Grape Wall of China

A China Wine Blog: The Scene in the World's Largest Market

Shanghai bottle shock: Unexpected winners at Chinese Wine Summit

Posted on | March 25, 2014 | No Comments

2014 Chinese Wine Summit by Taste Spirit and Shanghai Morning Post

By Jim Boyce

Warren Buffet recently offered a billion dollars to anyone who could pick the winners of all 63 games in the U.S. men’s national college basketball tournament a.k.a March Madness. Given the odds were one in nine quintillion for random picks and about one in 128 billion for someone who knows the sport “pretty well” — see this Slate article — it isn’t surprising no contenders remained after 25 games.

This contest came to mind while reading the results of the recent Chinese Wine Summit, where 53 local wines were judged by Jancis Robinson, Ian D’Agata and Bernard Burtschy. This trio eventually came to a consensus on seven wines to recommend.

Given the sample size and nature of the wine tasting, one would have better odds of picking that top seven than picking the March Madness winners. But it would still be extremely unlikely even — and maybe especially –  for those who know the wine scene “pretty well”.

I think most people would expect at least one wine — if not three or four or more — of the six submitted by Ningxia heavyweights Helan Qing Xue, Silver Heights and Helan Mountain to make the cut, after all, they have done well in contests and received good reviews for years. I also think well-known brands like Changyu, Great Wall and Xi Xia King would get consideration for placing at least one of their better wines. And many would likely add a dark horse, maybe newcomer Tiansai from Xinjiang, which has received early praise for its wines.

Here’s the thing: none of these wines made the top seven. Is that surprising? To me, and I think to many others, definitely. Is that a problem? No, as long as the tasting was run fair and square — and nothing I have heard so far suggests it wasn’t — that’s the way the cork crumbles. But no doubt some in the trade are everything from perplexed to upset with the results given the outcome of previous contests. More on that later.

Here are the top seven wines:

  • Chateau Nine Peaks (九顶庄园) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2011 from Shandong, a wine that has done well in my own taste tests and that is distributed by East Meets West. You can read about the winery–and its pet donkey–here.
  • CITIC Guoan (中信国安葡萄酒业) Niya Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Red 2012 from Shandong, an operation with some marketing clout. It sponsors the Beijing Guoan football team that plays a few hundreds meters from my apartment!
  • Chateau Bolongbao (北京波龙堡酒庄) Dry Red 2010 from Hebei Province, just north of Beijing and one of the certified organic wine operations in China.
  • Ningxia Red Shapotou (宁夏红沙坡头) Cabernet Gernischt 2012 from Ningxia. Also a large producer of wolfberry wine.
  • Lanyi (兰一酒庄) Classic Merlot 2011 from Ningxia, a smaller operation to the east of the Helan Mountain range.
  • Canaan (迦南美地酒庄) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 from Hebei Province.
  • Yuan Shi (志辉源石酒庄) Soul Mountain 2012, yet another Ningxia winery but with arguably the most extravagant design in the country — I’ll aim to get some photos up soon.

Again, I’d be surprised if anyone  guessed these would be the top seven — or even picked more than three of them. Anyway, the key issue for me is just how hard to find are most of these wines. While the likes of Silver Heights, Helan Qing Xue, Helan Mountain, Great Wall, Changyu and so on have national distribution either via their own channels or a partner, most of these seven do not, and it underscores a major weakness in the market.

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Enoterra Beijing: Two-for-one, half-price and free-flow deals

Posted on | March 24, 2014 | No Comments

enoterra wine bar beijing shanghai china

By Jim Boyce

I visited Enoterra twice this year and was impressed by just how busy it was. Every table was full, there was a good buzz, and people were not only drinking wine but also using it to wash down plenty of food. While the range of wines is for the most part limited to what the owners import themselves, this place is worth a visit, especially to enjoy some of these weekly specials in a nice atmosphere:

  • Monday: Buy any item and get 50 percent off the second one (7 PM to 10 PM)
  • Tuesday: Get a free flow of bubbly or rose wine for rmb78 (7 PM to 10 PM)
  • Wednesday: Buy a rmb250 bottle of wine and get free-flow tapas (7 PM to 10 PM)
  • Thursday: Get 50 percent off anything on the menu (7 PM to 10 PM)
  • Saturday / Sunday: Add free-flow sparkling wine for rmb80 during brunch (11 AM to 4 PM)

There is also a daily buy one, get one free happy hour deal on wine by the glass from 4 PM to 8 PM.

You can find Enoterra on the fourth floor of Nali Patio in Sanlitun (北京市朝阳区三里屯酒吧北街那里花园4层D405).

Get more info on the four branches of Enoterra — three in Shanghai, one in Beijing — at the company’s website here.

China Wine Series: Chateau Hansen Cabernet Gernischt 2011

Posted on | March 21, 2014 | No Comments

chateau hansen wuhai inner mongolia cabernet gernischt china

The Cab G is on the left…


Note: I reckon I’ve tasted over 500 different Chinese wines since I started to blog. I’ve often written about them in groups — such as here and here — but want to give more individual attention to the better and/or interesting ones via this China Wine Series.

Over the past two years, the Cabernet Gernischt 2011 by northwest Inner Mongolian winery Chateau Hansen has steadily grown on me. It is light-to-medium bodied and fruity — think cherry, raspberry, strawberry and yangmei — and stands as an attractive option between China’s typically anemic mass-market wines and its higher-end but more potent and heavily oaked ones. It’s simply a pleasant easy-to-drink drop I’d happily enjoy while sitting outside on nice afternoon.

Given how many of the better wines in China are priced at rmb500 and up, Chateau Hansen also offers value — you can find it in Beijing, for example, at Chez Julien on Lucky Street for rmb35 per glass or rmb140 per bottle. I also noticed some bottles stocked at wine shop The Loop last week. This wine is made by Bruno Paumard, who disputes the claim that Cabernet Gernischt is actually Carmenere, and has been distributed since last year by China Wines & Spirits.

By the way, if you seek affirmation from abroad, writer James Halliday of Australia — Hansen is listed there by Douglas Lamb Wines and Middle Eight Online – gave it 89 points and described it here as having “firm black and red berry fruits, balanced tannins, and little or no oak influence.”

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China wine books: Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course published in simplified Chinese

Posted on | March 21, 2014 | No Comments

john holden jancis robinson wine course chinese edition by asc oriental publishing

Jancis Robinson with ASC CEO John Watkins


By Jim Boyce

A simplified Chinese edition of Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course has been released by Oriental Publishing with translation by wine importer and distributor ASC. According to a press release from ASC, the book took two years to complete. ASC was also involved in translating the World Atlas of Wine by Robinson and Hugh Johnson into simplified Chinese. What’s next for the China market? Perhaps the newest tome in Robinson’s lineup — American Wines — which is co-written by Linda Murphy?

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Fig Newton sherry: Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass leads tastings in Beijing

Posted on | March 10, 2014 | No Comments

gonzalez byass palomino fino tasting with antonio flores at parlor beijing china


By Jim Boyce

Winemaker Antonio Flores of Spanish operation Gonzalez Byass visited Beijing last week and led several Sherry tastings, including one I joined at newly opened bar Parlor. Flores outlined the “pillars” of his craft, including soil, grapes, alcohol levels, aging styles and blending techniques, and explained the importance of “flor“, a combination of yeast and other material that forms like “cheese curds” on the surface of some sherries and serves both to impart flavor and serve as a seal against air.

Anyway, we started the tasting with five dry sherries, including Tio Pepe, aged at least four years, and the limited edition “Palmas range. The latter four wines are aged six, eight, ten and forty-plus years respectively and essentially reveal Tio Pepe as it grows up. As Flores said, while we tried the last one, “This used to be a Tio Pepe so the memory of that is in the background.” I hid at the table’s far end and took the following notes as I tried — I was nearing the end of a chest cold — not to cough on anyone.

With Tio Pepe, I smelled greenness (unripe Bartlett pear skin) and mild nutty liqueur, and found it fresh and dry, with some nutty flavors and a slightly bitter citrus-y finish. The darker Una Palma Fino (6 years) had sweeter and nuttier liqueur aromas, a fuller body and that same touch of bitterness — someone said it was almond — at the finish, while Dos Palmas Fino (8 years) smelled less intense if even sweeter and nuttier (“brioche”, said Flores) but compensated for it with a bigger body that included some savoriness and, at the finish, spiciness.

The Tres Palmas Fino (10 years) further showed the maturing Tio Pepe, with a lighter nuttiness (less almond, more chestnut, said someone) and greenness. It is lean and complex, with — I assume from barrel age — more vanilla flavor. Finally, Tres Palmas Amontillado (40-plus years) — unlike the others, it spent most of its life without flor, some thirty-plus years — is Tio grown up. This smells like sweet hazelnut, brioche, dried fruit and resin  (Flores said “varnish”). I found it intense and well-structured, with a salty finish that reminded me of a hoppy beer.

Flores said these are called “handkerchief wines” because you add a couple of drops of sherry to one and carry the smell wherever you go. “It’s perfume.”

We finished with two more bottles. One was the Alfonso Dry Oloroso that had bread, orange, syrup and dry wood aromas and lots of nutty flavors, and seemed to be particularly popular among the tasters. The other was Nectar Pedro Ximenez, the only wine we tasted not made from Palomino fino grapes. If you like Fig Newtons, this is for you. It had fig, hazelnut, maple syrup, fig, coffee, chocolate and fig smells, and I found it sweet and viscous but not overly cloying. I can see why a friend recommends it dribbled over vanilla ice cream. (With a few Fig Newtons on the side.)

You can get these sherries from Tinta Fina. For those living in Beijing, I’m told Tres Palmas and Cuatro Palmas are already sold out and there are less than 20 bottles each of  Una Palma and Dos Palmas. If you’re a fan and keen to get some, you best act quickly by visiting The Loop. Also, the Tio Pepe site has tasting notes on the Palmas range here and the other sherries here.

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antonio flores thomas de wangen weiley lu gonzales byass tasting beijing china

(From left) Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass with Thomas de Wangen of China-based distributor Tinta Fina and Beijing rep Weiley Lu.

gonzalez byass palomino fino tasting with antonio flores at parlor beijing china (2)

The Palmas series from Gonzales Byass

Just the essentials: Links hosts Sine Qua Non owners, opens bunch of awesome wines

Posted on | March 10, 2014 | No Comments

heitz mondavi montelena tasting links concept hong kong-001

By Jim Boyce

As I recently perused a menu in Beijing and agonized between ordering the enticing 2014 Tsingtao draft beer or the eloquently if tersely described NV house red (that description consisted of “house” and “red”), acquaintances in Hong Kong faced slightly better options. Even, one might argue, *much* better options.

The occasion was the first Hong Kong visit of Elaine and Manfred Krankl, owners and winemakers at California winery Sine Qua Non, distributed by Links Concept. To mark the occasion, Links owner Patricio de la Fuente-Saez organized a dinner for a dozen people and opened an impressive array of wines from the likes of Roederer, Heritage and Giscours, Heitz, and Dominus and Screaming Eagle, and Vega Sicilia, Penfolds and Yquem, and, of course, Sine Qua Non. A list of the main bottles is below.

Sine Qua Non’s “The Five Shooter” Syrah and Grenache is already listed in the Links portfolio and “The Dark Blossom” is expected to be added this week.  For details or to order, send an email to patricio (at)

links concept sine qua non wine dinner menu

Century club: Upper estimates top HKD100 million for Sotheby’s April auctions in Hong Kong

Posted on | March 4, 2014 | No Comments

Mouton Rothschild 2000, various formats, image via Sothebys


By Jim Boyce

Sotheby’s has a pair of wine auctions lined up for early April that will help replenish the dwindling drinking stocks of wealthy buyers in the region. And if the upper estimates for both are reached, the take will top HKD100 million / CNY80 million.

The first is called “A Magnificent Bordeaux Cellar II“, slated for April 4, and includes 381 lots estimated at up to HDK26 million. Says a Sotheby’s press release (my highlights):

Finest Bordeaux – all First Growths plus their equivalents, Cheval Blanc and La Mission Haut-Brion – from the top vintages, such as 1982, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000, are available in multiple formats. Many of these are offered in parcel quantities including 11 cases of Château Mouton Rothschild 1986, 12 cases of Château Margaux 1996 and 15 cases of Château Cheval Blanc 2000. For Sauternes lovers, the impressive selection of Yquem in parcel quantities from the great vintages over the past 20 years, including 10 cases of 2001, is definitely not to be missed.

Fitting into the Year of the Horse theme, there are 88 Lots of Cheval Blanc from 1966 to 2004.

The second is called “Finest & Rarest Wines Featuring the Collection of Ambassador Ronald Weiser“, slated for both April 4 and 5, and includes a whopping 1219 lots estimated at up to HDK75 million.

The press release says the wines come from “a superb collection from the home cellar of Ambassador Ronald Weiser… offered by the University of Michigan with all proceeds benefiting the Food Allergy Center. The collection represents over a century of liquid history, from 1899 to 2008, with an emphasis on historic, mature wines of remarkable complexity and depth.”

Along with plenty of lots of First Growth wines as well as Right Bank powerhouses like Le Pin and Petrus, the release notes “magnums of La Mission Haut-Brion 1945, Cheval Blanc 1929 and Lafite 1959. A 57-bottle vertical of Mouton Rothschild from 1918 to 1996 is another major sale attraction. There is also a magnificent collection of top class burgundies highlighted by 80 lots of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from 1952 to 2008 and 26 lots of Henri Jayer from 1980 to 1993.”


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