to be stuck in the front window to warm and sparkle in the sunlight. (Wine reacts about as well as vampires to such a situation.) That once enjoyable wine is long gone and something unpleasant has come to life in its place. Hopefully, it won’t eat your brain.
While all of these examples make the wine industry in China sound a bit scary, the good news is that forces are fighting these monsters. As more consumers enjoy wine for its taste, they are learning to become vampire slayers and avoid body snatchers. As vineyard, winery and shop managers gain experience, they are turning into zombie killers and ghost-busters. And with quality on the rise in China, we are moving from the era of Dawn of the Dead to that of Dawn of the Red.
- Made in China: Restaurants, bars and hotels with Chinese wine
- Made in China: Six Chinese wines for rmb700 in Beijing
Posted on | October 21, 2013 | 2 Comments
By Jim Boyce
The origins of the grape called Cabernet Gernischt — closely associated with and widely used in China — has been a topic much pondered. Is it actually Cabernet Franc? Or Carmenere? Or a cross of two grapes? Did the Austrian von Babo, among the first
flying sailing winemakers in China, bring it in his trunk 100 years ago to use at pioneering operation Changyu? (To be fair, he originally came as Austrian consul.)
These days, numerous people confidently claim this grape is Carmenere on the strength of an entry in “Wine Grapes” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz. Others disagree, notably Bruno Paumard, winemaker at Inner Mongolia’s Chateau Hansen.
First, the relevant excerpt from “Wine Grapes” (my highlights):
“In China, the true identity of Cabernet Gernischt has long been debated, and it has been described as:
- a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc brought to Changyu (or Zhangyu) Winery in China at the time of, or shortly after, the founding of the winery in 1892
- Cabernet Franc introduced to China by Changyu Winery in 1892, which would be consistent with the name of this variety being a misspelling of Cabernet gemischt, German for ‘mixed Cabernet‘, referring to the initial mixture of imported cuttings (Luo 1999)
- a cross developed in 1931 by Changyu Winery from newly introduced and undisclosed varieties from Europe (Zhengping 2011)
- the French variety Carmenere, introduced as “mixed Cabernet” for the same reasons as above (Freeman 2000; Pszczolkowski 2004).
Some ampelographic and molecular studies in China suggested that Cabernet Gernischt is identical to Cabernet Franc (Yin et al. 1998; Song et al. 2005), while another recently suggested that it is identical to Carmenere (Li et al. 2008). DNA profiling of genuine samples of Cabernet Gernischt from the Changyu Winery definitely shows that it is identical to Carmenere (Vouillamoz).
The name Cabernet Gemischt, of which Cabernet Gernischt is said to be a misspelling, is often believed to correspond to an old, extinct European grape variety, possibly an ancestor of Cabernet Franc. This is not verified in any ampelographic or viticultural text in Europe, where the words ‘Cabernet, gemischt’ were used only in relation to oenological analyses of wines that were a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. In China, this variety is also widely called Cabernet Shelongzhu, literally ‘Cabernet snake pearl‘, an alternative name chosen by Changyu Winery because it was easier to pronounce, at least for Chinese speakers.
Robinson also wrote on her site, “Our co-author of Wine Grapes, José Vouillamoz, managed to get samples of this variety from China’s biggest winery Changyu to analyse their DNA and established that Cabernet Gernischt is in fact Carmenère”.
There you go.
So, what does Paumard have to say?
“It’s definitely not Carmenere“, says he. “It’s a little spicy, it has different leaves, a different taste.”
What about Cabernet Franc? “I worked in the Loire Valley and it isn’t Cabernet Franc either,” he says.
So, what is it?
“My own idea is that it is a kind of Syrah but has mutated over 100 years [and is now hard to identify].”
How to reconcile his opinion and the excerpt from “Wine Grapes”?
Perhaps with this statement, that I find most compelling, from Paumard: “I have Cabernet Gernischt in Wuhai [in Inner Mongolia], Ningxia and Gansu and they are all different.”
Isn’t it possible more than one grape in China is being called Cabernet Gernischt, especially as Paumard isn’t the only one who has expressed doubts about the “Cabernet Gernischt = Carmenere” formula? Given taste has not been the driving force behind wine production, I can easily see the following exchange happening:
“Hey, what’s that grape called?”
“I don’t know.”
“Must be Cabernet Gernischt.”
Also, the Chinese wine industry hasn’t exactly come about in the most orderly fashion. Those familiar with Ningxia’s vineyards, for instance, say it is hard to find a place where only one variety has been planted. More typical is to find several varieties in the same row. Last week, a former buyer of grapes told me he saw some “pretty wild” lots — a mix of red varieties with, in some cases, a few whites and even table groups thrown in.
Anyway, I’m not taking a position one way or the other, just noting the different perspectives. I particularly find the role of misspellings and mistranslations to be an intriguing part of these types of discussions. I can also see someone, not familiar with German, looking at the “m” in Cabernet Gemischt (“Cabernet mixed” in German) as an “r” plus an “n” and thus getting “gernischt” (see this 2011 post, including comments, by Nick Stephens). Stuff happens. After all, a short time ago Changyu named a winery “Balboa” after their very first sailing winemaker, von “Babo“.
May the magical Gernischt-ery tour continue…
Posted on | October 15, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
Why stumble home from the Hilton Beijing if you can saunter up to the presidential suite? (Yeah, that’s a rhetorical question.)
Sibling blog Beijing Boyce is teaming with the Hilton on a contest for the sixteenth vintage of its annual Food & Wine Experience, slated for November 2.
The grand prize is two tickets, including lunch or dinner, to the Food & Wine Experience, an overnight stay in the presidential suite, and next-day breakfast for two. We’ll also give away four pairs of tickets, including lunch or dinner (details below).
The Food & Wine Experience includes over a thousand wines as well as food, beer and spirit vendors. The event is from 1 PM to 7 PM on November 2. Tickets are rmb190, or rmb280 with buffet lunch (until 2 PM) or dinner (5:30-7 PM). For tickets or info, email shirley.sh1 (at) hilton.com.
On to the contest!
In years past, we asked you to pick a “party of five” for the presidential suite (2012), create an event slogan (2011), share a memorable wine experience (2009), tell us your ideal wine-drinking partner (2008), and — my favorite so far — invent a celebrity wine (2010).
This year’s contest: Tell us what president you want to meet, and why, and the wine you would share. (See the comments for examples.)
You can pick the president of a country, a company or a club, of a university, NGO or sports team, of… you get the idea. The president can be living or dead, real or fictional. We’ll also accept prime ministers, CEOs and mayors. But no vice presidents! We’re strict about that.
- To enter the contest, go to the comments section and tell us your president pick, and why, and the wine you would share.
- You can enter the contest up to three times. Leave each entry as a separate comment.
- The entry deadline is 1 PM on October 29.
- On October 21, all entries to that point will be put into a draw for a pair of tickets for the Food & Wine Experience.
- On October 29, we will pick the ten best entries. We will draw one as the grand prize winner of two tickets, plus an overnight stay with a guest in the presidential suite, plus next-day breakfast for two. We will announce the winner’s name that night.
- We will also put all entries into a draw for three pairs of tickets, including lunch or dinner.
- Note: If the presidential suite is booked on November 2, the grand prize winner and guest will get an overnight stay in a regular suite and use of the presidential suite on another night. That means two stays in the Hilton Beijing.
If you have any questions, let me know at beijingboyce (at) yahoo.com.
Whether you win tickets or not, I recommend checking out the Hilton Beijing Food & Wine Experience. I have been going to this event since 2005 and always have a memorable time.
Posted on | October 15, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
The annual Food & Wine Experience at Hilton Beijing is impressive both for its track record — sixteen years and counting — and for the vast array of wines it brings together. It ranks among the “must go” events for wine consumers in our fair city. I talked to Simon Amos about this year’s edition, slated for November 2.
What’s different about this year’s event?
We have more wines than any previous year in the history of the Hilton Beijing Food and Wine Experience. The entire third floor is already nearly fully booked with many old and new beverage suppliers with literally thousands of wines, beers, spirits and so on. Expect some great food as well as training sessions throughout the day delivered by ASC Fine Wines, Vandergeeten and The Wine Republic.
There are so many wines. What is your suggested strategy for managing all of those choices?
Arrive as early as possible after a large breakfast, pace yourself, and occasionally use the spittoons available, but challenge yourself to sample each and every wine. Take notes as you might not remember the following day. [I think he might be kidding about trying over 1000 wines. - Ed]
The Hilton Beijing is donating an overnight stay in the presidential suite as a contest prize on this blog [details shortly]. What would you say to the winner?
What can I say? Do I need to empty the private bar and remove the Bang and Olufsen sound system? Is in-room breakfast required the following morning? Do you need a wake-up call?
This is your fifth Food & Wine Experience. What’s been the biggest highlight?
I have enjoyed every single one that I have been involved with over the last five years. It is a lot of work each year but it has been great to see the event grow bigger and bigger with a diverse range of food and beverage suppliers and also visitors.
The world famous Philip Osenton, who cost me a fortune in broken glasses last year practicing for the world record for glass holding, has to be top of the list. I asked him to come back this year to do the same with plates. He politely declined.
Some of my biggest highlights will have to be kept secret. There are always a few scandalous stories from the event!
If people want to get tickets ahead of time, what should they do?
Tickets are available from the Hilton Beijing Food and Beverage office, email email@example.com or call 5865-5125. Tickets will also be available soon at www.sendmetickets.com.
Note: The Food & Wine Experience is 1 PM to 7 PM on November 2. Tickets are rmb190 for the tasting or rmb280 with buffet lunch (until 2 PM) or dinner (5:30-7 PM).
Posted on | October 11, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
Free samples. Discounts. Outraged French wine experts. Inebriated shoppers crashing into stuff. Passionate debate over the wine with the bird on the label versus the one with the lizard. If you have been to the opening of a Carrefour wine fair in Shuangjing, you know the drill. If you haven’t, it’s a right of passage, a chance to make new friends and get drunk with old ones.
This year’s fall edition kicks off tonight. And yes, it is in the Shuangjing branch, for those curious if it has been moved due to this fire. (Let’s hope the wines don’t have any “smoky” aromas, ha ha ha ha, sigh.) Things usually kick off around 6 PM and go to midnight. And the event runs through October 14, although the other days are not as much fun. See the catalog here.
Finally, my advice, as always: bring your own glasses. Or buy decent-sized ones in Carrefour itself. Because those provided are barely enough to serve as egg cups — see the one on the right in the pic below.
Posted on | October 7, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
Great River Hill established itself in Shandong but skipped the popular wine-producing areas on the coast in favor of ~100 hectares in the hilly outskirts of Laixi, a city of less than a million some 100 kilometers inland. The first vintage was 2011 and included a Chardonnay and entry-level and ‘reserve’ Cabernet Sauvignons under the label “Chateau Nine Peaks“. The key investor is Karl Hauptmann, who also has wine projects in Germany, Bulgaria and elsewhere.
East Meets West is owned by Edouard Duval and Gregory Bielot. It has main offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and representative offices in Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Suzhou, Tianjin and Xi’an. It represents more than 50 wineries from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Chile, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, the United States and now China.
Wines from Great River Hill have received praise in numerous tastings, including about a half-dozen I have organized, with the key issue being distribution. It now looks like we will be seeing these wines pop up in more bars, restaurants and hotels.
- The donkey and the grapes: Great River Hill not your typical Chinese vineyard
- From ‘Anything good?’ to ‘What’s best?’: A tasting of nine Chinese wines at Capital M in Beijing
- Shandong wine: Great River Hill doubling production in 2013, grapes show “perfect ripeness”
- The Battle of Great River Hill: A China wine tasting in rural Beijing
Posted on | October 5, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
Winemakers from Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the United States visited China last year as part of a project code-named the Ningxia Wine Challenge. While helping to organize the project, I wrote:
The Ningxia Wine Challenge is an opportunity for people who seek an adventure, enjoy cultural exchange and are interested in learning about and making wine in one of the most promising wine regions, Ningxia, in one of the most promising wine countries, China.
The participants will meet local winemakers and share ideas, meet their fellow visiting winemakers, and try wines from the region. They will no doubt also attract media attention, attend dinners with officials and winery managers, and have a chance to explore the cultural, historical and culinary offerings of Ningxia.
Starting in mid-July, we had about three weeks to find candidates (ultimately 50 applicants from 15 nations) and choose 10 of them (based on recommendations from five judges). We then worked with the authorities on visas and tickets to get everyone to Yinchuan. Seven winemakers — see the photo above — eventually made it. The blog post From Idea to Reality in Ten Weeks describes the scene about a week after arrival.
My involvement ended a few days later with a going-away party near the Helan Mountains, which serves as a wind buffer for many of the region’s vineyards. A co-organizer and I received gold medals, gave speeches, hugged people and went to the hotel to pack for our flight to Beijing.
Even so, I have been aware most of the seven winemakers have made return visits to Ningxia as part of the project. Last week, while in Ningxia for a conference, I called one, David Tyney, since I knew he was in town. He invited me to visit a new winery called Jin Sha (“Gold Sands”). I hopped in a taxi and 30 minutes later arrived to find Tyney making wine. Barrel-fermented Chardonnay. Part of the Ningxia Wine Challenge.
So, for those who have been asking, the challenge is still happening. Last fall, each winemaker made a red wine. Now three — Tyney, Benoit Beigner and Jose Hernandez Gonzales — have been back to make a white wine as part of the second stage. (I understand the others were unable to make it due to tight timing or for personal reasons.) The idea is that both red wines and white wines will be judged next year.
A few photos from my visit.
Posted on | October 1, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
Given the fatigue from a week of insomnia, the struggle to nail down attendance figures, and the frustration of getting to central Beijing through traffic late on a Friday afternoon, I was in low spirits before hosting a recent tasting of nine Chinese wines at restaurant Capital M.
Then a few things happened. (I mean, besides realizing any problems related to wine tasting pale ever-so-slightly versus those concerning, say, global warming or world peace.)
First, the chipper staff at Capital M had the room well-prepared and professionally handled all last-minute duties. Second, a pair of double espressos provided by said staff relieved my sleep deprivation-induced zombie-like state. Third, the combination of wines turned out to be far better than expected.
I picked the nine wines because I think each has merits. What I liked most was how they worked together. Love them or not, they stood on the good side of The Line ‘Drinkable’ and we had lots to discuss. And it was fun to see, after each flight of three, every wine get votes as favorite.
An event like this showed how we can move past “Can China make good wine?” (a tasting where people like one or two bottles but easily dismiss the rest) to “What’s the best wine in China?” (a tasting where people see positives in all or most wines and talk about relative merits).
I say “tasting like this” since the better wines still represent but a case or two at most in the barrel of production and their prices tend to be higher than imported wines of the same quality. Even so, “what’s best?” discussions can be fun and I think this tasting turned out to be useful.
Before I get to the wines, kudos to owner Michelle Garnaut and the staff at Capital M. To Hans Qu, who after each flight talked about the wines from his perspective as a sommelier. And last, but not least, to those that provided bottles, including 1421, Changyu Moser XV, China Wines and Spirits, Great River Hill, Pernod Ricard and The Wine Republic — I appreciate your faith in me fairly presenting your wines.
Here is my take on those wines, with bracketed info on distributors and where to get the bottles via restaurants and bars or via retail.
Flight 1: White Wines
1421 ‘Silver’ Chardonnay 2010 (Xinjiang): Our lowest-priced wine received kudos for being easy to drink. A simple and fairly lean wine — with stone fruit and citrus characteristics — that some favorably compare to Chablis. (Restaurants & bars: Mokihi, Punjabi, Scarlett in Hotel G / Retail: TRB Cellars, rmb88 + delivery fee for small orders)
Domaine Helan Mountain ‘Special Reserve’ Chardonnay 2011 (Ningxia): Made by Pernod Ricard in years when the grapes merit it (for example, none was produced in 2012). Aged ten months in new French barrels, it shows an astute balance of fruit and oak, with a mouthwatering freshness and enduring finish rare in local white wines. This one ranks among the best Chardonnays yet made here. (Distributor: Pernod Ricard)
Grace Vineyard ‘Tasya’s Reserve’ Chardonnay 2009 (Shanxi): I didn’t find the balance quite as harmonious as with Helan Mountain but, after sniffing and sipping over a few hours, I came to appreciate this one. It had a funky complexity — vanilla, stone fruit, toast, citrus, a touch of caramel and honey, and more — that I can’t pinpoint in words but that had me going back for extra sips to try and do so. I reckon that with another bottle or two, I will work it out. (Restaurants & bars: Temple Restaurant Beijing / Retail: Everwines, rmb199 / Distributor: Torres)
Qu stressed how differently these three wines expressed Chardonnay. I also liked the different scenarios in which I imagined myself enjoying them. For the 1421, it might be a chilled six-pack in a boat on a hot July afternoon. For that well-balanced Helan Mountain, it seems like a go-to gift for a birthday or going-away party since it would please most anyone. And the Tasya’s Reserve? That’s a bottle I’d savor for a few hours with a close friend, although, based on past experience, I’d lean toward the 2010.
Flight 2: Value Reds
Chateau Hansen ‘Cabernet Gernischt’ 2011 (Ningxia): In past tastings, this has tended to be a “love it or hate it” entry. It reminds me of dozens, if not hundreds, of Chinese wines that have a light red fruit / slight confection smell and then disappoint with a body too thin and dry. The difference? The texture here is far more enticing and the fruit far more abundant, taking the wine from innocuous to pleasant and seemingly reflecting the vineyard in a way that seems to elude others. Interesting. (Restaurants & bars: Chez Julien / Retail: The Loop, rmb128 / Distributor: China Wines and Spirits)
Great River Hill ‘Chateau Nine Peaks’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Shandong): This is full-bodied and flavorful for a young Shandong wine, with sweet ripe fruit up front and spiciness and oak that seemed especially powerful after the Hansen. Quite a few people picked it as the favorite of the flight. And why not? It delivers punch in terms of aroma, taste and structure. I’d like to drink a few bottles of this during a BBQ. (Restaurants & bars: Temple Restaurant Beijing / Distributor: Great River Hill is working to find a distributor and this wine will likely retail at less than rmb150)
Grace Vineyard ‘People’s Series” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Ningxia): From the Ningxia vineyard of Shanxi-based Grace, this one is reasonably smooth and fruity, with quite a bit of black pepper flavor at the finish. In terms of taste, I found it less interesting than the other two wines on this night, but easy to drink and, with that label, it will no doubt prove popular as a gift. (Retail: Everwines, rmb99 / Distributor: Torres)
On this night, I grabbed that bottle of Hansen when we headed to dinner.
Flight 3: Top Reds
The staff at Capital M decanted all three wines for 90 minutes.
Silver Heights ‘The Summit’ 2011 (Ningxia): The first whiff sucked in people — we heard descriptions that ranged from dark cherries to oak to violets to tobacco — and I could see noses dip in and out of the glass as more smells emerged. I’ve described Silver Heights as having “personality” or being “moody” and this bottle didn’t disappoint. I found something intriguing about this wine, with its luxurious — silky? — texture and shifting character. It received a lot of votes and, from what I could see, was the first to run out. (Restaurants & bars: Grill 79 / Retail: Everwines, rmb506 / Distributor: Torres)
Helan Qing Xue ‘Jia Bei Lan’ 2009 (Ningxia): This wine won a Decanter ‘international award’ in 2009 and also received kudos from tasters. It had ample but restrained dark fruit and spice aromas, with more pronounced oak than the other two wines in this flight, and might have benefited from even more aeration. I’ve tasted Jia Bei Lan 2009 a lot, I’d guess more than two dozen times, and found it can vary. But the last handful of bottles have shown consistency and suggest a wine with good years ahead. (Restaurants & bars: Morton’s, Park Hyatt, Raffles / Distributor: The Wine Republic, rmb898)
Moser Changyu XV (Ningxia): Several people kept coming back to this wine, describing it as “fresh” and “smooth”. This is a ably made Cabernet-Merlot that — at 12.5 percent alcohol — doesn’t knock off your socks or make you so tipsy you can’t remove them later on your own. It has a pleasant texture, good fruit concentration and has received kudos from leading wine writers. Expect to hear more about this one. (Distributor: Changyu / Retail: I saw it for rmb1288 at Changyu AFIP, I’ll check for a source in central Beijing.)
Overall, a fun night. At least to me, each flight allowed for interesting contrasts and comparisons, whether the expression of fruit in the Chardonnays, the body weight in the value reds, or the complexity of the top reds. And, given an entry fee of rmb138 for wines that would have cost over rmb2500 to buy on their own, I think we delivered value for money. The question now is which wines wine the attendees go on to buy.
Note: I’m working on a fuller list of venues at which to get these wines. Also, if you are interested in China’s wine scene, I write a free newsletter called GWoC Talk. Click here for a sample. Click here to join. Follow Grape Wall on Twitter here.
Posted on | October 1, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
Wine Searcher recently posted a list of the fifty most expensive wines in the world. In what might be a major slight — or, perhaps, a lack of trips to Shandong province, or, maybe, just maybe, an absence in the site’s database — Wine Searcher lost sight of a pricy bottle from China.
That Chateau Junding pictured above weighs in at a heavily bodied rmb27,898. At today’s rates, that converts to USD4,575 and would put it in ninth place on the Wine Searcher list, between some highly regarded burgundies — Domaine Georges & Christophe Roumier Musigny Grand Cru (USD4,649) and Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru (USD4,479).
If anyone wants to splurge on these wines, I’d be interested in joining a blind tasting of the three.
You can see the full list of fifty wines here.
Posted on | September 26, 2013 | No Comments
Source: China News
“吉姆•博伊斯(Jim Boyce)是葡萄酒网站Grape Wall Of China的行政主管，也是Bei Jing Boyce夜生活博客的博主。本文是吉姆•博伊斯先生从消费者的立场和角度出发，对目前中国葡萄酒生产商所面临的挑战进行的总结。
The article above is a translation of the post Quality, Price & Distribution: Three Key Challenges for Chinese Wine Producers. The article, edited Liu Hongli of China News is here.
Posted on | September 26, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
My first ‘Made in China’ column in The Beijinger magazine covered where to get decent Chinese wine in retail. This second one looks at bars, restaurants and hotels. You know, in case you desperately need to get out of the house and guzzle a bottle or two of Silver Heights.
The column covers seven wineries, over more than a dozen venues, some by-the-glass options and bottles that range in price from rmb140 to rmb3000. (By the way, that price at Mokihi should be rmb180.)
Click the images to enlarge.
Also, I’ll soon have a write-up on the recent Chinese wine tasting at Capital M, and where to get those wines, too.
For those who simply want to know the places mentioned, they are: Temple Restaurant Beijing, Grill 79, Atmosphere, Maison Boulud, China Grill, Little Saigon, Flamme, Scarlett, Mokihi, Punjabi, Chez Julien, Duck de Chine, Morton’s Steakhouse and Raffles. Try hitting them all in one night.
And the wineries covered: 1421, Silver Heights, Great River Hill, Helan Qing Xue, Sunshine Valley, Grace Vineyard and Hansen.
Posted on | September 22, 2013 | No Comments
By Jim Boyce
The newest edition of The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson will be released on October 7 in both print and digital form with a China section that has maps of three key wine regions — veterans Shandong and Hebei and new kid on the block Ningxia.
“One of the more potent symbols of the westernisation of China has been the extent to which the staggeringly numerous Chinese have taken to wine”, starts the section on China. The atlas goes on to include background on China’s wine history (“Throughout the early years of this century, it was difficult to find wines labelled as Chinese of any real quality”) and production (“[OIV figures] suggest that China has been the world’s sixth most important wine produer since the turn of the century”).
It then turns to the most prominent wineries and regions in China, including Shandong, Hebei, Ningxia, Xinjiang and Yunnan, and lists six “picks” — Chateau Changyu Moser XV (Ningxia), Grace Vineyard (Shanxi), Helan Qing Xue (Ningxia), Domaine Helan Mountain (Ningxia), Jade Valley (Shaanxi) and Silver Heights (Ningxia).
Earlier today, I did a quick Q&A with Robinson on the book.
What changes can readers expect from this newest edition?
One of the most important is the introduction of a very beautiful iBook where people can zoom in on the maps, and the pictures and labels really do look great. Also, every single page and map and label selection and picture have been completely updated. Lots of work on our part! Lots of new producers, and new extensions to old maps, plus brand new maps for Ningxia, Croatia, Virginia, North Canterbury (New Zealand) and Georgia (in the Caucausus not the United States).
You visited about a dozen wineries in Ningxia last year and have been to Xinjiang and Shanxi. What is your “on the ground” impression of China’s wine scene?
Everything seems to be going in the right direction with wine quality steadily increasing — far more worthwhile products than there used to be — and exciting exploration of new areas such as Yunnan.
What were the main challenges faced in compiling the China section?
Getting hold of reliable statistics.
How do you see the China section shaping up for the eighth edition?
I could easily imagine devoted four pages to China in the next edition rather than the two in the current one.
~keep looking »