By Jim Boyce
Australian wine writer Jeremy Oliver, who now has two books published in Chinese, visited Beijing a few months ago and tried Jia Bei Lan, the Ningxia wine that gained fame in international industry circles when it became the first from this country to attain the highest level of recognition at the Decanter World Wine Award. Oliver tried it at Bei restaurant in The Opposite House hotel, at a dinner organized by Jia Bei Lan’s distributor, The Wine Republic.
Oliver’s verdict: 19 out of 20. From his blog:
I have been completely bowled over, and recently so, by the 2009 Jia Bei Lan by Helan Qing Xue.
This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet gerniches is the very same wine that won a significant trophy at Decanter’s World Wine Awards. People have since been wondering aloud if the wine is so good, it must have been imported first. It wasn’t. I have met the winemaker and the winemaking consultant behind this wine, and I’d stake my reputation on it being genuine. While it’s a wonderful blend of red Bordeaux-originated varieties, it doesn’t taste like any wine from France, Australia, the US, Chile or wherever that I have ever experienced. That’s the good bit. China is finally learning how to express the best of its own terroirs.
Oliver does provide a caveat: the wine, like that tasted by Decanter and others, is a pre-bottling sample. He goes on to write:
The second bottle I tasted was indeed significantly inferior to the first, and in addition to experiencing several extra weeks in bottle (challenging indeed for a pre-bottling sample) had travelled from Beijing to Melbourne as well. It was aldehydic, which is exactly what you would expect from any such sample from anywhere.
I have strong thoughts on the evaluation of pre-bottling samples, and on that basis won’t publish a rating or tasting note of this wine until I see a genuinely bottled product. While this clearly puts me at odds with most of the UK and much of the US wine writing trade, trust me that Helan Qing Xue would seriously have to stuff it up for it not to be seriously impressive once properly in glass. And I mean seriously. As for its quality, I had awarded 19/20 to the first sample of the wine I tasted without even blinking. I sincerely hope its makers have captured it all.
I also attended that dinner and have now tried Jia Bei Lan on about 20 occasions over two years. The bottle that night was excellent and ranks among the best Chinese wines I have tasted. Look for Jia Bei Lan to be officially launched next month. I’ll have more on this shortly.