By Jim Boyce
Eight wineries from Ningxia in north-central China participated in an afternoon of wine in the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province, last month to showcase what many see as the country’s most promising wine region.
The highlight was the Ningxia Wine Challenge, held on April 24 at the Hilton Wanda Hotel. The challenge included a dozen wines: nine from Ningxia and three from Bordeaux. The latter were included as points of reference because Bordeaux is the best-known foreign wine region among Chinese consumers. The wines all retail for less than rmb450 and were blind-tasted by ten wine professionals and aficionados based in Nanjing.
When the scores were counted, a Bordeaux wine took top spot, followed by a near four-way tie between a second Bordeaux and three Ningxia wines. The top five:
- Les Brulieres de Beychevelle Haut Medoc 2009, Bordeaux (rmb418)
- Grand Bateau Rouge 2010, Bordeaux (rmb186)
- Domaine Helan Mountain ‘Premium Collection’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Ningxia (rmb130)
- Bacchus Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Ningxia (rmb420)
- Lei Ren Shou Dry Red 2009, Ningxia (rmb315)
The Nanjing-based judges included a wine distributor, wine bar manager, hotel food and beverage manager, wine writer, wine educator and professor. A second group of tasters, headed by professor Ma Huiqin, a wine marketing expert from China Agricultural University and a contributor to this blog, included visiting writers from trade media such as Revue du Vin de France in Beijing, Wine China in Shandong, Fine Wine and Liquor in Shenzhen and Wine in Guangzhou.
Each taster entered the room and sat down to a flight of poured glasses that were numbered 1 to 12. The judges had 45 minutes to taste and arrange the wines from first place (one point) to last place (12 points). The wine with the lowest total score was the winner.
After the tasting, I added the scores, with double-checking done by Fiona Sun of Revue du Vin, while professor Ma led a discussion about what wines the judges liked or disliked, the degree to which Chinese wines provide “value for money” and wine trends in China. We consider this discussion as interesting as the tasting, since it allows the participants to ask questions and share opinions.
We later tried two Ningxia wines that retail for over rmb450, one from Helan Qing Xue, which won international acclaim last year for its brand Jia Bei Lan, and one from Bacchus. That night, with an extra bottle of each wine in hand, the visiting journalists and a few judges and other people gathered at Nanjing’s Bar Neuf for a casual evening of more tasting and talking (see this post).
I helped organize this event after meeting with the Bureau of Grape and Floriculture Industry from Ningxia in mid-April. Headed by Cao Kailong, the bureau was created in response to Ningxia becoming an observing member of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) earlier in the year (see this post). It is the third contest in the past six months that I have helped organize and that included Ningxia wines, following the North by Northwest Challenge and Ningxia versus Bordeaux Challenge, both in Beijing.
What made the Nanjing event different? Instead of using wines from the same two or three operations, it aimed to give a broader idea of what the region offers. I made the final decision on which wines to include and they ultimately came from seven operations:
- Domaine Helan Mountain
- He Dong
- Imperial Horse
- Lei Ren Shou
- Silver Heights
- Xi Xia King
Time was tight for organizing this event, with Ma and graduate student Gao Wei providing a great deal of logistical support. I will write further posts that cover more details of the event and, given the steep learning curve, the challenges faced and solutions found. As readers of this blog will have noticed, there has been a lot of info added here over the past month or so, and there is a good deal more to come. I also haven’t forgotten about further Ningxia vs Bordeaux challenges, as discussed in this post.
(Hat tip to Hanrong of Fine Wine & Liquor and Fiona of Revue du Vin de France for photos.)
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