Foxy grapey: Chinese wines from Yunnan, Ningxia, Hebei

By Jim Boyce

On Monday night, I tried three Chinese wines at Duck de Chine with a group of beverage researchers that included visiting Aussie wine critic Jeremy Oliver and fellow Grape Wall contributors Nicolas Carre, Frankie Zhao, and John Gai. Here is the lineup and the results.

Yunnan Crystal Dry White 2002 (Yunnan / ~RMB30 if memory serves)
Made with a grape variety brought to south-central China by missionaries in the nineteenth century, this wine tends to elicit extreme reactions:

  • Oliver grimaced with his first sniff, called it “foxy“, then refined his evaluation to “boiled pineapple lolly with stale dank old flowers.” A few additional micro sniffs confirmed that he did not like this one.
  • Zhao found it both foxy and clean. In other words, he didn’t consider it his cup of tea glass of wine, but thought it properly made.
  • Carre, who has tried it once before, described it as having some interesting aromas, but ultimately reminding him of a plum wine.
  • I found ample tropical aromas (especially pineapple) and the body surprisingly fruitier than the younger vintages I have tried, though the body and finish were too light. Even so, I could easily drink a glass of this and think this wine ranks among the most intriguing in China.

Note: Oliver suggested this grape does not hail from the species Vitis vinifera that is used for most wine and I later checked on this with Ma Huiqin, professor at China Agricultural University, who said it is a hybrid. Along these lines, he said it smelled like jelly made from Concord grapes. True, that’s one thing about it that interests me!

Xi Xia Chardonnay 2002 (Ningxia / ~ RMB30)
This wine is served at French restaurant Maxim’s of Paris (Solana branch), where Carre is manager, but unfortunately my supermarket bottle turned out to be corked. In any case, Carre says this wine typically features pear, white flower, and citrus aromas, and is what he calls “fresh” (dry and fruity), though the finish is quite short. I thought I smelled some tart apple when I previously tried this wine.

Sino-French Chardonnay 2004* (Hebei / sample)
This one hailed from Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard, a nonprofit research outfit just outside Beijing. Unanimous agreement that this is a well-made wine, with Gai giving a positive nod, Carre saying he found white flower and “white fruit” (peach and apricot) aromas, and a few people picking up vanilla. The finish is superior to the Ningxia and Yunnan wines and I would put this on par with the Chardonnay produced by Grace Vineyard. Unfortunately, as Sino-French is noncommercial, this wine is not for sale. Go figure…

* I’m not sure of the year, but Zhao has tried Sino-French wines many times and pegged it as 2004.

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