Is there any good Chinese wine? Our trilingual answer…

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By Jim Boyce

Is there any good Chinese wine? I have heard this question hundreds of times and it is usually either from a) a foreigner living in China who has tried entry-level wine from one of the massive companies that dominate the market, such as Great Wall and Dynasty, and found it sorely lacking or b) a foreigner living outside China – whether it is a wine maker, a writer, a consumer, a blogger or someone else –  who is curious as to what the country has to offer.

The answer is yes, but it is hard to find, and this is due to many factors: there is a big market for cheap wine and thus quality is often not a major focus; the big firms dominate retail and thus make it difficult to get decent wines from smaller producers; the blending of imported wine with domestic wine is widespread and leads to inconsistency with some brands; labeling laws are not strictly enforced; and so on.

This is the reality. But it is also the reality that the vast majority of wine sold and consumed in this country is under Chinese labels. Given this, and given the interest in Chinese wine, some contributors to Grape Wall have started a project with several goals in mind:

  • To gather small groups of people – of all ages, professions, and nationalities – to try as many Chinese wines as we can find, especially those we believe are made with grapes grown in China;
  • To publish our findings in Chinese, English, and French, in order to provide the information not only to those in China but also to those abroad.
  • To ultimately come up with a list of wines we think are worth trying.

We kicked off the project several weeks ago with a tasting of nine Gansu wines, including four “ice” wines, at Maxim’s Solana. The attendees included three Grape Wall contributors: Nicolas Carre, who provided the wines, Ma Huiqin, an associate professor at China Agricultural University, and me. We were joined by James Fallows, who writes for the Atlantic Monthly and has written blog posts about trying Chinese wines, and Michael Wu who is involved in launching an online site for buying wine.

We will soon begin to post – again, in Chinese, English, and French – our notes for each wine, with the information including the label, point of purchase, aroma, taste, price, and more. We also have many more tastings lined up for wines from all parts of China, whether from Xinjiang in the northwest, Jilin in the northeast, Shandong on the eastern coast, or Yunnan in the south.

More posts by Jim Boyce

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3 Comments

  1. For what its worth, I’ve got a suggestion:

    Great Wall Wines has ONE vineyard that I’ve found rather pleasant: ChangChengZhuangYuan 长城庄圆。

    I’ve found ’96,’97 and ’98 bottles of Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, I’d skip the ’96 and head to the ’97 and ’98, both of which should be around 60 yuan. Its a blue-top and a rather unassuming label with a circular wine barrel logo indicating the Merot-Cab Mixture.

    I personally favor the ’98 – more “Merlot-ey” versus the more Cab-like 1997.

    I find them at ItoYokado in XiZhiMen.
    北京市西城区
    西直门外大街112号
    0136-83355646‎

  2. I am very excited about changes in China, so much that I would eventually like to visit. Already I am a fan of many Chinese teas, especially from the Wu Yi mountain region … and elsewhere. May years ago I tried Chinese beer and liked it right away and have ordered it many times since. Now I hear that China is getting into wine, along with many other regions. This too is a great thing and I expect that China will make its own unique contribution to the world’s enological treasures. I can hardly wait to try my first genuine Chinese wine of distinction !

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