Grace under pressure: Ningxia tops Bordeaux in Beijing wine challenge

Which are from Ningxia and which from Bordeaux? Nobody knows...


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…

The judges in action...
The top five, from left to right...


  1. Very interesting. It would be useful to have the China “street price” listed for all of the wines in the competition.

  2. 1. anyone who deals with china , inside china, and works with MAINLAND china. should know how the game is played – Nuff said on that

    2. china is making some surprisingly good wines. I have only received directly from winery so I say that with admiration. however I ONLY will buy in HKG or took or singapore. why? CAVEAT EMPTOR ring a bell?

    3. Boyce, it’s interesting what you are doing, consider how to improve on it, some of the comments you have here, even the long ones offer good suggestions. I’ll be tracking your developments, keep it up bro. we know where china is headed, they deserve good home-grown & imported wines.


  3. My conclusion is that Wine is a commercial product. The customer ultimately decides what is perceived to be high quality. The winemaker can have a vision for what they wish to create and, providing they have the grapes and skill, can craft a wine of significance. The perception of the customer can be influenced when they tasted the wines, but they cannot be coerced to like the wines. Winemakers can set the trends or benchmarks, but in the long run the market decides what it wishes to buy and consume. It is what the wine makes them feel or sense that constitutes its worth and could be greatly influenced by the social and narrative dimensions of the wine experience.

    George Wong, Wine MBA
    Oenologue & Consultant

  4. So you traitors to Europe helped the Chinese produce good wine. Big whoop. You can pat yourself on the back and go eat some noodles.

  5. As Bob Foster said, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that mediocre French wines were beaten by the best of China. And I would anticipate that with all of that land area, the future will find the best of France being occasionally beaten by the best of China. The fact is that the nouveau riche in China buy the best that France has to offer, and don’t worry about such wines as either the French or Chinese wines in the tasting. The bigger problem is that they probably haven’t the level of discernment to appreciate the wine these upper-end wines they can afford. I welcome the Chinese foray into wine production, but I would like to see quality way, way above where it is, and prices about at the current level. That makes possible a true export market for the Chinese, rather than having wines simply competitive for the Chinese consumer. Then there would be something worth crowing about.

  6. @ Julien,

    I am working on a second tasting. I talked to one person at a Bordeaux promotion agency — he said they cannot recommend one wine versus another wine: they have to represent all Bordeaux wines.

    If you know someone with authority — or a group of people with authority — who can help us pre-select the Bordeaux wines, please let me know.

    This tasting needs to happen!

    Cheers, Boyce

  7. Haha! The comments are funny! I wonder if the people who are shocked by the results ever tried these Chinese wines? The Chinese wine industry IS starting to produce some good wines, this is undeniable!

    Concerning the choice of the wines: the best Chinese wines in this price braket were chosen (on purpose, it’s normal), but have you also selected the best wines from Bordeaux in the same price braket available in China? I mean, why haven’t you chosen Greatwall or Changyu or other more industrial brands as they also sale some of their brands at the same price?

    Next time, I hope we can also “pre-select” the Bordeaux wines ^-^

  8. @ bl, THE awesome taster:
    Thanks for all compliments.
    You seem boring in China and boring from Sommelier job, maybe you should consider retiring?
    No hard feeling. Get a rest.

  9. @BlueFrog,

    Maybe a bit.

    Actually, an Australian wine comparison would be good or even top Chilean, which offer good value here.

    Cheers, Boyce

  10. @ BL,

    “Hmmmm…just saw that boyce was an admin….seems”

    Curious? You mean because the front page of this blog says, “Jim Boyce: Consumer, blog administrator”?

    Cheers, Boyce

    PS Who’s being serious?

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