China’s first million-point wine | Power tasting at DFC & Canaan

Fate has delivered me unto the land of Canaan thrice in two months. This winery, founded in 2006, and its sibling Domaine Franco-Chinois, founded in 1999, are in Huailai County, just outside Beijing. And they’ve been making some of China’s most intriguing wine for years, although those are only now making it to market.

My latest visit was yesterday with a small trade group, hosted by Richard Li and including some bigwigs from the media and Grace Vineyard, another winery putting out good drops for decades. Here are my tasting notes / scores.

Riesling 2017

These grapes hail from Canaan’s highest plot, at 1200 meters, planted in 2009 with Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir and more.

The one smells of sweet stone fruit and honeydew melon, with a whiff of that tell-tale Riesling diesel aroma. It’s smooth, with pleasant acidity and a hint of pepper. Guzzle guzzle.

Score: 127 points.

(Yes, I just broke the 100-point scoring model. How high does my system go? That’s for me to know and you to find out.)

Chardonnay ‘Mastery’ 2018

This unoaked Chard is the kind of wine that can get punished by competitions and consumers. It has loads of acidity that get it labeled a “food wine”, and it took some time to open up.

This starts with a kind of pine-y smell that slowly evolved to guava, grass and a touch of butter. It’s in the mouth where this wine really delivers: it’s lean, crisp and mouthwatering, with an enduring tingly finish. I’ll write more soon: this lovely wine was at Vinexpo Shanghai, too, and I went back four times to try it.

Score: 152 points

(The Chinese characters on the labels read “Shi Bai Pian“, roughly mean “100 Poems”, and refer to famed Chinese poet and boozer Li Bai. It’s the name under which Canaan is bottling its wines.)

Chardonnay Reserve 2016

This one flips the script on the last one with a butter-y tropical fruit character. One person called it “Sonoma cougar juice”, as it evoked the rich Chardonnays often found in California and, apparently, enjoyed by older woman into younger men. I dunno, I live a sheltered life. Anyway, as rich as is this Chardonnay, it also gets the acidity down and is pretty skillfully balanced.

Score 117 points

Pinot Noir ‘Mastery’ 2017

Wow wOw WoW, this wine teased and tamed our noses and taste buds with a steady flow of aromas and flavors during our two-hour tasting. I wrote down a dozen descriptions, led by fresh cherry, toasted nuts and vanilla. This one is fresh and elegant, with enduring berry intensity at the finish. It was the first bottle we finished — then we had another.

As we are shifting from whites to reds, I’ve decided to also shift my scoring systems. Because the name of the game in China is higher, higher, higher.

Score: 1.32 million. Yes, it’s true, this is China’s first million-point wine.

Syrah Reserve 2014

This is the first wine from Canaan’s lower plots, at 500 meters, which also host the Cabernets, Merlot, Marselan et al.

This one is hard to peg. It’s like grape jam meets graphite. On one hand, you get rich deep dark fruit. On the other, aromas like graphite, smoke and coal. “Juicy, big, spicy: rambunctious” is what I ultimately wrote. Maybe this one needs more time to age–or the wine equivalent of a chill pill. Still undecided about this wine.

Score: 1 million. Give or take 100,000 points.

DFC Reserve Blend 2011

Another divisive wine. This one is a sleeper for sure, with intense dark berries taking their sweet smoky toasty time to wake up. Good pure fruit and slightly spicy tannins. I kept a glass of this to the side for several hours hoping for it to dazzle but it was still pretty drowsy until the end. Maybe it needs decanting? Or we were too drunk to appreciate it?

Score: 1.12 million

DFC Marselan Reserve 2013

DFC planted the first Marselan in China, a grape that is now found growing and creating buzz across the country. (I founded World Marselan Day in 2018: check it out!)

Again, lots of dense fresh dark fruit but with more complexity than the blend, including some black olive and smoky character. This one is pretty big and fresh, too, with a kind of graininess that inspires people to write “chewy”. It felt like a bit like a juggler trying to keep six balls in the air. Not that that’s bad, only that it had a lot going on.

Score: 1.25 million

The last three we tried after dinner started, when we were already feeling pretty good. I don’t have any notes, so I’m going just on memory. I’m also going to change my scoring system again

Pinot Noir ‘Mastery’ 2016

This one was fruity and playful — lots of red cherry! — but lighter and less complex than that delectable 2017, IMHO.

Score: It’s a three-point shot that bounces off the rim a few times before going in the hoop.

DFC Marselan Reserve 2011

Yes. A smooth supple wine that blends richness and elegance. Black fruit — plum, currants, berries. Smoke. Give me more. More. More.

Score: A winning goal scored bicycle-kick style from just outside the penalty box in extra time.

DFC Petit Manseng 2015

This late-harvest wine has pretty intense apricot aromas, and is pretty sweet, though not viscous. Look at that colour and you pretty well know what I’m talking about. Petit Manseng is one of the original grapes planted at DFC in 2001 and I’ve been waiting for it to come onto the market since 2005. About time, guys!

Score: Pretty, pretty good,

OK, those are some quick notes, posted mostly because the longer I wait, the more likely I am to forget to do it. Will add more details later, but have some Maovember stuff to do now. Thanks to Canaan and DFC for the tasting!

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