By Jim Boyce
Chinese wines took the top four spots in the Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge held this afternoon in Beijing. The event featured ten wines — five from Ningxia and five from Bordeaux. They were blind-tasted by ten judges — five from China and five from France. I helped organize the event with website TasteV, wine club Zun, and fellow Grape Wall contributors.
The judges were asked to rank the wines from first to tenth based on quality. First place was worth one point, second place worth two points, and so on. The wines with the lowest total scores were the winners. The top five:
1. Grace Vineyard Chairman’s Reserve 2009, 34 points (rmb488)
2. Silver Heights The Summit 2009, 42 points (rmb416)
3. Helan Qing Xue Jia Bei Lan Cabernet Dry Red 2009, 44 points (was rmb220, now pending)
4. Grace Vineyard Deep Blue 2009, 46 points (rmb288)
5. Barons de Rothschild Collection Saga Medoc 2009, 54 points (rmb350)
Top pick of the five French judges: Chairman’s Reserve. Top pick of the five Chinese judges: The Summit.
Other wines tasted (alphabetical order): Calvet Reserve De L’Estey Medoc 2009, Cordier Prestige Rouge 2008, Kressmann Grande Réserve St-Émilion AOC 2008, Mouton Cadet Reserve Medoc 2009 and Silver Heights Family Reserve 2009.
The judges were also asked to indicate whether they liked or disliked each wine. I will have those results soon.
The wines were opened, tested for quality, bagged and tagged, in the presence of several reporters, under the supervision of Philip Osenton, who works with distributor Globus and is former head sommelier at Ritz London and restaurant manager for the Savoy. He and others, including the media, witnessed computation of the scores.
The judges had 40 minutes to rank the ten wines, which were poured before they sat. They then had a 30-minute discussion about the wines, led by professor Ma Huiqin, after which the winners were announced.
The Chinese judges:
- Ma Huiqin, professor at China University of Agriculture and wine marketing expert (head judge)
- Frankie Zhao, owner of Pro-Wine Consultancy
- Fiona Sun, senior editor at China edition of Revue du Vin
- Jin Yang, wine teacher who spent five years studying in Bordeaux wine programs
- John Gai, of wine distributor and bar operation Palatte
The French judges:
- Nicolas Carre, sommelier and wine consultant (head judge)
- Jerome Sabate, long involved as wine maker with Dragon Seal in Beijing
- Nathalie Sibillet, oenologist, journalist and teacher
- Thomas Briollet, seven years experience in China wine distribution
- Edouard Kressman, wine maker with experience in Bordeaux, California and Argentina
I know there will be many questions about this tasting. For example, French wines face ~48% in tariffs which means they have a price disadvantage versus Chinese wines. That is true. On the other hand, the prices listed above are what Chinese consumers face. [Also, two distributors told me that when taxes in Chinese wine are taken into account, it is closer to a 20% difference. I'll get more on this tomorrow.] I can provide other examples but will save that for later.
For now, the big “takeaway” for me is that Chinese wines have again — not for the first time, not for second time, but again — shown they can compete on a global level. The reality check: these wines represent a sliver of the China market and the industry as a whole has a long way to go. Still, for those who ask, “Can China make good wine?”, the answer is yes.
I’ll have more — and correct typos, etc — tomorrow…