Chinese wine tasting: Great River Hill shines with Grace, Wangzhong, Helan Mountain, COFCO’s Michel Rolland

grace vineyard shaxii chinese new year wine helan mountain ningxia dry red 2008 qingdao wangzhong xinjiang merlot 2012 great river hill winery nine peaks cabernet sauvignon reserve 2011 michel rolland cofco 2012

By Jim Boyce

My impression of wine from the coastal province of Shandong is not good. Underwhelming and overpriced are the words that spring to mind. But Qingdao Great River Hill Winery seems to be an exception. This winery is based inland at Laixi, rather than in the more popular coastal area of Penglai, and has the potential to achieve what seems beyond most in China — to make a wine that combines quality and value.

I will soon post more on Great River Hill and the people behind it. For now, some notes from a tasting a few weeks ago that included the company’s “Nine Peaks” products and six other Chinese wines. We had seven tasters, both Chinese and expatriates, both consumers and those in the industry. In order of tasting…

Domaine Helan Mountain
‘Special Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2010
Ningxia, ~rmb200

This one seems to have slipped over the hill and perhaps down the side a bit. “A bit worn out”, “no freshness”, and “it has some Pinot Noir character but is really light”. Plus, “I don’t like the smell”. One person said, “You get flowers, dried cherry, but also a little chlorine. Still, it’s somewhat pleasant and balanced”.

Note: I urge those interested in a Chinese Pinot Noir to try the 2012 vintage of this wine.

Grace Vineyard
‘Jiang Jin Jiu’ Red
Shanxi, no price

The lone screw cap in our group, it got criticism for otherwise lacking originality. “Fresh but wearing a mask. Maybe there is too much carbonic maceration”, “A bit fake, like it has too much makeup”, “some greenness” and “candy and strawberry on the nose”. One person described it as “young, light, but with little structure, and some peach flavor. Easy drinking”, while another said, “It’s a little bit like a Beaujolais. That is the style.”

Note: This wine is meant to be along the lines of a Beaujolais Nouveau but to be released for Chinese New Year. “Jiang Jin Jiu” means “Bring the Wine” and is the name of a poem by Tang Dynasty writer / drinker Li Bai.

Domaine Helan Mountain
Dry Red Wine 20008
Ningxia, rmb29

This bottle has also slipped over the hill. A few comments: “A bit dusty on the finish”, “a bit old” and “It’d be much better if more of the fruit was still there”.

Note: At rmb29, it is hard to beat the price and it has served us well during the past couple of years.

Wangzhong
‘Skyline’ Merlot 2012
Xinjiang, no price

The smell of this wine impressed several people. “Smells very nice, cherry, with a touch of sweetness”, “the best nose, not too overwhelming, you get some chocolate and violet smells” and “very feminine and delicate”. But that did not transfer to the body for most. “Nice aroma but not enough structure”, “very dry at the finish”, ‘[the delicacy] disappears in the body” and “smells better than it tastes, it doesn’t match, it’s like a crazy girlfried”

Note: This wine is the first vintage and made from three-year-old vines, thus it is early days. I’m told the name Skyline will be changed.

Qingdao Great River Hill
‘Nine Peaks’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Shandong, ~rmb138

The smell of this wine evoked a lot of short descriptions: cola, corn, licorice, tapenade, black olives, umami, savory. One person described it as “juicy and sweet, quite acceptable, with vivid fruit and berry flavor” while another said “it was a littler powdery in the mouth, like licking oak chips”.

Note: Overall, the tasters liked this one, with one person saying, “they need some fine-tuning, but they are going in the right direction”.

Qingdao Great River Hill
‘Nine Peaks’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Shandong ~rmb208

One person liked the oak, for its balance and integration, but most found this one too tannic and, in turn, overwhelming. “Very light fruit to oak ratio”, “the fruit is decent but the stake through the heart is the oak” and “sweet oak, a lot of people will love it, but too dry”.

COFCO
Michel Rolland
~rmb400

This one drew praise from most tasters, who found it fresh, balanced and with good tannins, although the professionals found it generic. “I like it, its generic, but good generic. That’s what you get with Michel Roland, the technical skill”. Another said it had a “good concentration of oak” while someone noted eucalyptus aromas.

Note: This bottle was given to me without a label as a sample. I was told it was the wine on which Michel Rolland consulted.

Grace Vineyard
‘Premium’ Cabernet-Merlot 2011
Shanxi, rmb125

We originally did not include this one but decided to open it after all. “Slightly rough but gulpable”, “better priced at rmb60” and “prefer the nose, not the palate” were among the comments. The nose had some violets and light ripe berries — decent fruit though it didn’t carry through fully to the body, at least not on this day.

Favorites

I asked the tasters afterward to pick their three favorite wines. The Nine Peaks and COFCO wines were on almost everyone’s list while one person also had a strong preference for the Nine Peaks Reserve. The Helan Mountains wines displayed evidence of good fruit, though they were past due date, the Wangzhong intrigued some, especially with its smell, and it just wasn’t Grace Vineyard’s day.

domaine helan mountain ningxia dry red wine 2008 qingdao great river hill winery nine peaks cabernet sauvignon 2011

wangzhong winery merlot 2012 xinjiang china

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