Grape Wall Challenge: Best red wines in China under rmb100

Call it a tribute to consumer power. Every year, we organize a nonprofit event called Grape Wall Challenge (GWC) and ask Chinese consumers to judge wines that retail for under rmb100.

We held the sixth annual Grape Wall Challenge in mid-December at Temple Restaurant Beijing, which kindly provided event space and food. Professor Ma Huiqin of China Agricultural University discussed the wines with the judges after the tasting.

Here are a few common questions about GWC, followed by a list of the winners:

What is the purpose of GWC?

There are two key goals. First, we want to find the best inexpensive wines as decided by consumers. The retail price of most wines sold in China is under rmb100 but writers rarely focus on these.

Second, we want to boost consumer confidence. Many people are intimidated by wine and we want to empower them through involvement in the judging process. Our findings so far? It works!

Also, the ongoing government austerity program has slashed official and state-owned spending on wine. This has shifted the focus to regular consumers and makes GWC even more relevant.

How are the wines judged?

The wines are judged blind. We ask consumers to taste each wine, choose “I love it“, “I like it“, “I dislike it” or “I hate it“, and write a few comments. This year’s comments included, “sweet but soft”, “simply juicy”, “vivid”, “makes people feel young”, “soft like water”, “sugar girl”, “passionate” and “I think I can drink the whole bottle”.

Where do you get the wines?

We asked top importers / distributors to submit up to three wines. We focus on these companies because they distribute widely and that makes it easier for readers to find the wines. We also assume they will send us wines they think consumers like best, thus we get an idea of what the trade thinks is popular.

This year we focused on red wines and covered eight countries —  Argentina, Australia, Chile, China, France, Portugal, Spain and South Africa — and more than a dozen grape varieties. The distributors were ASC, China Wines & Spirits, East Meets West, French Wine Paradox, Links Concept, Summergate and Torres.

Which wines scored highest?

To determine the results, we add the “love it” (10 points), “like it” (7 points), “dislike it” (4 points) and “hate it” (1 point) scores for each wine and divide by the number of tasters in order to get an average score. The highest average scores win.

Here are the wines with the five highest scores followed by those with the most ‘Olympics medals’. I included links to the distributors and will update this post soon with more details about which retailers carry these brands.

Top Five Scores

As in previous years, wines from Argentina and South Africa made the top five. It was a “new world” sweep, save for one wine from Spain, as we once again found fruity wines getting the best scores.

1. Trivento ‘Tribu’ Malbec 2013 from Argentina. Distributed by Summergate, available at Pudao Wines, rmb95.

2. Santa Alvara Carménère from Chile. Distributed by French Wine Paradox, rmb81.

3. Bocopa ‘Alcanta’ Merlot 2010 from Spain. Distributed by French Wine Paradox, price rmb65.

4. KWV ‘Classic’ Pinotage 2012 from South Africa. Distributed by China Wines & Spirits, available from CWS, price rmb87.

5. Nederburg ‘Foundation’ Shiraz-Pinotage 2013 from South Africa. Distributed by ASC, price rmb89.

‘Olympic’ Medalists

We also asked each judge to pick a “gold“, “silver” and “bronze” medal winner, in other words, their three favorite wines. In addition to the five wines listed above, the following received at least three medal’:

(7) La Joya ‘Reserve’ Merlot 2013 from Chile. Distributed by Links Concept, available at Jenny Wang, price rmb86.

(5) Callia Malbec-Syrah 2014 from Argentina. Distributed by Torres, available at Everwines, price rmb87.

(4) Long Country Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from Chile. Distributed by East Meets West, rmb100.

(3) Double Bay Cabernet-Merlot 2012 from Australia. Distributed by Links Concept, available at Jenny Wang, price rmb99.

Again, I will update with more details on where to get these wines.

While time pressure meant this year’s event had to be organized quickly and went less smoothly than last year, it was nevertheless fun to get together with consumers and see what they enjoy.  This remains one of my favorite events to organize and I will have details soon on the 2015 edition of the Grape Wall Challenge.

Here is a list of our previous Grape Wall Challenges:

Note: I also publish a free China wine e-newsletter, usually every four to six weeks. To get it, sign up with your email address using this form:


Grape Wall Challenge 2012: Summergate, ASC, MQ top wine challenge in China

grape wall of china challenge 2012 f by tribute (6)

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By Jim Boyce

(Note: Sorry for the delay. This blog went offline several days for — to me — unknown reasons and now is back for — to me — unknown reasons. The mysteries of life.)

These are wines with the highest scores in the Grape Wall Challenge 2012. The judges were Chinese consumers who are casual wine drinkers. They tasted 40 wines — 20 red and 20 white — that retail for under rmb100 per bottle and ranked each as “love it“, “like it“, “don’t like it” or “hate it“.

Grape Wall contributor Nicolas Carre and I separately compiled the results, then compared our findings to make sure they were consistent.

Once again, we had issues with some of prices on the submitted wines and had to disqualify one wine that ranked in the top four. I’ll post separately about this and about some interesting findings from the challenge, including which wines scored multiple “love it” responses, written comments from the judges, and more.

Top Red Wines

(Retail Less Than RMB100: 20 entries)

1. Concha y Toro ‘Sunrise’ Merlot (Chile): rmb96, from Summergate

1. Two Oceans Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2011 (South Africa): rmb88, from ASC

3. KWV Pinotage 2011 (South Africa): rmb98, from China Wines & Spirits

3. Helan Mountain ‘Classic’ Merlot 2011 (China): rmb80, from Pernod Ricard

Top White Wines

(Retail Less Than RMB100: 20 entries)

1. Rudolf Muller Riesling 2010 (Germany): rmb97, from MQ

2. Long Country Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Chile): rmb88, from East Meets West

3. Angove ‘Butterfly Ridge’ Riesling-Gewurtztraminer 2011 (Australia), rmb98, from Mercuris

4. 1749 Sauvignon Blanc VDP 2011 (France): rmb99, from East Meets West

From cork to screw cap: Three wine closure anecdotes from China

Changing of the guard? Side by side in my local corner shop.

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By Jim Boyce

While most wine in China — whether domestically produced or imported — is bottled under cork, and while I repeatedly hear this is what consumers want, we are seeing more screw caps. Three recent cases:

1. I saw the above two bottles of China favorite Cabernet Sauvignon in my local corner shop (see full shots below). The wine is from Concha y Toro, a major brand by volume here. The bottle at front right is 2010, the ones at left and in back are 2011. (I mentioned the change  in closures to the employee on duty. He tried to look interested for about 15 seconds.)

2. This blog held its fourth annual Grape Wall Challenge in Beijing yesterday, with Chinese consumers blind-tasting wines under rmb100. We had a badly corked wine on the first flight of reds. That allowed us to explain the smell to the consumers and what might have caused it, which was news to most of them. This year’s challenge saw a mix of closure types, with over one third of the entries being under screw caps.

3. As noted here, Grace Vineyard in Shanxi has started putting wines under screw cap, including the experimental 2011 “Tau Fu” bottled for company use. I’ve taste-tested it on over100 people — from Masters of Wine to non-wine drinking former colleagues — and people generally like the wine and label, and forget, if it was a concern in the first place, the wine is under screw cap. Look for Grace to launch its screw cap wines in the market next year.

Anyway, just a few anecdotes to share, and I’m sure there are more to come.

2010 on the right, 2011 on the left.