Books: Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2008

I picked up Hugh Johnson‘s Pocket Wine Book 2008 over the weekend. Just in case anyone is interested, the section on China covers one-fifth of a page out of more than 300 pages [my comments are in square brackets]:

With nearly 5% of world production, China is the sixth-largest producer and continues to increase by 15% annually. Twenty-six provinces produce wine from over 400 wineries, especially Shandong, Hebei, Tianjin, Jilin, Xinjiang, Beijing, Henan, Gansu, Nin[g]xia, and Yunan. [China doesn’t have this many provinces. It’s safe to say, though, that wine is a great many parts of China.] Four companies dominate – Dynasty, Changyu, Weilong [Dragon Seal], and Great Wall.

Johnson notes that there are “quality producers benefitting from foreign investsment”, and cites:

  • Huadong in Shandong (good Chardonnay and Riesling)
  • Grace in Shanxi (good Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blend, Rose and Chardonnay)

He notes that these are joined by “improving” wineries, such as:

  • Lou Lan [in Xinjiang] (good Chenin Blanc and Merlot)
  • Suntime Manas in Xinjiang [no varietal noted]
  • Dragon Seal [in Hebei] (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot)
  • Bodega Langes in Hebei [no varietal noted]*

Finally, he writes that others to watch out for are Tsingtao and Kai Xuan Winery in Shandong [to the best of my knowledge, Kai Xuan is owned by Tsingtao, which is more famously known for its beer] and Maotai [a major spirits maker] in Hebei.

* I bought a bottle of Bodega Langes Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2003 for a blind tasting at my place earlier this year and this is what our group came up with:

Nose described as “bog rot,” “musty,” “tar,” “burnt Starbuck’s coffee” (the label called it “casky”); oak flavors overwhelmed the wine’s fruitiness (wood from the China-North Korea border is used). “This is a real stinker, with aggressive, spiky tannins”…

It was the worst-value wine I’ve had – 588 kuai [~USD85] for something that tasted as though it had been filtered through a musty cedar chest (twice). Having said that, this is based on one bottle, so to be fair I suppose I should empty the billfold and buy another one…

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  1. Hi Keith,

    Several people have recommended Suntime Manas and I’ve picked up two bottles of the cheap stuff here in Beijing. I’ll hopefully get to them both this weekend!

    And yes, cheap is the word.

    Cheers, Boyce

  2. I’ve recently purchased some Suntime Manas here in China and find this Xinjiang wine some of the best in China, ie, drinkable. It doesn’t taste like cough syrup or grape juice with rice spirits added, as most Chinese wines do.
    We drank some Suntime red wine in a port-like bottle, along with Suntime Manas Dry Red Wine (only cost 12 yuan – less than US$2) and Suntime 2002 – around 18 yuan or US$3 a bottle) purchased from the German-owned chain Metro. The first one was a little too sweet, but the others were nicely balanced reds – in a class of their own compared to Grape Wall, Die-Nasty and that other stuff best given away rather than recieved. Damn cheap too, eh?

  3. Hi Victor,

    Hopefully, I can get a few people to share the cost on another bottle of Bodega Langes, all in the name of research, of course.

    Right now, my wish list includes some Huadong Riesling (I haven’t seen it in Bejiing) and some Suntime Manas. Onward ho!

    Cheers, Boyce

  4. Hi Boyce,

    I salute you for wanting to try another bottle of bodega langes. For me chinese wine which are priced more than Rmb300 are not for genuine wine drinker like you and I. They simply have not reached the level to produce a USD85 wine. These wine are meant as a gift to government officers and corporate customers. No point to waste our time.

    I still remember two years ago my fren brought an expensive bottle of great wall 92(yes, the forever 92) back to Malaysia and was rated last in a blind tasting with other cheap australian wine like rosemount diamond label, brown brother, yellow tail…etc.

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