Stockholm is stocked with a bunch of Chinese wines thanks to Ludvig Saaf, who also serves the Swedish market with Chinese baijiu, Shaoxing rice wine and craft beer via his importing company Lu Spirits.
Saaf says his portfolio now has seven wines from Canaan and two wines from its sibling Domaine Franco-Chinois aka DFC, both considered among China’s better wineries, and both based in Huailai County, just outside Beijing.
The first wines to go on sale were a Riesling and Pinot Noir from Canaan last December at the restaurant Surfers in Stockholm, known for its authentic Chinese fare and already a haven for baijiu, China’s national spirit.
“I’d say Surfers is the number one baijiu cocktail bar and restaurant,” he says. “They sell about ten times more compared to everyone else.”
Saaf says distribution has now expanded to a half-dozen more restaurants, with consumers commenting on both the quality and price.
“In general, people are really impressed at how good these wines are. Many thought that Chinese wines are not good, so this has been a positive surprise for them,” he says. The prices are another matter.
“The price point is really difficult. Canaan has really been helpful setting the price with the local market in mind,” says Saaf. “But Chinese wines are still way more expensive than the same quality European wines.”
Saaf also said Canaan’s Riesling 2016 was particularly well-received.
“Partly because it pairs well with many Asian foods — most of my customers are Asian restaurants — and also because people in general seem to think it a better wine,” he says.
“I am optimistic about the wines because they are unique, particularly the Riesling, which customers have found to be quite different from European Rieslings,” says Saaf.
“It is good that Chinese wines bring something more than just novelty, that they also bring new flavors and styles to the shelf.”
I know Saaf via World Baijiu Day, an annual event I help co-organize and in which he is deeply involved, organizing initiatives that range from creating a series of baijiu-based gelatos aka baijiu-latos with local chain Stikki Nikki to organizing creative baijiu-themed cocktails at bars to hosting boozy dinners with a wide range of Chinese dishes.
Saaf contacted me about Chinese wines in April of 2020 and I suggested Shanxi-based Grace Vineyard and Canaan / DFC. Just over a year later a shipment of nearly two dozen samples headed to Sweden. The process for choosing the wine included a video call with Richard Li of Canaan, who led an online tasting from Shanghai as Saaf and a group of sommeliers joined from Sweden and I tuned in from Beijing. Finally, the first group of wines arrived in Stockholm restaurants in December. That might seem like a crazy long process, and it is, but most of that was due to the COVID situation.
Anyway, Swedish drinkers now have some Chinese wines to try, with the portfolio also including a Merlot and a Syrah from Canaan as well as a red blend and a late harvest Petit Manseng from DFC. You can find details on Saaf’s site here. (Also see here for a report of my recent visit to these two operations.)
Saaf also carries baijiu, including from Red Star (Beijing), Luzhou Laojiao (Sichuan province), Xi Feng Jiu (Shaanxi province) and Jinsha Gujiu (Guizhou province), craft beers from Master Gao (Nanjing City) and Shangri-la (Yunnan province) and Shaoxing wine (Zhejiang province).
[Note: I don’t connect wineries with potential partners much any more given poor previous experiences, notably with Summergate / Kanaan and, especially, CWS / Jade Vineyard, but this is an exceptional case given Saaf’s dedication to supplying consumers intriguing beverages and creating fun events. I’m curious to see how these wines do in Sweden!]
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