Juicy details: Canaan to launch new skin-contact wines

You don’t find a lot of Müller-Thurgau in China. And to find it in single-varietal skin-contact form? Well, I’ve only tasted such a wine once, earlier this month at Canaan winery just outside of Beijing, and it was delicious. And that was far from the only tasty orange wine served.

I tagged along with Shuai Zekun, a senior editor for jamesuckling.com, to taste 50-plus wines from the sibling / neighboring operations Canaan and Domaine Franco-Chinois (DFC) in Huailai County, with chief winemaker Zhao Desheng and his team.

(A side note that should be a headline: Zhao is marking 20 years with DFC, a milestone that should merit some kind of anniversary blend, no?)

These wines are good across the board: skillfully balanced mergers of fruit, wood and complexity. And the combination of Canaan and DFC wines means plenty of options for aficionados.

Still whites such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Reds from Syrah, Cabernet and Pinot Noir to Merlot, Tempranillo and Marselan, with DFC the first place in China that latter variety was planted. An Ehrenfelser! And always near the finish is that delectable late-harvest Petit Manseng, which has long been one of my all-time favorite Chinese wines.

Even better, we also tasted some wines from fellow Huailai operations Amethyst, Martin and SunGod.

But what really caught my eye, and my taste buds, were those skin-contact wines.

It started with a Riesling, a fresh light juicy easy-drinking number that gave me different aromas each time I stuck my nose in the glass. Gingerbread. Tangerine. Nuts. “Mango,” said Shuai. And cloves that lingered at the finish. When your tasting notes say “super fun”, it gives you an idea of a mood evoked.

The Muller-Thurgau offered refreshing acidity and light easy tannins, with ripe stone fruit and hints of tropical fruit and candied ginger. Refreshing, with a pleasant stone fruit tartness at the finish. Simply a nice mix of fruit, acidity and tannins.

And there were more, including a Chardonnay (the juiciest one tried, a party in a glass with some fresh tangerine offsetting orange peel and clove), a Muscat Blanc (with six weeks of skin contact and slightly less playful than that Chardonnay) and a Chenin Blanc (I picked up more subtle fruit aromas and flavors here, including melon and pear).

These are going to be released in small quantities–we are talking about hundreds rather than thousands of bottles each–and to likely retail at around RMB300 (don’t quote me on that!).

I hoped to buy a few bottles on the way out, but no such luck, so it’s just a matter of waiting. But it will be interesting to try that Riesling and Müller-Thurgau again, especially as they rank among the better orange wines I tasted this year, up there with Puchang’s Rkatsiteli, a delectable wine that deserves its own post!

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